Saturday, February 20, 2010

On Conveyor Belts and Sushi

Sushi is the traditional Japanese equivalent to American fast food. It's quick, convenient, and neat. There are the standard condiments, specialized restaurants, and even a number of popular franchises. In Chicago, sushi is a more American experience. Typically the restaurants are upscale and in trendy neighborhoods. The food is ordered from a server who then relays your request to the chef. The food comes after a wait and then you eat and pay a check that's been tallied according to prices on a menu.

In San Francisco I learned about a whole new way of eating sushi. Conveyor-belt sushi! It is common in Japan and elsewhere in southeast Asia, but not so much in the American mid-west. The idea is the chef is always preparing whatever he feels will be popular or whatever he likes to prepare, and puts it onto colored plates and onto a conveyor belt that snakes its way around the entire restaurant. As the plates pass the tables, diners grab what they like and enjoy. The prices are set according to the colors of the plates, so once you're done eating you go to the register and they tally your bill.

Sushi Train (Click for larger Photos)

This is SO convenient! I am not sure it will ever be particularly popular among Americans because of the way most Americans appreciate having personal service and regardless of the reality, they want to feel their food is as fresh as possible. The idea of eating foods that may have been on a conveyor belt for an untold length of time concerns people. The conveyor belt is actually refrigerated and the plates have plastic covers to keep everything fresh, and I ate conveyor belt sushi several times each week while I stayed in Sydney with no ill effect.

One thing I really like about this is the small size of the portions, so you can just pick what you want and not waste anything. Also the fact that you are seeing the food before you "order it" makes it a no-guess operation. I really enjoy trying new things and the conveyor belt leading from the chef to me brings me not only the things I like, but the things THE CHEF likes... and this is fantastic!

Sushi Roll (Click for larger Photos)

I tried raw scallops, seared scallops, different preparations of oysters, a few different desserts made from bean paste, and lots of miso soup. There were so many different conveyor belt restaurants in Sydney it was impossible to try them all. Just on Pitt Street near my hotel I found four different restaurants in short walking distance. I really started to like Sushi Train because of their adorable decorating and the apparent popularity (the place was always busy) .. I also like Sushi Roll because they had sake (a Japanese rice wine) on the menu, the perfect thing after a long day of work.

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