Japanese Delicacy (III): Sushi

Japanese Delicacy (III): Sushi

Sushi is the most iconic Japanese food. It is made of vinegared rice (sushi-meshi) and various ingredients, including raw, cooked and marinated seafood, eggs and vegetables. Sushi can be served as inexpensive fast food in Japan or as an expensive formal dinner. Its versatility and flavor make it a popular dish inside and outside Japan.

History of Sushi


The history of sushi dates back thousands of years ago when farmers in Southeast Asia preserved fish in a method called “narezushi”. Fish was fermented with rice, vinegar, and salt, after which the fish was consumed and the rice was discarded. The technique of preserving fish with lacto-fermentation was introduced to Japan in the Yayoi period (300 BC to 300 AD). Historically, the word “sushi” literally meant "sour", which refers to the sourness produced from fermentation.

The turning point came in the Edo period (1603-1867). Hanaya Yohei (1799-1858), a famous chef, invented Edomae Sushi, which was all the rage in Edo (contemporary Tokyo). From then on, fish began to be enjoyed with vinegared rice and nori. Nowadays, the term Edomae Sushi is used as a byword for quality sushi.

Misconceptions of Sushi


Sushi seems to be a mysterious food outside Japan. There are many misunderstandings about sushi.

1. Sushi is all about fish.

Fish is an important part of sushi, but apparently, it’s not everything. The rice, flavored with vinegar, sugar, and salt, is as important as the fish. Moreover, it’s totally wrong if you think sushi must contain fish. There are many types of sushi, which will be introduced in the next part.

2. The fresher, the better.

Remember the Edomae sushi we mentioned earlier? In the days before refrigerators, sushi restaurants would boil or cure fish in vinegar or soy sauce to prevent spoilage. For some ingredients, the fresher they are, the better the quality. For others, it is the same as before - they are aged for days to enhance the flavor.

3. Sushi is fast food.

You can indeed get sushi from convenience stores and supermarkets. However, in Japan, many exclusive sushi restaurants are providing formal and quality sushi.

4. Only Michelin restaurants have quality sushi.

In Japan, some of the best sushi restaurants don’t have Michelin stars. They may be unknown to travelers but highly respected by the locals and sushi lovers. Normally, they have to be booked months, sometimes even a year, before.

5. Sushi should be eaten with soy sauce and wasabi.

If you eat sushi in casual restaurants, you can add wasabi and dip soy sauce as you like. If you eat in an upscale sushi restaurant, the sushi is already seasoned by the chef, therefore, adding extra seasonings is not encouraged.

6. You should eat sushi with chopsticks.

Similarly, if you eat sushi in casual restaurants or at home, you can eat them the way you like! However, high-end sushi restaurants share different opinions on whether sushi should be eaten with chopsticks. In most cases, it’s recommended to eat sushi with your hand.

Types of Sushi


Sushi varies in different regions. Here are some of the most popular sushi.

  1. Nigirizushi (hand-pressed sushi): It is the most well-known sushi, consisting of a slice of raw fish atop, oval-shaped rice, and a strip of nori sometimes.
  2. Makizushi (rolled sushi): Strips of vegetables (carrot, cucumber, etc.) and fish are laid in rice and rolled inside nori with a bamboo mat.
  3. Uramakizushi (inside-out rolled sushi): It’s similar to Makizushi but the rice is the outer layer.
  4. Temakizushi (hand roll): It’s a cone-shaped Makizushi with one end closed.
  5. Chirashizushi (scattered sushi): It’s a (usually big) bowl of sushi rice topped with sushi ingredients, such as nori and seafood.
  6. Oshizushi (pressed sushi): Fish is pressed onto the nori and sushi rice is laid in a wooden box.
  7. Inarizushi: A sushi made of thin fried tofu and sushi rice.
  8. Gunkan: Oval-shaped sushi rice wrapped with a wide strip of nori topped with ingredients.
  9. Western-style sushi: California roll, Alaskan roll, Mango roll, etc.
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