By now, Bun Lai is used to high-profile guests. But it’s not celebrities or even foodies that Lai is cooking for. “I want to make sushi everyone can eat,” he says, getting quiet and serious. “Sushi that could be the most affordable, healthy and sustainable food in the world. But right now, here in America, it’s not.”
“Pink slime sushi” is what Lai calls the popular California roll. “It’s hardly food at all but faux crab made up of fishes of mysterious origin, which are processed with sugar, flour, egg and dyed to look like king crab.”
When Lai was a boy, he moved to the outskirts of New Haven with his father, Dr. Yin Lok Lai, a Chinese surgeon, and his mother, Yoshiko, a Japanese nutritionist. She taught Lai to forage for burdock and other wild foods, explaining their health values and teaching her son how to cook. It was Yoshiko who first opened Miya’s in 1982, with an eye toward healthful sushi.
But when Lai took it over, he upped the ante, and added his own flair. His sushi rolls, far from the ubiquitous sticky-sweet white-rice rolls, are crunchy bites of goodness made with brown rice and quinoa, peppered with oat grains, chia, flaxseeds, amaranth and other whole grains. In addition to seaweed, Lai uses dark leafy greens, such as chard, as the outer wraps for his rolls. The soy sauce, though served in recycled Kikkoman bottles, is his take on ponzu, a low-sodium citrusy blend that adds a light tang to whatever it touches. The pickled ginger is homemade, too, without the pink dye, thank you, and sweetened with local maple syrup.
Perhaps the ingredients most noticeably lacking from the menu are the classic fish. “Over the years, I keep taking different fish off the menu as they become less and less sustainable; first tuna, then farmed salmon and this year shrimp,” says Lai, who received the 2011 Seafood Ambassador Award from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “In a world where there are over a billion people starving it’s unfair to be feeding 10 or 20 pounds of sardines and anchovies to make one pound of tuna for wealthy people,” he notes.
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