Sushi in South America: an Unlikely Love Story

I don’t like fish. They are slimy and smelly and bony and weird. Given the choice, I’d rather eat just about anything else (this does not extend to shellfish which will I inhale, I only loathe the suckers with scales).

Yes, even sushi. I’ve always been kind of ambivalent about the stuff. Even after eating a legitimate sushi breakfast (link) in Japan, I still didn’t really get the appeal. Oddly enough, it took a trip to South America to get me to warm up to raw fish.

Surprisingly, sushi is pretty popular down south. I’m not sure why, maybe it’s all that rice? Buenos Aires in particular is experiencing a huge sushi fad at the moment. Despite the almost complete dearth of food variety, save the odd (americanized) chinese restaurant, sushi is thriving.

As someone who loves international food and simply cannot survive on steak and potatoes alone, I’ve turned to sushi to scratch my itch for variety. I’ve eaten sushi in almost every country we visited down South and over time I’ve come to really love the stuff.

Colombia and Ecuador: Sushi is a Social Drug

I can probably blame my new obsession on Shaun and Erica from Over Yonderlust. When we met them in Medellin, Colombia, they suggested we all get sushi, and not wanting to be the party pooper I went along. Under their and Mike’s guidance we ordered some really unique and interesting rolls. Mexican roll with jalapenos on top? Well maybe this wasn’t so bad….

We met up again a couple months later in Ecuador and again went out for sushi. Again, it was pretty great and tasty and such a nice break from the usual rice and meat menus we’d been ordering. Maybe I could get used to this.

Argentina: The Great Salmon Shortage of 2012

While living in Buenos Aires we indulged in the guilty pleasure of delivery sushi, thanks to Buenos Aires Delivery. Every few weeks we’d shell out $20 on some sort of combo deal from a local restaurant and gorge ourselves on 45 pieces. They weren’t the highest quality, but they were pretty cheap.

This went well until our last month in BA, when the great salmon shortage occurred. You see, the Argentine government tries really hard to discourage imports of well anything. Apparently this extends to Chilean salmon (salmon does not live in Argentina) and in March the government cracked down hard, shutting off the supply line. Sushi restaurants around the city scrambled to find new salmon connections, with many temporarily closing or eliminating salmon from their menus.

Chile: Sushi Heaven

Santiago was definitely the climax of my sushi experimentation. Since Chile is essentially one giant coastline, they have a massive supply of incredibly fresh fish. While I’m still leery of the suckers on their own, I figured sushi would be a great way to try the local products without being totally grossed out.

Good sushi in Santiago was an art form. Twice we went to Zabo, a higher range (higher price) sushi restaurant and it was easily some of the best meals I’ve had this entire trip. Inside out rolls are popular here, where the outside is wrapped in tuna, salmon or avocado.

I never would have expected to come out of South America of all places with a new love for sushi. It’s just one of the many unexpected ways travel has changed me over time.

It’s not over yet though! Mike is promising to take me to a terrific sushi place in New Jersey (which honestly, is probably cheaper than the places we went in Argentina and Chile). And of course now I need to plan another trip to Japan…

25 thoughts on “Sushi in South America: an Unlikely Love Story”

  1. Sushi has been SUCH a fad in Santiago over the past few years that it’s sprung up everywhere, and there’s some really bad stuff out there. There’s good quality as well though, as you found – I liked Zabo when I went, but my heart belongs to Japón, which I think is Santiago’s original sushi restaurant (founded in the 70s) and which has Japanese chefs.

  2. This post made my day! I love hearing about sushi in other countries. I am a HUGE sushi lover (with tattoos to prove it) and I spent some time in Japan and now live in Vancouver, BC which I think are the top two sushi destinations. But everywhere I travel, I try it. The most recent crazy place I had sushi was on the tiny island of Roatan in the Bay Islands off the Caribbean coast of Honduras – it was a cute little place and the sushi was not bad!

  3. My friends and I swear by the “three times” rule. You have to try sushi 3 times before you’re allowed to make a decision on whether or not you like it. I was really “so-so” about sushi when I first tried it on a trip to Vancouver. My friend insisted I try it 2 more times before I could really form an opinion. Now, I love the stuff, can’t get enough of it.

  4. I think sushi love can grow in the strangest of places. It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville, a landlocked state, that I came to actually adore the stuff. Before that, I was just like you, and had no desire to eat fish of any kind, whether it was raw or cooked. Now I am out of my mind crazy excited to start our RTW trip in Japan so that I can gorge on a sushi breakfast! I admit, whenever someone mentions sushi in South America, it sounds really weird to me, but obviously I need to get over that!

  5. I used to order a LOT of sushi in Buenos Aires but the high inflation has put an end to that. I’m no expert but as far as I am concerned the sushi is good, and it’s certainly popping up everywhere, especially in Palermo. I’ve been told the sushi served up at the Japanese Garden is the best of the lot, can’t confirm that myself but might be worth trying if you’re in town.

  6. Thanks for the great post! I love sushi, and hope to have the opportunity to try it in South America one day. People rave about the sushi in this continent as some of the best because of the large Japanese population, and easy access to fresh seafood.

  7. These pictures are making me hungry! I could live off sushi, literally every day. Good for you for trying something you’re not crazy about and learning to like it!

  8. I went to a high-end restaurant right when the salmon ban started in Argentina. He said that the good restaurants always have a way of getting it. I imagine some sort of clandestine sushi-smuggling operation across the Chilean border.

    I heard it was because Chile was exporting food products to the Malvinas, so Argentina stopped importing salmon from Chile? I’m sure that’s going to help Argentina get the Malvinas back.

  9. I have to admit that I like you hadn’t really found the taste for it, always sticking to chicken terriyaki and cucumber. But of late… I have been experimenting a bit more and no regrets, some of food Japan has to offer is delicious. I would never have thought of going to south america for it though, interesting tip.

  10. Don’t like sea food. never eat ’em. But surprisingly fell in love with sushi when I was in japan. I still don’t like seafood restaurants but I will splurge for some sushi. And reading that you can find excellent sushi in South America came as a surprise! Putting it in my bucket list!

  11. I was never a fish lover growing up, but it was actually sushi (salmon to be precise) which opened up the scaled world to me! I believe it was in Sydney where I first was brought into this aquatic culinary world… and since have gorged on sushi around the world. You chose a good spot to try it… crazy that Salmon’s been cut off from Argentina though… those poor souls!

  12. So where exactly is all this sushi in Ecuador then? I have a hankering…in fact, any good places in the rest of the continent would be appreciated. The sushi tour of South America may be about to begin :p

    1. We had some decent stuff in Montanita. But if you can somehow get to Santiago that’s still some of the best I’ve had anywhere!

  13. In case you around Mendoza, you could give a try to our sushi. We are far from the sea but still have some top notch sushi.

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