Have you ever wondered what makes sushi such an expensive meal? It’s one of the top luxuries in the United States and many people love it, but why does it cost so much? After all, it is only fish and rice.
Why is sushi so expensive? Sushi is expensive for a few different reasons. Firstly, it requires high quality fish and skilled chefs in order to be safe to eat, and both of these things have high costs. Secondly, sushi rice is quite expensive, which bumps up the overall price. Other things, like the time put into the presentation and the overall perception of this as a luxury food also increase the prices.
Reason #1: It Requires Skilled Chefs
Sushi is a labor-intensive food, and it requires chefs to be highly trained in how to prepare the fish. It can take hours for a chef to make a batch of sushi; all the parts of the fish need to be handled correctly and carefully to minimize the risk of cross-contamination and bacterial spread.
Learning how to prepare sushi is expensive, and chefs consequently earn a high wage – which means that the food has to cost more. If you have ever watched a chef preparing sushi, you will appreciate just how time consuming this can be.
Reason #2: It’s Complicated
This ties in with the first reason; making sushi is a complicated business. Sushi has to taste great and look great. Making sushi is seen as an art, and the presentation is almost as important as the taste for many people. This means it takes a lot more time to set up.
Of course, many restaurants focus on presentation, so this isn’t unique to sushi – but it is often taken to the next level. In many places, sushi is treated as a visual feast. Chefs put a lot of time and energy into making a sushi roll platter look amazing.
Don’t underestimate how much work goes into the appearance, as well as the safe preparation, of a plate of sushi in a high-end restaurant.
Reason #3: The Raw Materials are Expensive
There’s a high base cost to sushi even before you involve the chefs – the fish. Sushi requires high quality fish, and this costs quite a lot. Because sushi is just fish and rice, it’s really important for the fish to taste amazing and to have an excellent texture – and this is expensive.
High quality fish that can safely be eaten raw is expensive. However, because there is no cooking and rarely any sauce, it’s crucial to use high quality fish. Sushi is all about how the fish and rice taste together, so the fish needs to be really, really good.
If it isn’t, the sushi will be unpleasant, and people will stop buying it. The quality of the fish is therefore non-negotiable and massively increases the price of sushi.
Reason #4: Sushi Rice is Expensive
As well as the fish, sushi calls for a specific kind of rice. This rice is short grained and sticky, making it ideal for pulling sushi together and ensuring everything sticks – but it costs more.
Sushi rice is full of starch and this makes it suitably sticky, but it isn’t as cheap as long-grain rices, like basmati, and this introduces another cost to making sushi. To ensure they are serving the best quality food available, restaurants need to purchase the expensive sushi rice, and this makes their final product cost more.
Reason #5: Sushi is Prestigious
To some degree, the cost of sushi might be justified by the fact that it is so popular. This cost is somewhat self-perpetuating, with sushi restaurants keeping prices high to ensure that their dishes are still viewed as prestigious, luxury foods.
It’s interesting to note that in Japan, sushi is actually pretty cheap, even though it is still high quality and well-prepared. This may just be because it is more widely eaten, so restaurants can take advantage of economies of scale, but it may also be that the perception of sushi is different.
In the US, many sushi restaurants can get away with charging high prices because people expect sushi to be expensive. In Japan, where the food is not considered so high-end, the prices are lower.
Reason #6: There are Other Costs Involved
When thinking about the price of sushi, you also have to think about transportation, freezing costs, and any preparation that is done in advance. All of these things add to the overall price.
You might be surprised to find that you don’t get significantly cheaper sushi if you live by the sea than if you live inland. That’s probably because transportation represents only a small part of the overall cost (although it is still a factor).
Additionally, a lot of sushi fish isn’t caught locally, even for restaurants near the sea, so the fish is still traveling.
There is a misconception that sushi uses only the freshest fish, and therefore places near the shore have easier access and should enjoy cheaper sushi. However, a lot of sushi fish actually gets frozen, especially the sushi you purchase from restaurants (rather than stores). That may surprise you, but freezing makes some kinds of fish safer to eat.
If you aren’t cooking the fish, it can be challenging to deal with parasites in the flesh, and freezing is a great option. Sushi fish is therefore often frozen, and this represents another cost, in terms of equipment needed and energy used.
Overall, therefore, there’s a high cost involved before the sushi even gets to the restaurant, and restaurants have to pay a lot to cover all these different elements. This pushes up the price that they need to charge for the final product.
Sushi might seem expensive, but there are a lot of things that drive up the price and make it so. The expertise needed to prepare it properly and beautifully is a big factor, but so is the quality of the ingredients and the other costs involved in getting the fish from sea to plate.
Overall, sushi isn’t over-priced, even if it seems it!