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…

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25 Responses to Sushi in South America: an Unlikely Love Story

  1. John of Travel Rinse Repeat May 15, 2012 at 10:57 AM #

    Glad to hear you’ve gotten past some of your fish phobia. Those inside out rolls look delicious – I’ve never seen one with an avocado outside before.

  2. Emily in Chile May 15, 2012 at 11:02 AM #

    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.

  3. EM @ Cubicle Throwdown May 15, 2012 at 1:32 PM #

    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!

  4. Robyn May 15, 2012 at 3:41 PM #

    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.

  5. Audrey | That Backpacker May 15, 2012 at 9:19 PM #

    I love sushi! Surprisingly, the first time I tried it was in South America… I’ve been eating it ever since! 😀

  6. Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) May 16, 2012 at 9:01 AM #

    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!

  7. Connor Davies May 16, 2012 at 10:54 AM #

    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.

    • Steph May 22, 2012 at 6:04 AM #

      I’ve heard Japanese Garden is great as well although I never went myself.

  8. Trillia @ Buenos Aires Delivery May 16, 2012 at 2:52 PM #

    Thanks for the shout-out! I had no idea Santiago was such a sushi heaven….Luckily the salmon shortage in BA is now mostly resolved and prices are stabilizing somewhat (for now).

  9. A Montrealer Abroad May 16, 2012 at 6:29 PM #

    I had no idea sushi was so popular in South America! I guess with the proximity to the ocean AND their obsession of rice, it makes a lot of sense though.

  10. Julia May 17, 2012 at 4:20 AM #

    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.

  11. Laura @ SA Luxury Expeditions May 17, 2012 at 2:04 PM #

    Other than ceviche, sushi is how I sample Peru’s seafood treats (I’m with you on the aversion to scales). Anyone traveling through Peru should try out the lomo saltado sushi – surprisingly delicious!

    • Steph May 22, 2012 at 6:01 AM #

      My boyfriend loves ceviche but I’m definitely more of a sushi girl.

  12. Lauren, Ephemerratic May 17, 2012 at 2:12 PM #

    I unfortunately didn’t try any sushi in Peru, and I regret it. Glad to see I’ll have more opportunities for creative sushi when I visit other parts of South America.

  13. Britany May 17, 2012 at 3:38 PM #

    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!

  14. Stephanie - The Travel Chica May 18, 2012 at 9:45 AM #

    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.

    • Steph May 22, 2012 at 5:57 AM #

      Makes about as much sense as most of the things the Argentine government does…

  15. Gillian @OneGiantStep May 19, 2012 at 12:02 AM #

    Sao Paulo, Brasil is home to the largest Japanese community outside of Japan. We had the best sushi of our lives there (well, until we visit Japan this Sept I expect). I was surprised too!

  16. Nicholas Marks May 19, 2012 at 11:53 PM #

    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.

  17. Kate May 20, 2012 at 11:30 AM #

    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!

  18. melvin May 23, 2012 at 7:30 PM #

    I’m surprised that you don’t like sushi.sushi is one of my favorite foods,unfortunately its expensine in the philippines.

  19. Ian Ord - Where Sidewalks End January 31, 2013 at 9:15 PM #

    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!

  20. Flora March 28, 2013 at 4:14 PM #

    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

    • Steph March 28, 2013 at 5:36 PM #

      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!

  21. Vanesa October 2, 2014 at 3:46 PM #

    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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