The One Thing I’ll Never Buy Again at Trader Joe’s

updated May 1, 2019
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(Image credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Design: The Kitchn)

It feels almost sacrilege to utter these words, but my favorite grocery store, the one that can do (almost) no wrong, actually makes the world’s worst sushi.

Now, before the Authentic Sushi brigade comes out, let me get in front with a proclamation: I have a thing for grocery store sushi. I know I shouldn’t. I know it’s, well, it’s grocery store sushi. And I’ve even had good sushi. I’m talking Joel Robuchon’s sushi at his Japanese restaurant in Monte Carlo (yes, it was actually heaven on earth) and various points around the globe. Grocery store sushi is a different thing and I just can’t help myself.

Sushi is the one thing I could eat every single day — like, forever — and never get tired of. When I’m in Paris and need a break from French food (speaking of sacrilege!) it’s sushi I turn to. When I’m on a midday grocery run, I reward myself with a plastic tray of sushi, enjoyed alone in the sad grocery food court-ish area and I don’t even care. When I want comfort food, it’s the slightly sweet heft of white rice with raw salmon, creamy avocado, and crunchy cucumber dabbed with pasty green wasabi, dipped in my favorite soy sauce, and interspersed with garish pink pickled ginger I crave.

Sushi restaurants are a rare treat because the volume of sushi I can put away is cost-prohibitive. And even grocery store sushi costs more than I should be spending on a single meal most days, but 10 out of 10 times, I’ll blow my (very modest) pocket money on grocery store sushi when I have the chance. I’ve even started making my own from Costco salmon.

So, you get it. I love my grocery store sushi. There is a definite hierarchy, though. Kroger is the middle of the road. It’s pretty cheap, and if I can get the folks working to make a roll without all that stupid orange sauce they slather on all their rolls (why?), it’s totally decent, veering into pretty good. Whole Foods is quite good, but the pieces are too big for one bite, not big enough for two. Also they’re super spendy. The fancy food hall in the local Omni hotel has the best grocery sushi in my book, and it’s dangerously close to my home.

(Image credit: Dana McMahan)

The one place I won’t buy grocery store sushi? My beloved Trader Joe’s.

I know, the only thing worse than buying sushi from a grocery store is buying it a a grocery store where you can’t actually watch it being made fresh. And when it costs less than four bucks. But it’s Trader Joe’s! So one day, when I was shopping while hungry, I picked up a roll, maybe a California roll or a spin-off. No sashimi there, not when it’s presumably being shipped in from elsewhere, of course. And guess what? I threw out most of it.

This is unheard of. The only other time this has happened is when I tried Aldi’s frozen sushi (and please don’t ask — I cannot bear to revive that particular memory).

How could something so good be done so wrong? Well, when the stale, dry, and gummy rice is cloyingly sweet with no balance of tang whatsoever, not to mention way out of proportion to fillings, we’re off to a bad start. Then the mushy insides were just … sad. I seem to recall some brown, slimy slivers of avocado, their only saving grace being that they were teeny. Some fake “krab” stuff. Maybe some flaccid cucumber? I don’t remember; I’ve blocked it from memory so it doesn’t ruin grocery store sushi forever. Now when I go to Trader Joe’s, I have to pass by the small offering of sushi super quickly, so that my stomach doesn’t turn!

I guess even the best of places can’t do everything right. But dear Trader Joe’s, if you’re listening, my plea is this: Kill your sushi section. Just do it. Your poke bowl doesn’t look much better, while we’re at it (Costco, on the other hand, does it right.) Stick to what you do so, so well, which is almost everything else. Imagine what wonderful thing you could put in that slot! Really. It’s time to 86 the Trader Joe’s sushi.

Do you agree? Disagree? Discuss in the comments below!