If you want a taste of real wasabi, you will have to pay for it. The fresh rhizome sells for $95/pound at International Marine in Downtown LA, a fish and produce market in Downtown LA where we met Chef Hiro Naruke at 6am this morning. By weight, the pale green rhizome is more expensive than tuna, he explained. In Tokyo, the roots are sorted by quality, much like tuna, but here in Los Angeles, Hiro is left with just one box of wasabi to choose from.
Hiro is the chef behind Q Sushi on 7th between Grand and Olive. He hails from Japan where he operated a 6 seat sushi bar before he and his wife were wooed to Los Angeles by three LA lawyers who had become regulars in Tokyo.
In Japan, Hiro would take a 20 minute taxi ride to Tsukiji Market (the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world) to purchase his fish. Once in LA, he had to learn to drive in order to get to the fish market where he spends the pre-dawn hours several days a week. Sixty to seventy percent of Hiro’s sushi menu is sourced from Japan through a trusted purveyor, but it’s the early morning hours on the corner of 7th and San Pedro where Chef Hiro selects local fish from the Pacific and Atlantic coasts as well as shellfish like oysters which he dresses with dashi and yuzu zest. This morning at 6am there were at least 40 varieties of whole fish on offer including idiot fish, king mackarel, loup de mer, yellow jack from Hawaii and black snapper from New Zealand. A separate area for shellfish housed geoduck, razor clams and oysters.
Below you can check out the scene at International Marine on a typical weekday morning. The small loading dock is graced with a hand painted sign scotch-taped to the overhang. It reads Ganbare Japan, which translates to “Cheer Up Japan,” an uplifting message in the aftermath of Fukushima.
For a look at where sushi chefs in Tokyo shop for the best fish, check out our photo essay of Tsukiji Market in Tokyo.