Japan's most famous cuisine becomes more affordable

Japan's largest sushi chain restaurants have started a price war that is making dining out on the nation's most famous delicacy more reasonable than ever before.

With the economic downturn continuing to bite and fewer people opting to eat out, operators of "kaiten-zushi" restaurants - where small plates of sushi roll past diners' tables on conveyer belts that are constantly replenished by the chefs - are looking to appeal to a new consumer base by cutting prices.

The three largest restaurant chains in Japan - Kappa Sushi, Akindo Sushiro and Kura Sushi - have reduced the cost of most platters to Y100 (€0.90) in a bid to attract families to replace the high-spending businessmen of the past.

The benefit for visitors to Japan is that sushi in the land that invented the cuisine has never been cheaper - and it is easy to keep an eye on the bill as the diner only has to count the number of plates that are piling up on the table.

Not all dishes have been cut to the Y100 level, however, as more pricey fish still remain a little more expensive, including the fattiest cuts of tuna and abalone.

In a further bid to appeal to new consumers, the restaurants are adding a number of inventive new dishes to their repertoires. Whereas previously they would only serve cuts of raw fish laid atop vinegared rice with a dab or fiery green wasabi, sushi chefs are experimenting with new combinations.

Some have introduced fried chicken dishes, salads, miniaturized hamburgers that sit atop rice that has been patted together or even hot dog sushi. Thinly sliced avocado has also become a popular addition to traditional sushi dishes, along with strips of thinly cut grilled beef.

Other innovations include the introduction of desserts, including ice cream, puddings and fresh fruit.

A government study released last year showed that salmon is the most popular dish in sushi shops, overtaking tuna in the number one spot. The study suggested that the rising price of tuna was the reason for the reversal.

Sushi purists are aghast at the impact the price war is having on quality, although there is still robust demand for the very highest quality raw fish at the nation's top restaurants.

JR

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