Has your sushi been a bit different lately? Maybe longer, pudgier and rolled up with rice, protein and vegetables? You know, kind of like a burrito?
Actually, let's call a spade a spade. Your sushi isn't just like a burrito. At an increasing number of eateries, it is, in fact, a burrito. The sushi burrito has officially joined the ranks of such culinary chimeras as the Cronut and the ramen burger, seducing both eager customers and the restaurateurs who want to feed them.
Even as diners eat fewer Chipotle burritos, sushi burritos are gaining traction around the country and in the Washington area. The latest purveyor joined the D.C. scene last week: Seoulspice in NoMa, which sells what it calls the Korrito, a Korean-style burrito wrapped in seaweed and filled with sushi-grade rice, plus a variety of meats, vegetables and sauces.
Eric Shin, a percussionist for the National Symphony Orchestra, said he hit upon the burrito concept almost by accident about two years ago. He'd originally planned to offer kimbap, Korean rolls sliced into bite-sized pieces. Unfortunately -- or perhaps fortunately -- the machine he bought to cut them destroyed the food. "It was a huge mess," he said. Amid the disappointment, Shin's wife was so hungry she just picked up an uncut roll and started eating it like a burrito.
"It just sort of stuck," Shin said.
Darren Tristano would tell you that the popularity of the sushi burrito is no accident. The president of Technomic, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in food industry analysis, said a number of factors are at play. Primary among them is the form itself. Four years ago, a Technomic concept study predicted "burrito-inspired" would be a common industry trend. Good call.
Sushi burritos have also been propelled by the growth in fast-casual dining and its build-your-own mentality, Tristano said. And with sushi available at almost every grocery store these days, it's become an accessible and familiar food.
Like so many food innovations, sushi burritos gained traction on the West Coast and are continuing their march across the country. Sushirrito, a five-location California chain that bills itself as "the original sushi burrito concept" debuted in San Francisco in 2011, the same year the Jogasaki food truck hit the streets of Los Angeles; the Kome truck peddles sushi burritos in San Francisco.
"The concept for Sushirrito came to be since we love sushi and wanted it to be more accessible and portable. Burrito-sizing sushi makes a lot of sense given the handheld aspect of it," said Sushirrito founder Peter Yen. "We weren't trying to start a trend. We simply wanted to create a new type of food that we like to eat. Hybrid foods only make sense when the foods belong together -- just because you can do a mash-up, doesn't mean you should."
Even given the wave of sushi burritos in California, lifelong friends and first-time restaurateurs Mike Haddad and Travis Elton weren't quite sure what to expect when they debuted Buredo in downtown D.C. last summer.
"We didn't know how it would be perceived," Haddad said. When the doors opened and curious diners snaked down the block, "I said, 'I think we have something here.'" Something big enough that the duo is close to opening a second location, near Dupont Circle.
Haddad and Elton think they've hit on customers' interest in food that is fresh and healthful.
Food trends in 2016
Food trends in 2016
1/11 Celeriac root
We had a kale obsession in 2015, but 2016’s vegetable sine qua non is predicted to be the knobbly celeriac root. Celeriac milk (Tom Hunt at Poco in Bristol serves it with winter mussels and wild water celery), celeriac cooked in Galician beef fat (from Adam Rawson of Pachamama, hot new chef in the capital) and salt-baked celeriac (to be found in Matthew and Iain Pennington’s kitchens at The Ethicurean in the West Country) are just a few examples.
2/11 Middle Eastern food
The Middle Eastern Vegetarian Cookbook (£24.95, Phaidon) by grand-dame Salma Hage, author of the bestseller The Lebanese Kitchen (whose halva is pictured here), is out in April
© Liz & Max Haarala Hamilton
3/11 Non-alcoholic cocktails
Grain Store mixologist Tony Conigliaro has created Roman Redhead, a riot of red grape juice, beetroot, pale ale and verjus, and Rose Iced Tea (black tea, rose petals, anise essence, pictured here)
The discerning will be slurping Hepple gin – from chef Valentine Warner and cocktail guru Nick Strangeway – which is punctuated with bog-myrtle nuances
5/11 Argyll and Bute
Restaurant followers are getting in a froth about Pam Brunton in Scotland, who opened the Inver restaurant in Argyll and Bute to acclaim last year
6/11 Andy Oliver’s Som Saa
One of the most eagerly awaited restaurants of 2016 will be the permanent incarnation of Andy Oliver’s remarkable pop-up Som Saa opening very soon in east London. Oliver, who worked at Thai god David Thompson’s Nahm in Bangkok, raised a whopping £700,000 through crowdfunding, and is renowned for his piquant Thai flavours and obsessive attention to detail, including in his home ferments and DIY coconut cream
© Adam Weatherley
Another ruminant in vogue is venison, with Sainsbury’s doubling its line for 2016. It provides a protein-packed punch, with B vitamins and iron, and it’s low in fat. Its entry into the mainstream is in part thanks to the Scottish restaurant Mac and Wild, just opened in London, whose Celtic head chef Andy Waugh (who also runs the Wild Game Co) has been touting it as street food for years (his venison burger pictured here)
From Brett Graham’s The Ledbury to Angela Hartnett’s kitchens at Lime Wood Hotel in the New Forest, Cabrito is the go-to goat supplier among the chef cognoscenti (roasted loin of kid pictured here) – but this year, domestic cooks can get in on the action, as Sushila Moles and James Whetlor of Cabrito offer their meat through Ocado
Mike Lusmore / mikelusmore.com
Coffee sage George Crawford is launching the much-anticipated Cupsmith with his partner, Emma. Crawford believes that 2016 is the year purist coffee will finally meet the masses; Cupsmith’s mission will be to make craft coffee as popular as craft beer on the high street. The company roasts Arabica beans in small batches, improving its quality – but sells it online, at cupsmith.com, in an approachable way: expect cheerful packaging and names such as Afternoon Reviver Coffee (designed for drinking with milk – no matter how uncouth, most of us want milk) and Glorious Espresso
10/11 120-day-old steak
Hanging meat for extremely long lengths of time has become an art. In Cumbria, Lake Road Kitchen’s James Cross is plating up 120-day-old steak (pictured here). The beef is from influential “ager” Dan Austin of Lake District Farmers, who is currently investigating the individual bacterial cultures that go into this maturing process
11/11 Lotus root
Diners can expect root-to-stem dining - cue the full lotus deployed by the Michelin-starred Indian Benares in its kamal kakdi aur paneer korma
Darren Norris knows he's tapped into that market at his almost year-old Maki Shop on 14th Street NW, where evenings will see diners trickling in from CrossFit and other nearby gyms. The owner of the late Kushi in Mount Vernon Triangle -- whose six-ounce maki fall somewhere between the size of smaller sushi and sushi burritos -- said his "sushi hand rolls" are "a lifestlye product" for on-the-go diners. "I want to be that thing that you could eat three days a week and not feel guilty about it," Norris said.
Kaz Okochi, the proprietor of Kaz Sushi Bistro near Foggy Bottom, said he thinks size is what attracts people to sushi burritos -- "too much rice," he opined -- and worries that diners who eat them will come to his restaurant and wonder why his food isn't bigger. "They might get disappointed," the Japanese native said. (Okochi's own fast-casual, design-your-own sushi endeavor, Oh Fish!, lasted about two years downtown.)
Their size and torpedo shape notwithstanding, sushi burritos have forced us to reconsider what we think of as sushi, especially when it comes to fillings. At Buredo, nori is wrapped around everything from yellowfin tuna or salmon sashimi to tofu and pulled pork shoulder. Seoulspice's Korean-accented items include bulgogi beef, pickled radish and, of course, kimchi. At Burrito San in Miami, you can have your sushi burrito by way of the Philippines (braised pork, banana ketchup) or India (spiced chicken, potatoes, curry). Denver's Komotodo not only sells rolls such as the Bee's Knees (fried chicken, asparagus, bacon, Monterey Jack cheese) and Fish n' Chips (white fish, slaw, potato chips), but also gives you the $2 option to have your burrito deep-fried. Really, the question these days is not what can you put in a sushi burrito, but what can't you?
Okochi, though, doesn't take umbrage with the burrito entrepreneurs' use of the word "sushi."
"I'm not saying burrito sushi isn't true sushi. Sushi is vinegared rice," he said. Sticklers could even contest whether Okochi's food is "true" sushi, since the chef said he's developed his own style at his restaurant.
Kaz Okochi, owner and chef at Kaz Sushi Bistro, said more traditional restaurants like his can co-exist with sushi burrito spots. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
As long as sushi burritos don't take over the entire sushi market, he's fine living side-by-side with them, he said.
In fact, self-professed sushi lovers Haddad and Elton view themselves as "introducing sushi to a new audience," Elton said.
"It is definitely opening up people's minds," Haddad said.
Seoulspice's Shin said he'd like his Korritos to similarly encourage diners to seek out the kind of traditional Korean food he grew up eating.
Even with more people like Haddad, Elton and Shin getting in on the sushi burrito game, Technomic's Tristano said there's still room to grow in the genre. He said reasons why sushi burrito establishments are still less common than their popularity might indicate include food safety issues with sourcing and serving raw fish (although many burritos rely on cooked, fried or even vegetarian fillings) and the fact that the concept is hard to replicate.
"A good sushi burrito can be tricky and sometimes challenging to get the flavors to blend together well in a larger roll," said Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld of Rolls by U in Arlington, which opened in the fall with sushi "ritos" such as the Frida (with roast beef and kimchi) and the Van Gogh (a more traditional pairing of tuna and avocado). "Also, price point may play a part in why others don't want to risk it. It's cheaper to do tacos or Mexican burritos. It takes creativity and great quality in product and recipe to get it right, as well as extremely fresh ingredients."
"I think it's really difficult to pull off," Shin said. "Most of the restaurants that open up are afraid to do something different." Shin said he had to battle through questions and skepticism from his own family (his parents ran a Korean restaurant in Atlanta), some of whose recipes he's using at Seoulspice. "I caught a lot of s--- from my grandma," he laughed.
When other sushi burrito spots do inevitably open, Shin won't be too worried. "The more, the merrier," he said. "I'm so proud of D.C. for embracing ethnic foods and creative ethnic foods in general."
The Buredo duo was slightly more measured.
"Time," Haddad said, "will tell on who will last."
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