What to expect from conveyor belt sushi restaurants: not necessarily fish

By Rachel Tackett

We’ve had many discussions about the non-traditional flavors found in sushi around the globe. But, as it turns out, Japan has made quite a few changes of its own to the country’s staple dish. That’s not to say that the standard fare of fish on rice has been bumped from the menus. Rather, a lot of interesting new flavors have found their way into sushi bars across the nation. And it’s this new form of innovation that’s lead to the incredible expansion of the "kaiten-zushi" (conveyor belt sushi) market.

I recall a time many years ago, when my family was visiting Japan for the summer. Unsure of what to feed them, I decided to be adventurous and let them experience some traditional Japanese sushi. As it turns out, despite being adverse to the idea of raw fish, my family had no trouble picking out food that they liked from the constant stream of conveyor belt sushi. That’s because they satisfied their American palates with plates of fried pork, roast beef, and hamburger meat atop sushi rice. There were even bowls of soup and slices of cantaloupe snaking through the store. At the time, I couldn’t help feeling that my family had somehow cheated themselves out of an authentic experience, but the fact of the matter is that conveyor belt sushi restaurants are evolving, and changes such as these are doing wonders for the overall market.

Inside Naha Airport in Okinawa, there is a very special branch of the conveyor belt sushi chain called Mirai. In addition to the standard fare of raw tuna and salmon, this store also offers a variety of flavors inspired by Okinawan cuisine. For example, there’s the "mimiga gunkan," a fat roll of pig ear sushi topped with peanuts and bean paste. There are other rolls incorporating the bitter gourd, goya.

A bit further north in the Kyushu Region there is another chain of restaurants going by the name Kaiten-zushi Uokura. These stores are worth noting for their ice cream sushi. At a glance, they blend perfectly with the fishy flavors surrounding them. A scoop of green tea or vanilla-flavored ice cream sits innocuously atop sushi rice wrapped in seaweed. It takes a keen eye to recognize that these are actually dessert flavors.

Of course, flavor isn’t the only thing that matters in the food service industry. Distribution is also an important matter. The food at any restaurant might be tasty, but if the service is bad, then it can still leave a bad taste in your mouth. Conveyor belt sushi restaurants are often subject to criticism regarding the freshness of their fish. After all, it’s hard to tell how many rounds a single plate of raw seafood has made on the ever-rotating track!

To overcome this unpleasantry, many large sushi restaurants have installed touch screens from which customers can order freshly made fish. The same sort of service that can be found at smaller sushi bars, where one or more chefs stand at the middle of a revolving sushi ring and need only be asked for a freshly made roll. But, in places that sit more than 100 customers, allowing everyone to yell their orders isn’t exactly effective. Instead, the touch screen sends individual orders to the preparation area in the back, where the rolls are quickly assembled. They’re then delivered on a “high-speed lane,” separate from the standard conveyor belt, and stop directly beside the seat that placed the order. Fast and fresh, it’s service like this that keeps conveyor belt sushi alive in the modern marketplace.

So the next time you go to a "kaiten-zushi" bar, see if you can find something special on the menu, aside from the standard squid, shrimp, and tuna. And also, don’t be afraid to order fresh, rather than waiting for an appetizing dish to roll by.

Source: Yahoo! Japan News

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Customers’ Behaviour Changing Sushi Culture in Japan -- We visit “the best conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Japan” -- Conveyor belt sushi restaurant will buy your freshly-caught fish

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We have Sushi-ro here in Iwate and it is great. We take our babies and they just love to watch the non-stop action as the dishes continuously roll on by. I never have to worry about my little kids behaviour when we go there. And since sushi isn't recommended for small children, they have lots of other things, such as ramen, for them to eat while the missus and I pile up the plates and the kids enjoy the free entertainment. Kippu has better sushi (well it is more expensive anyway) but no conveyor, so we avoid taking the kids there.

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There are a couple of things I couldn't understand in the article.

What is "cantaloupe" and "bean paste"?

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