When it comes to sushi, most travel magazines will point you to an expensive bistro in Tokyo, most likely at the foot of Tsukiji, the famed fish market.
I won’t because there is a difference between food and a meal. Because an aged master sushi chef looming over me, scowling stoically, waiting for me to either order again or get out, isn’t my idea of a good meal. Eat one half of your sandwich on a crowded train on your way home from work, then finish it in the comfort of your living room and tell me which half was better.
So no, I won’t recommend that awesome sushi bistro that has stars hanging from its stars, that Anthony Bourdain ate and smoked at, frequented by Iron Chef Hiroyuki Sakai. Instead, I would point you somewhere they would never be caught dead in, somewhere you will probably have a much better–and cheaper–time.
Kaitenzushi is rotating sushi, where the sushi floats around a conveyor belt like little pontoons of delight. That said, many Japanese don’t actually take the dishes spinning around the restaurant. People can and do, of course, but usually only the most popular dishes are up for offer. Besides, no one wants sushi that’s made countless laps steadily reaching room temperature.
Smaller kaitenzushiya (ya meaning shop) have a squad of ready chefs behind the counter waiting for your order. (I know I just said I don’t like sushi chefs looming over me, and I don’t, but the atmosphere at kaitenzushiya is far, far more relaxed.) Ordering from the chef can be imposing for the non-Japanese speaker, but that’s what they’re there for, so if you can’t speak Japanese just get his attention with a “sumimasen” (excuse me) and point to the picture on the menu.
That said, I still don’t like these kinds that much.
Why not? Because a plate of two nigiri takes about thirty seconds to eat, and after the fourth or fifth time of having to get the chef’s attention or wait while he serves another customer you really just want to tell him five plates of tuna and be done with it. Or aburi cheese salmon, because it’s delicious.
So no, when it comes to kaitenzushi I prefer the big chains. They have push button menus (sometimes ipads) that makes ordering much more convenient. Most won’t have English (because, hey, it’s Japan) but it’s pretty easy to choose your sushi from the pictures.
And when you order like this it arrives on the sushi train. Take your sushi from the sushi train and push the blinking button to send it back to the sushi cave, where the sushi chefs live.
Better than any sushi restaurant in my hometown–though perhaps that’s not saying much–and with a much wider selection.
And when you finish, some have a little slot you can slide your sushi plates into for counting. Some of those even make it into a game where you have a chance to get a little sushi keychain or toy if you win the sushi lottery. Another souvenir from your trip to Japan. Or toy for your students if you live here.
The only thing you might run into trouble with is how to get the check. Just press the check button on the menu. (Last button on the bottom right in the menu picture that says account, in this case) After that the staff will come, count up your plates (if there’s no slot or the special dish you ordered doesn’t fit) and give you your receipt. Just take it up to the register to pay.
So, should you go to that expensive bistro? Well, yes. Because it is delicious and you shouldn’t deny yourself heavenly sushi. But if you want to eat your food instead of sing praises to it, go with kaitenzushi. It’s the food people eat.
What’s your opinion?