Don’t tell sushi purists who enjoy the hours-long gourmet experience, but those beloved, artisanal rolls of fish and rice were initially served as a fast-food snack to grab and go on the busy streets of 1900s Tokyo. If the SushiBot catches on, might we be seeing sushi stands next to the hot dog and pretzel stands on the street?
Sushi’s popularity has spiked in recent years, steering the cuisine away from the masterful creations of a personal sushi chef. Instead, most sushi is delivered by placing hastily-made rolls on a plastic black tray with a packet of soy sauce and a snippet of fake grass and shoving it in the refrigerator of the convenience store around the corner. And since there’s no yanagi knife in sight, it’s an afterthought if the sushi was crafted by human hands. Sure, sushi machines are nothing new, but even the most high-powered machines are just as fast as a skilled chef. Enter 2012, though: the SushiBot has emerged to steal their jobs.
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Suzumo unveiled the SushiBot at the World Food and Beverage Great Expo last week. In telling Japanese terminology, it’s touted as a sushi robot, and it has the power to pump out a whopping 3,600 pieces of sushi per hour. That means once every second, it grabs a glob of vinegared rice and shapes it perfectly into an oval mound. Pop a piece of fish on top and you’ve got nigiri sushi – actually, they might need to rework the name for this machine-handled bed of rice, because nigiri translates to “hand-formed.” We wouldn’t want to be disingenuous with our sushi-making, would we?
But this machine does more than just shape rice clumps, as the above video shows. It also can form one complete sushi roll every 12 seconds, with a very limited human helping-hand to place the fish onto the rice. After that, it’s all hydraulics to shape the roll and chop it up. Suzumo’s promotional video touts the company mission as the desire to “precisely recreate the handmade taste and technique used by an experienced sushi chef,” a mission they’ve been pursuing since the company’s founding in 1981.
But the reality is these machines make sushi-crafting as simple – and mindless – as toasting a slice of bread. Suzumo is automating the sushi process to the point where it could be made in any store, by anyone, skilled or not. While we should indeed rue the death of the hand-crafted sushi roll and the painstakingly artistic process that goes along with it, surely there are enterprising restaurateurs smacking their lips at the possibility of chefless sushi. Soon there might even be a space along the buffet line carved out for one of these robots. After all, given the choice between a salad or sushi roll, we’d choose the fish.