Our taste tester has spent years avoiding kaiten sushi shime saba, so will he regret giving it a second chance?

When ordering at a sushi restaurant, there are two schools of thought as to when you should order your favorite type of fish. Some people, craving instant gratification, order it right away, while others like to save it for last, letting their anticipation build throughout the meal.

But then there’s our Japanese-language reporter P.K. Sanjun, who loves mackerel sushi, but orders it…never. Or, at least he never orders it when he goes to kaiten/conveyor belt sushi restaurants. After multiple disappointments, P.K. simply gave up, and it’s literally been years since he ordered shime saba, as the standard type of vinegar-cured mackerel sushi is called in Japanese, at a kaiten sushi joint.

So he wasn’t exactly licking his lips when mackerel day came up on the schedule for our ongoing test-test comparison between Japan’s big four conveyor belt sushi chains.

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

But duty called, and so P.K. visited all four on the same day within a span of three hours, keeping his fingers crossed that things had improved in the years since his last experience with kaiten sushi shime saba.

Each chain prices their shime saba at 110 yen (US$0.80) for two pieces, so let’s take a look at P.K.’s notes.

● Hama Sushi

“This is pretty much exactly my image of ‘conveyor belt sushi mackerel.’ The vinegar isn’t overly harsh, which is nice, but there’s nothing here that’ll make you shout ‘This is so good!’ It’s mediocre, without the fat content and umami you want in mackerel.”

● Sushiro

“This is pretty much the same as Hama Sushi. It’s not bad, but definitely not ‘Great!’ either. You can usually expect Sushiro to be above and beyond when it comes to great-tasting budget-priced sushi, but not this time.”

● Kura Sushi

“It’s nice that Kura Sushi gives you such thick cuts of fish, much thicker than at the other restaurants, but there’s not enough rich umami here. Not bad as far as conveyour belt sushi mackerel goes, though.”

● Kappa Sushi

“This is, far and away, the best of the bunch. I’ve got to make special mention of the delicious fattiness to the fish and how much umami it has. The vinegar isn’t overpowering either, so the fish itself is where the majority of the flavor is coming from. This is the one where I can simply say ‘It’s delicious!’ It’s not just a step above the others, it’s more like three steps above.”

So in the end, P.K. is still pretty cautious about ordering conveyor belt shime saba, but giving it a second chance has in turn given him at least one more place to get his mackerel fix, and since it happens to be Kappa Sushi, there’s one other type of sushi he needs to remember to order while he’s there too.

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[ Read in Japanese ]