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Trader Joe’s Tempura Shrimp Crunch Rolls

Notice how the word "sushi" is carefully avoided. "Sushi, what's that? You mean shrimp crunch rolls?"

Notice how the word “sushi” is carefully avoided. “Sushi, what’s that? You mean shrimp crunch rolls?”

Trader Joe’s Tempura Shrimp Crunch Rolls – well, these are interesting. I fully intended to never buy another clammy lump of Trader Joe’s sushi ever again. This isn’t a Trader Joe’s problem, this is a general supermarket problem. Supermarkets (the places that keep food for weeks on refrigerated shelves) simply do not match well with sushi (the delicate slices of raw fish mean to be eaten as fresh as possible). The problem is I love sushi, and even the most lopsided of supermarket california rolls call out to me with plaintive little voices, begging to be eaten.

Like a man in a bad relationship I kept going back for more – and every time I did I was left with a bad taste in my mouth, swearing I’d never do it again. The supermarket sushi experience, though universally bad, never quite broke my eternally hopeful nature that this time, surely, they were going to get it right. The vicious cycle continued until I found myself staring at the mealy, flavorless, half-eaten mass of a Trader Joe’s Quinoa Roll and realized this had gone on too long. I was never going to let sushi treat me that badly ever again. I was done with supermarket sushi, and I meant it.

I was doing good – walking past the sushi aisle without so much as a second glace, developing a sense of self-worth – until yesterday when I saw the tarted up, trashy glory of Trader Joe’s Tempura Shrimp Crunch Rolls and my willpower just gave way. Grasping at the flimsy excuse that is this blog (“I have to buy this terrible thing, I owe it to the public!”) I clutched the sushi rolls to my chest and sped home. Why do I do it to myself? Do I crave the abuse? Whatever the case, I found myself there again, off the wagon, staring at a polyurethane tray filled with damp rice wads.

Only this time, my friends, this time it’s actual good. How is that possible, you ask? How did Trader Joe’s manage to make bottom rung, low grade sushi worth eating? Quality ingredients? Magic? No – the answer is much simpler. Trader Joe’s simply identified the weakest link in supermarket sushi (the way it tastes) and came up with a brilliant solution – drown it in delicious sauces!

It’s honestly surprising that it took a supermarket so long to hit on this elegant solution. “Fusion” sushi restaurants have been doing this for years – smothering their otherwise mediocre fish with cream sauces, spiciness and bread crumbs. Trader Joe’s does the exact same thing. In each package of Tempura Shrimp Crunch Rolls you’ll find three tubs of savory toppings – a tub of “Sweet Sauce” (aka soy sauce thickened with sugar), a tub of “Dynamite Sauce” (aka spicy mayonnaise) and a tub of tempura crisps. The Sweet Sauce and Dynamite Sauce are nowhere near healthy, and Trader Joe’s gives you enough to lay a heavy drizzle on each pre-cooked tempura shrimp roll.

How do the tempura shrimp rolls taste by themselves? I have no idea, I never tried. Why bother setting myself up for yet another bad experience when I have thick, delicious sauces to ladle on? I will say that they are relatively crispy and crunchy, and hold together well enough for either a chopstick or fork to take them on a fantastic voyage through the world of sauce and into your mouth without falling apart.

When you do get to your mouth, you’ll be surprised at how good tasting these sauces actually are. The Sweet Sauce is akin to a sweeter form of teriyaki sauce, dripping with syrupy goodness, and the Dynamite Sauce is mildly spicy and endlessly creamy. Liberally apply the crunchy, round tempura crisps to the outside of the sauced up sushi for some enjoyable texture and you’re in for an eating experience that’s a powerful taste explosion, if not exactly the paragon of elegant dining.

Some of you purists out there might protest that fully-cooked shrimp dripping with tempura crumbles and mayonnaise is not, strictly speaking, real sushi. You are, of course, absolutely right, but you’re also missing the point. Criticizing the authenticity of these products is like getting upset about the representation of physics in Scooby Doo. You’re just setting yourself up for a bad time. Supermarket sushi is, and always has been, little more than junk food. By adding sauces, Trader Joe’s has merely helped complete that apotheosis.


The Breakdown

Would I Recommend It: Not to anyone who likes actual sushi.

Would I Buy It Again: Yes – whenever I want to indulge my trashy side.

Final Synopsis: Not exactly sushi, but the sauces sure are delicious.

Trader Joe's Tempura Shrimp Crunch Rolls - Nutrition Facts

Trader Joe’s Tempura Shrimp Crunch Rolls – Nutrition Facts

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3 Comments on “Trader Joe’s Tempura Shrimp Crunch Rolls”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Totally agree with you on the supermarket sushi experience, but somehow you have me craving these right now.

  2. susiesko says:

    Supermarket sushi is usually awful! However, occasionally I will get some because I need a quick fix. Though I got food poisoning once from eating a tuna roll from Tsunami at Safeway so I will never eat Tsunami sushi again!

  3. Laurel says:

    Oh how I wish I could agree! I got these the other day and had the EXACT same sort of pre-purchase struggle, eventually giving in despite my better judgments. So in that aspect, you had me rolling with laughter at your analogies to supermarket sushi as a type of masochistic relationship! However, I found these rolls to be utterly disgusting and literally couldn’t finish them. I finally ended up unwrapping them and eating the TINY bits of tempura shrimp (READ: the ratio of imitation crab to shrimp is like 6:1 if you don’t count the soggy tempura coating; even with the coating, there is four times more imitation crab than tempura shrimp in these). The Dynamite Sauce didn’t taste like dynamite sauce, and I’ve had it many times (and I usually LOVE dynamite sauce) – it was MUCH more strongly mayo-y and less “dynamite-y” than I’ve encountered before. The sweet sauce was good but too sweet for me to totally douse the rolls in it. I loved the separate crunch idea, but even that couldn’t save these for me. However, I will give you the caveat that I don’t usually like imitation crab very much, especially shredded and in large quantities inside rolls (chunks of it in seafood salads I’m fine with for some odd reason). So I suppose I should have known better, but what with my craving for that sweet sauce that usually goes with tempura crunch rolls – plus the inclusion of real crunch kept crispy in a separate container – plus my love for all things shrimp….well, I couldn’t help but hope that it would overcome the inclusion of copious shredded imitation crab. Maybe it could have if the dynamite sauce were better. Sigh. I usually do agree with your reviews more often than not; I wish I could have agreed this time.

    On a *completely* separate note, when are you going to review the Chimichurri Rice and the Asparagus Risotto? Those are two of the best dishes TJ’s carries, but so many people haven’t tried them! Thanks for your awesome and hilarious blog. 🙂


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