Sushi is the Japanese dish which contains SUSHI MESHI, Japanese short grain rice seasoned with sweet rice wine vinegar. The toppings or fillings are raw or cooked fish, shellfish, vegetables and egg. The three most well-known types of sushi are: Maki Zushi — rolled sushi with seaweed (Nori), Nigiri Zushi — sushi rice topped with raw fish or other ingredients, and Chirashi Zushi — a bowl of sushi rice scattered or mixed with raw or cooked fish, raw or cooked vegetables or any combination of the above.
The Origin of Sushi
Sushi dates back to Southeast Asia during the fourth century B.C. People preserved protein rich foods such as fresh water fish and meat that were not always obtainable through the dry and rainy seasons. They fermented the fish by first soaking it in salt water and then marinating it in cooked rice. The natural fermentation of the cooked rice generated lactic acid, which prevented the protein rich food from rotting. After several months of fermentation, the rice became too acidic and was thrown away, but the fish was well preserved and delicious.
The History of Sushi
Historians believe that sushi can be traced back to Mainland China during the third and fifth centuries B.C. However, sushi was not popular in China and completely disappeared from their culture shortly thereafter. The first evidence of sushi in Japan is found in an old law document, Yourou-Ritsuryo (718 A.D.) that referred to awabi (abalone) and igai (mussel) in the Nare-zushi style. Nare-zushi is a traditional form of fermented sushi in which skinned and gutted fish are stuffed with salt, placed in a wooden barrel, doused with salt again and then weighed down with a heavy pickling stone for six months before eating. In the Muromachi Period (1336–1573 A.D.) in Japan, vinegar was added to the mixture to shorten the time of fermentation, improve the taste and better preserve the fish. Fermenting fish in vinegar and rice breaks the fish down into amino acids (called “Umami” in Japanese, one of the five basic tastes). This time, the rice is eaten instead of being thrown away. The vinegar accentuates the sourness of the rice and increases its shelf life. The vinegar also shortens the fermentation process so there is almost no waiting time at all, which is called Haya Zushi (quick sushi). In the next few centuries, Oshi-Zushi was developed in the Osaka area (the Western part of Japan), which is seafood and rice pressed together using wooden molds.
The Development of Sushi
In Edo (Tokyo) during the Edo period (Tokugawa period, 1603-1868), a fisherman, named Yohei Hanaya, invented fast food like sushi using regular rice and freshly caught fish from Edo Bay (Tokyo Bay). Later, sushi rice was used and this bite size sushi, Edo-mae Zushi, was sold on the street or in theaters and it was a huge hit in Tokyo. The shape of the Edo-mae Zushi is similar to what we now know as Nigiri-zushi, a sushi rice ball on the bottom and fish on the top. After the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923) destroyed Tokyo, many sushi chefs lost their jobs and went back to their hometowns, where they introduced sushi to people throughout Japan.
The sushi now known internationally is considered “comtemporary sushi”. During the 1980’s, when Japan was experiencing great economic growth, Japanese sushi chefs started opening sushi restaurants all over the world, including the United States. Sushi is one of the most popular Japanese dishes because it is a “clean food” that is both stylish and healthy. This current style of sushi is far from the traditional Japanese sushi, however. Sushi chefs continue to change the style, the ingredients and the flavors of the sushi they serve.
Types of Traditional Sushi
Nigiri Zushi—A bite size sushi. A little oval shaped piece of sushi rice topped with raw/cooked seafood and/or vegetables. Maki Zushi—A rolled sushi with seawead. The filling could be raw/cooked seafood and/or vegetables. Chirashi Zushi (Kanto Style)—Sushi served on a plate or in a bowl. Sushi rice is on the bottom of the plate or bowl and is topped with raw seafood. Chirashi Zushi (Kansai Style)—Sushi served on a plate or in a bowl. Scattered sushi rice is mixed with cooked vegetables and/or fish on a plate or in a bowl. Temaki Zushi—A hand rolled sushi. Cone or cylinder shaped sushi filled withsushi rice, raw/cooked seafood and/or vegetables. Inari Zushi—A pouch sushi. Cooked seasoned fried tofu pouch is stuffed with sushi rice. Oshi Zushi—A pressed sushi. Seafood/vegetables are placed on the bottom of a wooden mold and sushi rice is placed on top of the seafood and/or vegetables. The sushi is pressed hard to shape it
and then it is reversed so that the seafood/vegetables are now on the top and the rice is on the bottom. The Oshi Zushi is cut into squares or rectagular shapes and then served.
Text: Mamie Nishide http://www.japanesecookingstudio.com/ Assistant: Senna Abe