I love conveyor belt sushi. It’s great because it’s a) fun and b) I can afford to eat it every week. It also happens to be at the only place in town where you can purchase a bottomless cup of soda (a proud American tradition whose absence I mourn in Japan). I’ve become such a regular that the veteran sushi chef behind the counter meets me with a smile when I come in, and nonchalantly places my favorite items on the conveyor belt in front of me. He doesn’t speak, but you can tell what he’s thinking: “I’m not saying you WANT the salmon, I’m just saying you’ve eaten like 20 pieces of it in my store in the last month. Let it cruise on by if you want, it makes no difference to me…”
Conveyor Belt Sushi Place recently opened up a sister store nearby, and I thought I would give it a go in the spirit of loyal patronage. The new place definitely had a different feel; it was more open, had cooler music, brighter lighting, and a comfortable waiting area for hoards of customers that would inevitably come.
My ritual for conveyor belt sushi is usually this: sit, grab an empty cup, a green tea bag, and a soy sauce bowl from the small conveyor belt just over the counter. Snag a tube of wasabi passing by on the upper conveyor belt. Get hot water for tea from the spigot placed just in front of the customer at the counter. Grab ginger and soy sauce from containers at the counter, just to the right of my elbow. Proceed to eat boatloads of sushi. It’s a whole beautiful choreographed dance of deliciousness.
But at the New Sushi Place, everything was subtly different. I didn’t realize how much I’d come to depend on these small details. No wasabi on the conveyor belt. No tea bags, no spigot. Where was everything? I couldn’t begin my meal until I’d found and assembled these basic raw materials. I located small bowl and filled it with soy sauce, but was then stumped at how to proceed. I then spied a small bowl of green powder with a tiny spoon. Ah! This must be wasabi powder, just like the tin in my spice cupboard at home! I took a spoonful, dumped it in my soy sauce.
When the Japanese couple next to me fought valiantly not to snicker, I realized to my horror what I’d done: I put green tea powder in my soy sauce. Let me say that one more time, so it really hits home: green tea and soy sauce. I’m pretty sure that’s a bad combination world-over, no matter where you come from. The kanji on the receptacle’s lid, which I hadn’t bothered reading, was now glaringly obvious.
After living in Japan for almost a year, I kind of thought I was beyond making these elementary gaijin mistakes. I probably should have been deported for such a culinary transgression. Instead, my neighbors at the sushi counter kindly averted their eyes, and pretended like nothing had happened.
Thanks for the fish, New Place, but I think I’m going back to my reliable sushi standby.