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Beijing Scene, Volume 5, Issue 22, August 20 - 26

Restaurant Guide

Rotary Sushi
Confessions of a raw fish addict
by Susan Su

My name is Susan and I am a sushiholic. I used to be a social sushi eater, but now I eat it alone. Often. I try to control the addiction by not eating it in the mornings, or only having California rolls, but as soon as I see raw salmon my eyes glaze over and I start to drool. Sometimes I can't even remember the transformation from woman to sushi monster. I just see the empty plates in front of me, and feel the shameful, burning sensation of Japanese mustard on my lips.

I've always known of my addiction, but I was keeping it in check until I discovered Rotary Sushi in Beijing. That is when it all started. Because before I found Rotary Sushi, I couldn't afford to eat at any other sushi place, so I stayed away, I just cut myself off completely.

But one night a friend asked me to have sushi with her. She pressured me into it by saying it was going to be really cheap. And here I am, sitting at the bar with a conveyer belt of fresh scallop, roe, seaweed and salmon coming at me. Next to the bar five plates are taped up, color coded to indicate price: rmb 5, rmb 8, rmb 16, rmb 22. I've never seen sushi so cheap, and I know my days of piscean abstinence are coming to an ignominious end.

I mean, I can just grab what I want, no waiting, no menus, no formalities. Then the waitress comes and pours me a tall cup of green tea, and I know I am ruined. The place is packed, and people are so happy, everyone is acting like they are from Japan or something, but I continue to hold out until the sushi chef takes out a big knife and cuts up some smoked eel right in front of me. And I am off on yet another sushi binge.

The peaceful, air-conditioned restaurant, although part of the less than quaint Friendship Store conglomeration of fast food chains, is clean and efficient. Rotary Sushi is a nice retreat from dusty Beijing, where any innocent bystander runs the risk of colliding with a flying spitgob, and tablemats regularly double as trash heaps. Instead, this Sino-Japanese joint venture offers tall cups of green tea refilled quietly by eager but polite waitstaff , canisters brimming with pickled ginger, shoga and soy sauce and shoyu lining the bar and tables for the taking. Free tea refills always keep me coming back, but for those with other addictions, Asahi beer is rmb 18 per bottle and sake goes for rmb 30 per flask.

During these muggy summer days, in a Beijing riddled with hot cramped restaurants serving nothing but greasy fried food, sushi is the only thing that works up my appetite. Hearty dark slabs of tuna, or maguro, flown over from Japan and served on neatly packed rice fixed by master chef Kabe-san go for rmb 16, as does unagi or smoked eel from the northeastern port city of Dalian. Even cheaper are the bright orange slabs of Norwegian salmon (sanmo) octopus (tako), and sweet shrimp (ama-ebi) all of which cost rmb 8 per plate. Cucumber rolls (kurimaki) and futomaki packed with cucumber, pickled carrot, whitefish and egg go for only rmb 5 per portion. For dess0ert, there are always fresh slices of fruit and coconut-covered bean cakes circulating on the conveyor belt.

Sushi chef Kobe-san has lived in Beijing for three years. Although he can't speak a word of Chinese, he makes sure that Rotary Sushi does its best to serve Beijing customers. Since the Sino-Japanese joint venture opened ten months ago, Kobe-san has been there day after day making sure all food served has an authentic Japanese flavor by preparing all of the essential ingredients including rice (gohan)and seaweed (nori) with his own two hands. Although Rotary Sushi is a typical fast food joint in Japan, its standards are well above a Kentucky Fried Chicken. They'll even make your sushi fresh to order, including temaki or handrolls for the sushi connoisseur. Aside from the sushi bar, there are booths to sit in as well as larger round tables for big groups. All seats are within arm's reach of the conveyor belt. Rotary Sushi is always good for a quick bite, but it may not be the best place for romantic conversations since, with all of this sushi flying around, it's hard to keep your, hard to keep your, to keep your concentration is that an uni roll I see coming around the bend?

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