I thought I would do an entry about kaiten (conveyor belt) sushi! I know a lot of you have been to or live in Japan so you might know this already but it might be interesting to some of you.
When I was in America, I never really liked sushi because the raw fish available in my area when I first tried it like 15 years ago was just plain gross. I’ve grown to really enjoy it in Japan but I still only rarely eat it in America even though the quality has gotten a lot better. So when I first went to try kaiten sushi, I was a little worried that I would have to eat tons and tons of raw fish but actually there is a lot more than that to choose from! So even if you don’t like traditional sushi, you can still go to one of these places and enjoy yourself.
The chain we visited most recently is called 魚べい(oubei) (link to restaurant here). I had never been to that chain before – it was pretty good for being 105 yen per plate but I think I prefer the Sushiro chain better. Of course I do like expensive sushi the most, but kaiten sushi is so cheap and fast that I find myself going to those places more often.
Conveyor belt sushi was invented as a way to serve a lot of people quickly. Traditionally, you would sit at the counter in a sushi place and the sushi chef makes each piece of sushi just for you, watches you eat it (very intensely), and then makes you the next piece. It’s very time consuming and also means that only a few customers can be serviced at once. Also, a sushi chef has a traditional image that customers have come to expect – older, male, and most certainly Japanese. Only recently were women actually allowed to be sushi chefs because women’s hands were thought to be “too warm” and their use of makeup and perfume would spoil the flavors of the fish. With kaiten sushi, the production is hidden so you can hire anyone, young or old, female, or even foreign workers and no one will know! You can learn more about conveyor belt sushi and it’s origins here.
Everything in a kaiten sushi place is automated, even the waiting list. You can choose a counter seat which will place you right in front of the conveyor belt, or at a table with one side bordering the conveyor. We chose a table.
When choosing which plate to pull off the conveyor belt, there is some strategy involved, firstly noting the different kinds of plates being used. At kaiten sushi you are charged by the plate. Most of the time all plates are the same flat rate (usually around $1), but some nicer places charge different prices depending on the plate color, usually $1-5. It’s important to note the expensive colors because a few $5 plates can add up fast!
When you sit down you can make yourself a nice cup of complimentary Japanese tea and peruse the conveyor belt for tasty looking items.
There is some strategy here, too. Your position along the conveyor belt and proximity to the kitchen is important. During busy times, good items will be swiped off the belt before they reach you, but don’t worry because you can make special orders if you want something you can’t find. But know that if your position is far from the kitchen, you might get older stuff that has been sitting there. Also, make sure to give the piece(s) you’re about to grab a good look-over. Sometimes the sushi sits on the belt for a long time and gets dried out and sad, or some sushi, like grilled eel, is best eaten warm, so let those go by and special order them instead.
Menus are posted nearby to let you know all the possible items you can order. Some things like fried foods and desserts are order only. There are also noodle soups, salads, drinks, chicken wings, fruit and other non-sushi items available. These prices might be higher than the flat rate for sushi.
All the sushi varieties! Regular flat sushi is nigiri sushi, maki sushi are sushi rolls and gunkan is the word for those oval cylinder types on the right wrapped in seaweed. They have rice on the bottom and can hold more goopy or loose stuff on top like fish eggs or tuna salad. I am not a big fan of gunkan because you have to jam it all in your mouth at once and suffer the goopy consequences…
This place had a premium menu for 178 yen per plate. Most of these were only one piece per plate whereas the normal plates usually had two.
When you want to order something from the menu, there is a handy touch screen order system. You search for the item, add it to your order list and submit it. These always make me happy because in more old fashioned places you’re supposed to yell out your order to the staff which always makes me feel weird because I’m not a native speaker and people stare at me.
And pretty soon, your order arrives! In this chain there are extra train tracks that go right to your table when you make an order. There was a space shuttle,
and a bullet train!
Here are some of the things we got~ lemon with slightly seared salmon
Inari sushi (fried sweet tofu skins stuffed with rice). One thing to note is that most items come with wasabi as a default but this doesn’t because it’s sweet and usually for kids. This chain marks that wasabi-less plates with those three circles there which say さびぬき. When you special order items you can also choose no wasabi.
Cooked shrimp, avocado, onions and mayo. Does this look gross? I can’t tell anymore – it’s damn tasty though!
More onions and mayo but this time with salmon, yum!
I always get tamago – it’s a Japanese sweet egg omelet thing, usually for little kids again but I am a child hah
Izzy likes these little fishes but I’m not really into that so he ate both of them.
We got some more things that aren’t pictured, as well as a chawan mushi! I love these so much – they are a savory egg custard with seafood and vegetables inside. You never know what you’ll find in there!
When you’re all finished eating, you have to ask for the bill through the touch screen system (sometimes there’s a special button to push on the table). The server adds up your number of plates and scans the barcode on your bill so when you go up to pay they’ll know exactly how much.
That’s it! Some places are little easier to use than others – this one for example was pretty heavy on the reading so it might be a little difficult for people who don’t know Japanese, but there is always a server around that you can ask for help. I hope you noticed that there are a lot of non-fish or cooked fish sushi that we got, as well as some on the menu that we didn’t get (hamburger sushi, eggplant pickle sushi, cucumber and other rolls, eel, tuna salad, etc.), so even if you don’t love sushi, you can definitely still have a lot of options. And if you love sushi, it’s a bonus!
Thank you for reading! I hope this was interesting!