conveyor belt sushi healthy

Quick Video Guide to Conveyor Belt Sushi in Japan

     GuidesNomad’s Guide to Japan > Quick Video Guide to Conveyor Belt Sushi in Japan

While Japanese food is generally pretty healthy, food convenience and quickness sometimes trump overall healthfulness of the food. This just means I have to put a bit more forethought into my means when I eat out, but it’s still very possible to keep things on the healthier side.

Sushi, Sushi, and Sushi

Sushi is a pretty broad category of food, where raw slices of various fish are topped over or wrapped around a special vinegar-soaked rice. The making of sushi rice is an art in itself because really, really good sushi rice is like a whole different delicious world for your taste buds. It’s sometimes the entire reason I crave sushi, but I digress.

The name of the sushi depends on how it’s prepared and presented. In kaiten sushi, also known as conveyor belt sushi or “rotation sushi”–which is essentially sushi on a rotating conveyor belt–you typically find nigiri, hand rolls, gunkan maki rolls, soups, and other little bites.

All About That Cheaper Sushi

kaiten sushi

In Japan, sushi grade can vary a whole lot, and the higher quality sushi can make your wallet quite sad. Hey, I’m all about “treating yo’self,” but sometimes we have to compromise somewhere (Tokyo ain’t cheap, yo!). Conveyor belt sushi, on the other hand, can be an affordable way to stuff your face full of fairly good-grade sushi, if you know where to go. For conveyor belt sushi in Tokyo, you can’t go wrong with busier areas like Shibuya, Shinjuku, and Ikebukuro.

At a conveyor belt sushi joint, you are typically charged by the plate, but not until the very end, when you’re ready to bounce! The prices vary according to the quality or type of fish you are getting. Some places are advertised as being “hyakuyen kaiten sushi” joints (basically, 1USD sushi plates), and I’ve come across some fairly good ones. Even if they’re not, the most I’ve paid for 10-12 plates of delicious plates is 25USD for a filling, amazing meal.

Here’s the fun part: some places are a bit more high-tech, allowing you to order what you want directly from a computer screen. Service is fast, and your orders are quickly whisked to you on a little train that beeps at you. Once you grab the plate, you press a button to let it return to the kitchen.

The Healthy Choices at Conveyor Belt Sushi

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You generally can’t go wrong with the choices, although you may want to pay attention to amount of carbs you’re eating overall. If you’re training and walking a ton, that shouldn’t be a problem. Remember, in the end total calories still matter for weight gain or loss!

The nigiri and gunkan maki (which they hilariously call “battleships” here) sushi offer a great source of protein and carbs (the ratio is about 1:2.5 per piece), with relatively low fat depending on the cut of fish.

  • Fattier pieces: salmon, fatty tuna, ikura (big fish eggs), tamago (sweet egg omelette), unagi (eel), and mackerel.
  • Leaner pieces: squid, uni (sea urchin), shrimp, octopus, yellowtail, tuna, imitation crab, scallops, and natto.

Now keep in mind that even among those types of fish or seafood, there are different species and cuts that can change the overall breakdown of macronutrients. However, if you’re eating them straight nigiri style, you don’t have to worry too much unless you’re eating mass quantities of them (like more than 10 pieces total).

At the places I’ve been to, there are things other than sushi, such as smaller portions of ramen, soba, udon, fried oysters, fried chicken (chicken karaage), tempura, french fries, and more!

If your goal is to be mindful of your meal, stay away from the “side menu” items, where many of the aforementioned items can be found, the fried rolls, and the pieces of sushi that have liberal amounts of mayo. While tasty, they add unnecessary fats and calories to your entire meal.

I do recommend ordering something called chyanko soup, or sumo stew, if that is available. It’s fairly healthy, filling, and not to mention, complements a great meal. Miso soup is another great option.

Cover image credit: Karen Hong Photography.

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