Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Grab N' Go Sushi at FISHSUSHI in Taipei

FISHSUSHI: A Sushi Deli Chain in Taipei
Choose From Nigiri, Hand Rolls, Onigiri, Boxed Sets
Only NT $100 (about $3) for this Boxed Set of Sushi at FISHSUSHI
Fill a Container with Individually Wrapped Sushi of Your Choice
It's Fun to Mix and Match Your Own Sushi!

Sushi in Taiwan: from the Ubiquitous to the Upscale

If you happen to be a foodie of great diversity like me, you might have a hard time choosing what to eat when in a city like Taipei.

The Solution: Eat Everything.

Well, not exactly everything. Obviously, only eat what entices you visually and aromatically. And if it tastes good, it’s a feast; if it tastes bland or foul, toss it out and move onto the next plate, and so on and so forth, so as to save space for more gorging. Because when you have a limited amount of time roaming from city to city in a peripatetic lifestyle, and you want the native food as well as the sushi there, it’s best to mentally prepare yourself to eat two or three times as much as you normally do. And in Taiwan, the food is fairly inexpensive…so there’s another reason to indulge with abandon.

Snatches of sushi seem to abound in Taipei, with a random deli by the bus stop here or inside the food court of a thriving shopping center there. FISHSUSHI is a ubiquitous chain, popping up at the corner of a night market or inside a subway station; Sushi Express, with its cutesy kawaii mascot, spins its conveyor belts of sushi plates inside Taipei’s Global Mall.

Passengers awaiting the next bus ride appear oblivious to the deluge of rain as they browse the racks of FISHSUSHI next to the bus stop, their umbrellas jostling one another as they peer at the see-through containers of sushi to go: NT $100 (about $3 U.S.) for a ready-made box with eight pieces of nigiri and gunkan maki—squid, octopus, shrimp, eel, silvery mackerel, baby shrimp doused in a mayonnaise-looking sauce with green speckles….

For those who have a little more time on their hands, empty containers wait to be filled—you get to pick each individually-wrapped piece of sushi, from imitation crab nigiri with a mini cheddar cheese slice on top to corn-filled gunkan maki, or slippery-looking baby squid sushi with chopped green onions—all for the bargain price of NT $10 to NT $15 per piece (that’s 32 cents to 48 cents each). Signs under stacks of boxes guide you: these hold one to five pieces, those can fit up to 12 pieces. Then take your sushi-packed container to the counter and pay—the clerk will wrap that obligatory rubber band around it, for the box is so simple and cheap that it doesn’t snap shut.

Considering that it sells grab-and-go sushi at a bargain, FISHSUSHI is not too bad, but don’t expect the rice quality to be very high. After sitting in the refrigerated display cases, the sushi rice is a bit chilled and firm, and it’s not exactly seasoned to perfection. FISHSUSHI’s appeal mostly lies in its convenience and fun “DIY” style, and in its rarity factor (some of these tasty servings of nameless fish are not seen in the States). 

Taipei's Sushi Express: Affordable Conveyor Belt Sushi

Taipei's Sushi Express in the Global Mall
Conveyor Belt Style at Sushi Express
Seared Mackerel Sushi with Spicy Mayo
Mullet Bottarga Sushi with White Radish
Inari with Mixed Nuts and Raisins

Straight Off the Conveyor Belt at Sushi Express

With its smiling sushi character logo, Sushi Express is a favorite stop of mine in Taipei. Located inside the Global Mall, Sushi Express (like most conveyor belt-style sushi restaurants) always seems to crank up something new every time I visit. This time, the most unusual item that caught my attention was the mullet bottarga sushi wrapped in a seaweed band with a slice of white radish on top. This bland radish, I presumed, was served plain and not pickled for the purpose of offsetting the extreme saltiness of the mullet bottarga, a cured fish roe. It was salty, for sure, as well as dry and hard to chew—not sure it’s the ideal sushi dish, but it sure was exotic and new to me.

Also new to me was the sight of inari filled with mixed nuts and raisins—perhaps a true delight for the vegetarian, or for someone impressed by creative fillings (I was once wowed by a chef who stuffed a piece of inari with shrimp, asparagus, sprouts, wasabi tobiko and a green cocktail umbrella). Non-sushi dishes here include mussels baked with mayonnaise, even baby squid soaked in a dark sweet sauce with green onions sprinkled on top.

It’s a visual delight at Sushi Express, where an array of colorful fish and other edibles (only NT $30 a plate) breeze by on the conveyor belt as the overworked yet polite staff members scurry about. The biggest decisions you have to make here beg the questions Which Ones and How Many. Six plates at Sushi Express cost a mere NT $180 (just under $6 in U.S. dollars).

Isaba Sushi of Taipei, Taiwan

Isaba Sushi at Shin Kong Mitsukoshi
Jumbo Scallop Sushi with Ikura
Shrimp Tempura Roll with Furikake
Seared Tuna Belly Sushi 
Jumbo Scallop on a Stick

Sushi Station Isaba

On the first floor of the Shin Kong Mitsukoshi shopping center in Taipei, the food court is a gourmand’s dream come true, with its redolent halls of multiethnic selections that seem never-ending. There’s the Korean food stall, the bakery, the Japanese curry restaurant, traditional Chinese food, and of course, a conveyor belt-sushi station in the center of it all called Isaba.

Isaba delivers on a grander scale than Sushi Express—the presentation is finer, the choices more ambitious, and of course, more expensive. There’s a color-coded hierarchy of nine plates here—the green ones carry cargo worth NT $30; the items on hefty black-and-gold presentation plates cost NT $250 ($8 in U.S. money). Little signs displayed on the conveyor belt before the dishes herald their names in Chinese: there’s the jumbo scallop sushi with ikura (salmon eggs) on top; the shrimp tempura roll trimmed with furikake (seasoned bits of seaweed); seared tuna belly sushi with green onions; a single baked scallop on a stick, brushed with a sweet brown sauce.

The quality here is top-notch, and the service is friendly and attentive. Each dish bursts with flavor. You know where your money went when you get a bill for NT $800 (about $26) after ordering six items.

In Taiwan, it seems to be all feast and never famine. If you’re not busy munching on night market oddities such as fried milk, stinky tofu, or pig blood popsicles, you might be trying to fall out of love with the Taiwanese style fried chicken. Or, whether it be casual and fast, or more formal and beautiful, there’s always sushi.