You might be surprised that for many of us, our favorite Japanese dish, sushi, is actually not of Japanese origin.
The history of sushi is an interesting story of the evolution of a simple dish that took a long period of time, at least 1800 years, for us to enjoy it in its current form.
What is to become sushi is first mentioned in China. Sushi originally originated as a way to preserve fish. The fish was gutted, salted and placed in the middle of boiled rice. They were allowed to roam, which allowed a person to store edible fish for some time. Rice fermented, creating an acidic environment where bacteria could not develop and fish could be stored for months. However, when people ate fish, they threw away the rice.
This fish preservation technique spread throughout China, and in the seventh century, along with the cultivation of rice, came to Japan, where seafood was the main product. The Japanese went further and began to eat rice with fish. This type of sushi is called Namanare-Zushi. At first, the dish was prepared in much the same way. However, people began to reproduce this type of dish not by fermentation, but by adding vinegar to boiled rice.
So, in the early 17th century, Matsumoto Yoshiichi from Edo (now Tokyo) began to season rice with rice wine vinegar, while preparing his “sushi” for sale. They were called haya-zushi, literally “fast sushi”. This made it possible to eat the dish immediately instead of waiting months. From that time on, they no longer waited for the rice to turn sour, but mixed boiled rice with vinegar and added fish, vegetables and other ingredients.
And in the 19th century, a man named Hanaya Yohei, conceived major changes in the production and presentation of their sushi. It was no longer necessary to wrap the fish in rice, he simply placed a piece of fresh fish on an oblong piece of seasoned rice. Today we call this style Nigiri sushi (finger sushi) or edomae sushi (from Edo, the name of Tokyo at the time), and it is now a common way to eat Japanese sushi. At the time, sushi was served from sushi stalls on the street, but sushi soon evolved from “fast food” to real food.
Sushi quickly spread throughout Europe and the rest of the world. With the advent of seafood advertising, this unusual style of serving fish was quickly adopted by Western cultures, always striving for something new and thanks to an increase in attention to healthy food, low in fat and calories.
Sushi, once a unique Japanese dish, has now been taken to another level beyond traditional Japanese methods. Western influences have spawned new styles of sushi, such as California rolls and many sophisticated “fusion” creations in upscale sushi restaurants. The history of sushi is long, at least 1800 years old, but the current interpretation is popular all over the world, and rightly so. The demand for sushi is only growing and seems to continue to grow. The history of sushi is far from over.
Did you like our sushi story? Do you love sushi? What is your favorite? Let us know in the comments section.