Price is right for kaiten sushiAt your table, lavish seafood dishes pass in front of you, and all you need to do is grab at any plates that look good. Revolving sushi bars, or kaiten sushi in Japanese, are sprouting across Seoul to the delight of sushi lovers who want to select their favorites at a cheaper price than at regular sushi restaurants in the city.
These sushi bars, which feature plates on conveyor belts, began showing up in Korea in the early 1990s. They were certainly cheap, but locals considered them unsanitary. The variety left something to be desired, as only a few popular kinds were available.
But recently, a growing number of kaiten sushi places are opening up, dressed up with stylish interiors, fresh ingredients and an expanded menus.
Giyo Sushi, a kaiten sushi bar located in Apgujeong-dong, just across from Cine City theater, is an example of the new kind of sushi bar. The restaurant, which has a 50-meter conveyer belt, offers more than 100 different types of sushi, with six well-trained chefs who have worked in five-star hotels.
At Giyo, sushi lovers can sample menus that aren’t widely available in Seoul, such as fatty tuna or avocado and salmon rolls, created by the restaurant chefs.
Normally each plate carries two pieces. The price of each plate varies depending on the type of seafood, ranging from 1,000 won up to 10,000 won.
At the counter, the restaurant will count up your empty plates and tally up the price, usually about 20,000 to 30,000 won, which is extremely reasonable for what you get.
Tips on when, what to eat
- If there is a long line during lunch, it probably means the restaurant serves fresh ingredients. The more people at the bar, the faster the plates get replaced, which means the sushi is more likely to be fresh.
- If you hear that the restaurant serves a good toro, a fatty tuna, it probably means the chefs are doing a good job. Toro is one of the most expensive types of sushi, which most prestigious sushi restaurants like to offer.
- Know that kaiten sushi is for a general audience. In ordinary sushi restaurants, you can order certain pieces that you like the most. But the prime reason for visiting kaiten sushi is sampling different varieties you wouldn’t have ordered otherwise.
- Choose your time wisely. If you go right when it opens, you might be able to taste the freshest sushi, but you probably won’t have as much variety available. Go between 12 to 1 for lunch, or 6:30 to 8:30 in the evening.
- Take the plates by the chefs closer to you. Sushi on conveyer belts can dry out quickly. But if you pick the ones that are made closer to your seat, you can enjoy fresh sushi. If the piece costs more than 5,000 won don’t pick them from the rail. You can order them individually, and they will be fresher.
- Eat pickled ginger and shallots. It is meant to refresh your palate, making the sushi taste better. Green tea is supposed to do the same thing.
- Sushi goes better with beer or sake (rice wines) than whiskey or soju. You can’t enjoy the authentic taste of sushi with hard liquor.
- There is no right order when eating sushi. But do start with pieces that are milder and gradually try stronger flavors. Try maki, or rice rolls wrapped in seaweed, near the end, as the rice may fill your stomach quickly.
Popular kaiten sushi restaurants in Seoul: (Provided by www.menupan.com)
Giyo Sushi (02-540-3320) ― Located in Apgujeong-dong, the restaurant has chefs who worked at the Shilla Hotel in Seoul for more than 10 years. Expect to wait more than 20 minutes if it’s busy. Prices start from 1,300 won. Toro costs 7,000 won.
Sushinomichi (02-2647-707) ― The restaurant is a two-story building, divided into table sittings and a rotating bar upstairs. The place has a large aquarium and booths for family reservations. Located in Mok-dong.
Arima (02-522-9977) ― The restaurant looks more like a regular sushi restaurant. It offers globefish as a specialty, which costs 20,000 won for two pieces. A steamed pot of mushrooms, fish and gingko nuts cost 10,000 won. Located near Seocho-dong.
Miyozen (02-3445-1075) ― This restaurant, which opened last year, is known for its variety. It offers more than 100 types of sushi, including various types of unusual and more common rolls, such as kimchi roll, crab roll and California rolls. Located in Apgujeong-dong.
Things to sample
Tuna: Toro, tuna belly, is among the most popular types of tuna. It is rich in flavor, melting on your tongue. Toro is not meant to be eaten quickly, but to be enjoyed slowly in your mouth. It is considered the most superb kind of sushi.
Maguro: Japanese evaluate the technique of sushi chefs by their maguro, or tuna. Sushi lovers always have to have at least one piece.
Sanmazushi: Made out of saury, it’s low in calories and high in protein. The taste is light and clean.
Karei: One of the most common types of sushi in Korea. It’s a flatfish, which has a meaty, tender flesh.
Ikura: The types of squids that are used for ikura varies from season to season. They are smooth on the surface.
Awabi: Made from abalone, one of the most expensive types of seafood in Korea. They are often eaten in porridge, but when eaten raw, it has a crunchy and chewy feel.
Amaebi: Shrimp can be eaten raw or cooked, small or large. Sushi chefs take extra care when it comes to shrimp because customers can tell the freshness of the ingredients right away.
by Yoo Jee-sang