KAIYŌ, which serves Peruvian-Japanese “Nikkei” cuisine, says the nigiri is part of the restaurant’s effort to go “beyond the standard avocado roll” in creating more appealing plant-based seafood options.
Fish from vegetables
To craft the nigiri, KAIYŌ’s Chef Alex Reccio uses a variety of techniques, some of which take hours, to specially compress vegetables and fruit such as pears, eggplant and tomatoes to resemble and taste like fish. According to owner John Park, no two ingredients can be prepared the same way. “[There are] not many recipe books for vegan sushi, so our team is always testing techniques as each vegetable is significantly different to work with.”
Its menu’s innovations include:
- Singo Pear Nigiri: Compressed pear, smoked Andean black salt – The pear nigiri is compressed quickly to absorb flavor rapidly, then skinned to give the appearance of fish.
- Eggplant Nigiri: Miso glazed eggplant, gooseberry purée, umeboshi – A six-hour process, the eggplant is given a miso glaze and compressed in a gooseberry puree.
- Tomato Nigiri: Compressed tomato, tofu, cashew, wasabi cream
- Nasamurai Roll: Cucumber, avocado, pickled burdock root, miso-glazed eggplant, candied apple, aji-amarillo, nori, tofu, cashew wasabi cream
A trending concept
KAIYŌ is also planning to add a mushroom-based nigiri in the near future. Park says his restaurant wants to be part of the growing shift towards animal-free protein alternatives, citing a Tastewise report that found plant-based offerings on food service menus have increased 1,320% since 2020.
“[T]he demand in San Francisco is diverse for a variety of reasons, including environmental, allergen and/or health,” he comments. “We are in a city that gravitates towards healthy eating. While we might be a seafood-driven concept, it’s important we create a presentation to give our customers a feeling of inclusion during the KAIYŌ experience, whether they are vegetarian or not.”