All of Denver’s food community is looking forward to the opening of Jeff Osaka’s Sushi Rama this year. One of the many reasons for the excitement is so that they can experience kaiten sushi: sushi on a conveyer belt.
If you’ve never eaten at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant before, you definitely should head to Sushi Rama once it opens. This form of fast-food sushi is popular in Japan and many urban areas in America. After the sushi chefs prepare the product, it is plated and set on a conveyor belt that travels past the customers sitting at the counter and tables. They can then snatch up what they want as the plates pass by, making for a fast and easy meal.
Kaiten-zushi, literally “rotation sushi” was invented by restaurant owner Yoshiaki Shiraishi. He had a hard time keeping his restaurant staffed and couldn’t manage the operations on his own. He wanted to serve more customers quickly and efficiently while still keeping costs down. Shiraishi was inspired to create the machine after watching beer bottles travel along a conveyor belt in an Ashai brewery.
After five years of design and development he opened the first conveyor belt sushi restaurant, called Mawaru Genroku Sushi, in Osaka in 1958 and it was an instant hit. The method of delivery allowed him to quickly serve customers without adding staff. While he initially just used chairs around a central bar where the conveyor belt traveled, he soon added tables which increased his seating and allowed for groups.
Getting the timing of the conveyor belt proved to be a challenge for Shiraishi. Too fast and the sushi could dry out or there could be accidents, too slow and customers complained about the wait. He settled on eight centimeters per second.
Conveyor belt sushi experienced a big boom in popularity in the 1970’s after Shiraishi opened one of his Genroku Sushi restaurants at the Osaka World Expo. This brought his unique invention to a huge international audience. People loved being able to eat quickly and affordably and at one point he had 240 conveyor belt sushi restaurants in Japan.
The idea was slower to spread outside of Japan but today you can enjoy freshly made sushi and other menu items like drinks, desserts, soup and appetizers. Many restaurants in Japan also feature touch screens at each table that allow customers to place special orders and play games for prizes. Billing is conveniently handled with color coded plates that are tallied when the customers are finished.
Seared Wahoo with Scallion Pistou
1 pound wahoo loin, cleaned and trimmed
Freshly-ground black pepper
4 ounces scallions, washed and left whole
1 jalapeno chile, seeds removed and sliced into thin rings
1 radish, trimmed and thinly shaved
2 ounces fresh parsley
2 ounces extra-virgin olive oil
1 package daikon radish sprouts
Pinch of Maldon sea salt
Pinch of Aleppo pepper flakes
Liberally season wahoo loin with kosher salt and pepper. Allow salt crystals to dissolve for 3 to 4 minutes before searing. Sear loin over high heat in a small amount of vegetable oil until skin is golden on both sides. Cool and slice against the grain into 3/8” thick slices. Divide into 4 portions and set aside.
Add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil to a sauté pan, and sauté scallions over medium-high heat until charred. Set scallions aside and let cool. Blanch parsley in a pot of salted boiling water for 30 seconds, and immediately transfer parsley to an ice bath. Wring out excess water from parsley and place parsley, 1 tablespoon of parsley water and charred scallions in a blender; blend until smooth. Slowly pour in olive oil, and season mixture with kosher salt and pepper; set aside.
Fan fish slices in a line on a round plate. Garnish with maldon sea salt and Aleppo pepper flakes and drizzle with lime juice. Decorate plate – and fish – with dots of pistou. Scatter Fresno chile rings, shaved radishes and daikon radish sprouts over fanned fish slices.
1. Don’t move or turn the scallions prematurely; you’re looking for the green tops to appear burnt.
2. For uniformity – and a touch of finesse – transfer the pistou to a fine-nosed squeeze bottle and use it to garnish the plate with dots.
Recipe courtesy of Lance Barto, executive chef of Brazen