Smart sushi: How the classic dish and technology come together
Kaitenzushi, or conveyor belt sushi, is possibly Japan’s most famous dining invention, and continues to amaze foodies around the world. The concept of serving plates of sushi on a conveyor belt is said to have started as early as 1958, and the trend continues to grow internationally even today.
Granted that the automated serving system has become a somewhat familiar scene today in sushi restaurants worldwide, the brilliant fusion of food and technology continues to evolve in a truly Japanese fashion. A visit to Muten Kura Sushi presented an advanced system that was beyond my knowledge of kaitenzushi.
The automated sushi adventure starts the moment you step into the restaurant. Upon entering, customers approach a ticketing machine instead of a member of staff. The touch-panel machine is where you enter the number of diners in your party, as well as your choice of sitting at a booth or at the bar. A ticket with your queue number is dispensed. Then it’s just sitting at the waiting area until your number is called.
When it’s finally your turn, the waitress hands you a little clipboard that holds information including your table number, an illustrated seating map and a billing sheet. Then you are left on your own to venture into sushi land.
The table numbers are clearly labeled, and with the seating map in hand, it is not a difficult task finding your allocated seat. At every table, there is access to not one but two conveyor belt lanes.
The bottom lane is the norm, providing a steady supply of fresh sushi and whatnot sitting on trays with dome-like covers to ensure that your dining experience is a hygienic one. These covers are a permanent fixture on the tray, so it might be an obstacle if you tried to pluck the whole tray off the lane. Just keep your cool, and lightly lift the plate. The cover will then pop open, releasing the plate from its protective dome, and you will then be able enjoy the flipping fresh delicacy.
At Muten Kura Sushi, all sushi are prepared fresh based on a “muten” recipe. “Muten” is a word often seen on Japanese food, and even cosmetic products. It literally means “no additives”, and over here at Muten Kura Sushi, their “muten” recipe promises that your food is prepared sans the use of additives such as flavor enhancers such as MSG, artificial sweeteners, artificial colorings and preservatives.
On top (or rather, at the bottom) of that, the freshness of the sushi on the belt is guaranteed by the QR-code sticker on the underside of the plate, which allows the system back in the kitchen to automatically eject plates that have been revolving around on the belts for too long. Pretty clever, huh?
Back at the table, the top conveyor belt is how the food you specifically ordered arrives.
Orders can be made on the automated ordering system accessible on the iPad attached at all tables. The menu is easy to navigate, with pictures of every item so you know what to expect. So you tap around on the iPad, make your order, and wait. About 30 seconds before your order arrives, the iPad beeps and informs you that your order is about to arrive. Shortly after, the order comes speeding down the top lane and stops perfectly at your table. The ultimate Japanese-like thing about this whole process is that the order is timed to ensure efficiency, the time taken for your order to arrive is displayed on the iPad. Most of the orders made are served fresh from the kitchen within just five minutes.
Free flow of hot tea is of course provided; the cups stacked above the serving lanes, green tea powder and supply of hot water available at the side of the table. Nothing out of the blue, you might think, but take a second look at the top of the serving lanes. There is a capsule toy machine sitting right there, staring at you as you eat. Here’s the fun part.
At the side of the table, under the bottom lane, there is a slot where you can drop in your empty plates. For every five plates you polish off, you get a chance to win something from the capsule toy machine. Everything is automated, of course: You slot in the empty plate, the system counts it, and every five plates an animation sequence is played on the iPad. If you got lucky, the capsule toy machine dispenses your prize! This system is sure to keep the feasting going, and gives the pesky little kids something to look forward to so they stay in their seats and eat their food.
After you’ve had your fill, asking for the bill is just a simple tap on the iPad. The restaurant staff will then come to your table, confirm the number of plates, and then direct you to make payment at the cashier counter. It couldn’t be easier.
Fresh sushi, efficient service, and entertainment to reward you for clearing your own plates. This is definitely an experience that will leave you in awe at the Japanese’s ingenious use of technology at the dining table.
Got a craving for a little sushi adventure? Muten Kura Sushi has over 300 outlets across Japan.
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