Bites: On the Sushi Bake Phenomena
Updated: Feb 25, 2021
Sushi bake: it truly is what it is.
But. The name of the dish is an association, not an identifier: there is no raw fish in the dish, only fake crab; furikake-studded mayo and overly warm rice dominate, making it the same as basically 98% of Chicago sushi. Focus your brain on bake: it is, first and foremost, a casserole.
But. It's something else in practice, more like a spinach-artichoke or seven-layer dip than a one-pan supper: by creating the short distance between gooeyness and your cakehole. Call the flavor profile warm. It’s food you want to describe as a concept, not as, you know, food.
On that conceptual level, it’s totally brilliant, not just for its collision of stoner and comfort food—had someone come up with this in 2007 they likely would have won a Nobel prize—but for the way it compresses and condenses the cheap dopamine hits of takeout sushi into an accessible format that can reasonably be put together quickly by someone with average pantry and/or familiarity with Tock. It’s the perfect pandemic food, really: novel and sloppy—just like every new discovery you’ve had about yourself over the last year. We hated it—and finished it in minutes.
You know you want some.
(P.S.: Quick prediction: don’t scoff just yet. As easy as it to see #sushibake as some tiny, exhausted symbol of late-pandemic defeatism, and as likely as it is that this microtrend will forever be in shadows of its more visible pandemic forebears like sourdough starters or pizza babka, my guess is that its ease in making--not to mention the ease of its pleasures--will lead to both a much longer and lasting presence. than you think. Expect to see it as an appetizer at both sushi and TGI Friday’s-type restaurants alike in the coming years.)
(P.P.S.: This is less a review of a place than a phenomena, but I heard about and tried out sushi bake via Hot Box Sushi; I encourage you to support Gia’s business. A recent Bon Appetit article—Gia is quoted in it—also describes how to make it at home.)