We’re going beyond fish today with a four-way maika faceoff.

If you’re from a culinary culture that doesn’t commonly eat squid, Japan’s kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurants are a great way to try it. Squid is readily available at kaitenzushi chains, usually one of the most affordable types of sushi on the menu, and being able to order a single plate with two bite-sized pieces is great for if you’re still at the try-it-to-see-if-you-like-it phase.

But there are a lot of kaitenzushi chains to choose from, so we sent our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun to Japan’s four biggest, Kappa Sushi, Kura Sushi, Hama Sushi, and Sushiro, to see how their squid sushi compares.

▼ Clockwise from top left: Kappa Sushi, Kura Sushi, Sushiro, and Hama Sushi

As always with P.K.’s days of sushi, he hit up all four restaurants within a span of three hours, to eliminate any seasonal flavor fluctuations. He also made sure to order the exact same type of squid, called maika in Japanese, at each restaurant, and they were all identically priced, at 110 yen (US$0.90) for two pieces.

Let’s take a look at his notes:

● Kappa Sushi

“Out of the four restaurants, Kappa Sushi’s squid is the sweetest-tasting. It has a sticky texture on the tongue, and the squid is scored with a knife for a good texture. Because it’s so sweet, the aftertaste lingers for a while too, which some people might not like, but if that’s not an issue, this is some really good sushi for this price point.

● Kura Sushi

“This is sweet and has a sticky texture too, but it’s not quite as sweet as Kappa’s. Kura Sushi also uses a lot of vinegar in their rice, and that tart element makes for a nice interplay with the squid’s sweetness. Overall, this is solid, standard squid sushi.”

● Hama Sushi

“The texture isn’t so different here, but Hama Sushi’s squid has the least sweetness out of the bunch. That also gives it the cleanest finish and shortest aftertaste of the bunch, though, so you could say this is a mild and refreshing flavor.”

● Sushiro

“Sushiro’s squid has some stickiness at its center, but the surface texture is closer to what you’d call ‘chewy.’ In terms of sweetness, it’s in the middle of the pack.”

So if you were going to rank them in terms of sweetness/strength of flavor, it’d be Kappa Sushi at the top, followed by Kura, Hama, and Sushiro. That said, as four widely popular mainstream chains, they’re all pretty tasty, so the squid comparison results are just one factor, out of many others, to take into consideration when choosing a kaitzenzushi chain to eat at.

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