Brief Overview of Sushi
Worldwide Famous Japan's Food Icon Made with Fresh Fish and Japanese Rice
Food called sushi (described as 寿司, 鮨, 鮓, 寿斗, 寿し or 壽司 in Japanese) is a Japanese cuisine combining vinegared rice mainly with seafood. Sushi is roughly classified into a group of 'Haya-zushi' (fresh sushi) using fresh seafood, and a group of 'Nare-zushi' (fermented sushi) which is seafood kept in rice and fermented by the action of lactic-acid bacillus. Edomae-zushi or Nigiri-zushi (hand-rolled sushi), representative sushi among them, is already recognized all over the world to such an extent that the term "sushi" is used as it is. Each region in Japan has its own sushi. Sushi was originally one of methods to preserve protein (mainly of fish meat, game meet and so on).
One of The Healthiest Food in the World
Since sushi uses simple ingredients of fresh seafood and Japanese rice and not containing lot of fat and sugar, it is well-known as one of the healthiest food in the world. Japanese people's the longest life expectancy in the world shows the healthiness of Japanese foods including sushi. Because of the momentum of enhancing a healthy life in the world, many sushi bars and restaurants opened all around the world as a fine dining.
Documentary of Sushi (27:14)
Types of Sushi
Worldwide Famous Japan's Food Icon made with Fresh Fish and Japanese Rice
Nigiri-zushi (sushi shaped by hand) is representative at present, but major kinds of sushi used for bento (lunch box) are Oshi-zushi (lightly-pressed piece of sushi topped with cooked ingredients), Chirashi-zushi vinegared rice with thin strips of egg, pieces of raw fish, vegetables and crab meat arranged on top), Maki-zushi (sushi roll) and Inari-zushi (fried tofu stuffed with vinegared rice). In addition to the above, Nare-zushi (fermented sushi) and so on exist.
This sushi is bite-sized vinegared rice topped with sliced or shucked fresh seafood, cooked seafood such as mackerel (marinated in vinegar), conger (cooked in soy sauce or grilled) or other ingredients such as sliced omelet (a Japanese style omelet) and so on which is formed by hand. In general, grated wasabi (Japanese horseradish) is put between a topping and rice. Sushi without wasabi is sometimes called 'sabinuki' (without wasabi). Nori (dried seaweed) is sometimes used to prevent separation between a topping and rice. This sushi is formed so as to be eaten in one bite.
This refers to sushi made by spreading vinegared rice over the dried seaweed, placing fillings such as cucumber, omelet, etc. on it, and rolling it with makisu ("sushi mat," bamboo mat used in food preparation). Maki-zushi is classified as follows.
- Hosomaki (thin sushi roll) is an easy-to-eat sushi roll with a diameter of about three centimeters. It generally contains only one filling.
- Futomaki (thick sushi roll) refers to sushi roll with a diameter of about five centimeters or above, and contains more than one filling. A big one is often eaten after cutting it into pieces about one centimeter thick, like small portions of Swiss roll.
- Chumaki (medium-sized sushi roll) is mainly sold at takeout sushi shops after the Middle Showa period. This sushi roll has a diameter between the above two, and generally contains two or three fillings.
It is a vinegared rice with thin strips of egg, pieces of raw fish, vegetables and crab meat arranged on top. Chirashi-zushi is often made at home, and is often served as homemade dish on days of hare and ke (sacred-profane dichotomy) such as rites and festivals. This is mainly classified into two groups.
- Group of chirashi-zushi decorated with toppings placed over a bed of rice.
This group includes Chirashi-zushi (placing foodstuffs used as toppings of Nigiri-zushi over the bed of vinegared rice) at Edomae-zushi (hand-rolled sushi) shops, Sake-zushi (a rice dish flavored with sake and mixed with vegetables and seafood) in Kagoshima Prefecture, and Bara-zushi (scattered sushi) in Okayama Prefecture and so on.
- Group of Chirashi-zushi eaten by mixing rice with ingredients such as thin strips of raw fish and vegetables.
This kind of Chirashi-zushi is also called Bara-zushi or Bara-chirashi. As ingredients, paper-thin omelet, boiled dried Shiitake Mushroom, gourd strip, vinegared lotus root, shrimp, broiled conger eel are used frequently. Each shop or home uses its own favorite ingredients, and fruits (apple, satsuma mandarin - Citrus unshu), cherry and so on) are sometimes used in some regions.
This refers to sushi made by layering rice and ingredients, and pressing them for a certain time. A group of Oshi-zushi includes, battera (mackerel sushi of Osaka) in Osaka Prefecture which is most popular Saba-zushi (rod-shaped sushi topped with mackerel), Bo-zushi (rod-shaped sushi topped with a large slice of fish) topped with mackerel in Kyoto Prefecture, Masu-zushi (round sushi topped with salmon) in Toyama Prefecture, Oshi-zushi topped with aji (Japanese horse mackerel), Sanma-zushi (sushi bar topped with saury), Gozaemon Zushi in Tottori Prefecture, Kaku Zushi in Hiroshima Prefecture, and Iwakuni Zushi (local pressed sushi in Yamaguchi Prefecture) in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Nare-zushi refers to sushi made through processes of mixing fish with salt and rice, preserving it for a long time and fermenting it by the action of lactbacillus. Originally, only the fish was preserved with salt and was fermented in a natural way, but, it is said that rice was added in order to promote fermentation in around the sixteenth century. Formerly, half-molten rice was removed after the long-term fermentation, and only the acidulated fish was eaten. However, even though it was being fermented and had an acid taste, if grains of rice maintained their original shape, the fish under maturation was called 'namanare' or 'namanari,' and was sometimes eaten along with its surrounding rice. Nare-zushi of sweetfish (Ayu-zushi - fermented sushi with sweetfish) in Wakayama Prefecture, Hatahata-zushi (Sandfish sushi) in Akita Prefecture are named, and especially, Funa-zushi (crucian carp sushi) in Shiga Prefecture is famous as the only 'honnare' (genuine fermented sushi) existing now in Japan. Koji (malted rice) is sometimes added like Kabura-zushi (yellowtail sushi) in Ishikawa Prefecture and Izushi (fermented pressed sushi) in Hokkaido. Narezushi is regarded as an original form of sushi. It is said that although people dislike the distinctive smell of decay before getting used to it, Nare-zushi is as delicious and addicts people when they get used to such smell, because protein of fish meat is broken down into amino acid which brings a delicious taste.
It is a fried tofu stuffed with vinegared rice The name, Inari-zushi, originated from a fact that abura-age (deep-fried bean curd) was a favorite food of the fox deeply related to a belief in Inari. "Morisada Manko" (a kind of encyclopedia of folkways and other affairs in the Edo period written by Morisada KITAGAWA) had descriptions that 'sushi made through processes of making a pouch by cutting one side of abura-age, and putting vinegared rice mixed with chopped Juda's ear, gourd strips and so on in the pouch had been sold (in the city of Edo) since the last year of Tenpo era. Inari-zushi was sold at shops before the Tenpo era, and its price was the lowest. "Tengen hikki" (established in the Meiji period) described that sushi stuffed with rice and tofugara (leftover after making tofu) (okara - bean curd residue) was eaten with soy sauce mixed with wasabi paste, and also that 'it was really gechoku (low price).' An illustration in "Kinseshobaizukushikuruiutaawase" in 1852 (The Collection of Comic Tanka (kyoka) on Modern Jobs) showed a scene where slender Inari-zushi, that does not exist nowadays, were being sold by pieces at street stalls.
Present-day Inari-zushi is made by stuffing abura-age opened in the form of pouch with only vinegared rice or with vinegared rice mixed with carrots, Shiitake Mushroom, sesame seeds. The latter is sometimes called 'gomokuinari.' The shape of inari-zushi differs accordingly because of the way it is divided around the prefectural boundary of Gifu like square in areas east of Gifu and triangular in areas west of Gifu. An assortment of Inari-zushi and Maki-zushi is called sukeroku.
Kansaizushi is a general name of local sushi mainly in the Kansai region. Hako-zushi (pressed sushi) which is representative of Osakazushi, battera, a kind of Oshi-zushi using toppings marinated in vinegar, Bara-zushi (gomoku zushi - vinegared rice mixed with various vegetable, fish and other ingredients), Maki-zushi are also included. Kansaizushi places importance on the taste of the rice and ingredients, not on their freshness, and the taste hardly changes when it is taken home.
Kakinoha-zushi refers to sushi wrapped with a persimmon leaf, and is one of the local Japanese dishes in Nara, Wakayama, and Ishikawa Prefectures. For information, the method of making and shaping differ between Kakinoha-zushi in Nara and Wakayama Prefectures and Kakinoha-zushi in Ishikawa Prefecture. Persimmon leaves preserved in salt are mainly used in Nara. Although the fermentation was originally mainstream, Kakinoha-zushi sold at stations and airports are often made using flavored vinegared rice to increase productivity and is shipped after one- or two-day storage. Originally, only the mackerel preserved in salt was used, but, salmon, small sea bream, conger eel was also used later on.
Mehari-zushi is also one of the local dishes in Nara and Wakayama Prefectures (and in the Kumano region of Mie Prefecture). Differently from sushi topped with mackerel, Mehari-zushi refers to sushi made through processes of wrapping vinegared rice (or white rice) with lightly pickled leaf mustard as it is, and is formed so as to be suitable for carrying like rice balls.
History of Sushi
Method of Preserving Seafood has led to Sushi
"Cultivated Plants and the Origin of Agriculture" (1966) written by Sasuke NAKAO described that this method was one of cultural complexes of swidden cultivation of 'hill folks in Laos and tribe doing swidden agriculture in Borneo Island.'"Sushi Book" (1970) written by Osamu SHINODA described that preserved food of fish meat of hill folks in Southeast Asia was the origin of sushi, and was developed as a means of preservation of fish which was seldom available due to the highlands. "Dietary Culture in Monsoon Asia based on the Research on fish sauce (soy sauce-like fish sauce) and Nare-zushi" (1990) written by Naomichi ISHIGE and Kenneth RUDDLE took plains in the northwestern part of Kingdom of Thailand and in Myanmar for instance, and described that the method to preserve seafood which was established along with rice cropping in paddy lands was handed down to subsequent generations.
In China, the character '鮨' (sushi) appeared in "Jiga" (Erya) established in the fifth to third centuries BC, and Jiga had a description that 'fish was so-called sushi.'"Shakumei" (Etymological Dictionary) established at the end of the second century described that '鮓' referred to pickled fish (pickled with salt and rice), and was eaten after being fermented.' However, after "Guangya" (Expanded Erya) edited in around the third century, '鮓' (pickled fish) was defined to be the same as '鮨' (salted fish) which had been defined as being different, which showed that '鮓' was not such a popular food. Based on various kinds of records, Osamu SHINODA positioned it as 'foreign food originating from the southern area' of China (which means the Han race here), that is to say, food imported from Southeast Asia.
"Yoro ritsuryo code" (code promulgated in the Yoro period) (718), one of the Japan's oldest reference records, and "Shozeicho" (balance sheets of tax rice) (729 - 749) also had descriptions of sushi, and it is considered that sushi had existed long before the reference records. Osamu SHINODA, Naomichi ISHIGE and so on considered that this sushi had been foreign food, and had been imported to Kyushu in Japan from areas around the Yangtze River in China, along with a rice-producing culture.
First Rise of Sushi in Japan
In 'Shukeishiki' of the "Engishiki" (927) in the Heian period, tribute articles from various districts were recorded, and many words of 鮓 and 鮨 were found in such records. A characteristic was that many of tribute articles were contributed from northern part of Kyushu, northern part of Shikoku, Kinki and Chubu district, but none were forthcoming from areas north of Kanto. Although materials were scarce to learn the detailed process used at that time, it is believed that sushi originated from 'honnare' sushi (genuine fermented sushi) referring to Nare-zushi which was made by fermenting fish (or meat) with salt and rice, and was eaten after removing rice (Kumano region has yogurt-like 鮓 (sushi) called 'Honnare-zushi,'). In "The Diary of Chikamoto NINAGAWA" (1473 - 1486) in the Muromachi period, sushi named 'Namanare' appeared. Namanare refers to sushi that was slightly fermented, and eaten with rice. A reason why namanare remains today in many places may be that short-time fermented makes it eatable earlier, but, in "Face of Sushi" written by Terutoshi HIBINO, he pointed that this might be because people felt that 'it would be a waste to discard the rice.'
With the passage of time, various methods were used to accelerate the fermentation of sushi like using sake, sake lees, or koji. And from the 1600s, examples of using vinegar came to be seen here and there. "Nabae" (Essay of Yasutaka OKAMOTO) written by Yasutaka OKAMOTO described 'a doctor whose name was Yoshiichi MATSUMOTO, invented sushi using vinegar in the Empo era (1673 - 1680), and this sushi was called Matsumoto-zushi.' Regardless of who invented sushi, as a result of using vinegar in making sushi, and the advancement in technology of brewing vinegar, sushi which was acidulated with vinegar without waiting for fermentation, so-called 'Haya-zushi,' came into being.
Origin of Contemporary Sushi in Japan
Senryu (humorous or ironical haiku), 'Form rice of sushi by hand as quickly as a sorcerer forms a round shape with fingers,' in "Yanagidaru" (a collection of senryu) (1829; year when the haiku was made was 1827) was the first description of Nigiri-zushi appearing in literatures. It is said that Nigiri-zushi was invented by Yohe HANAYA of 'Yohe's Sushi,' or by Matsugoro SAKAIYA of 'Matsu no Sushi' (commonly called name; original name of shop was Isago Sushi). According to "Morisada Manko," conventional sushi in Edo mainly referred to Kansai-style Oshi-zushi. However, when it was invented, Nigiri-zushi instantly became popular among Edo natives, and was sold everywhere in the city, and at the end of Bunsei era, shops selling 'Edo Sushi' also appeared in Kansai. In the last year (1844) of the Tenpo era, a 'sushi vendor' who carried Inari-zushi about for sale also appeared. At around this time, Maki-zushi also took root, and at the end of Edo period when the atmosphere of Restoration came close, a line-up of sushi which is also popular today came into being in a burst.
From around 1897, due to industrialized ice making, even sushi restaurants could easily obtain ice, and some restaurants started the installation of electric refrigerators at around the end of the Meiji period. The progress in fishing methods of coastal fisheries and in the distribution also led to a dramatic improvement of the environment handling fresh fish and shellfish. Foodstuffs for Edomae-Nigiri-zushi which used to be vinegared, soaked in soy sauce or cooked came to be used in fresh gradually in many cases. It was also the time when the number of kinds increased, nigiri (a rice ball) which used to be big was downsized, and a transformation to a form similar to present-day Nigiri-zushi started. It is said that as a result of dispersal of sushi chefs from Tokyo devastated by the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, Edomae-zushi spread all over Japan.
Sushi after the WWII
Soon after the World War II, under circumstances where food control was strict, the Emergency Restaurant Business Measures Ordinance was enacted in 1947, and it became impossible to openly operate sushi restaurants. In Tokyo, volunteers of sushi shops association stood up for a negotiation, and succeeded in obtaining an official business license processing on commission to make a trade of one go (unit of volume, approx. 0.18 liters) of rice for ten pieces of Nigiri-zushi (or four rolls of Maki-zushi). Since sushi shops not only in Kansai but also in various places in Japan followed this, only Edomae-zushi came to be sold at sushi shops across the country. In the high-growth period after the war, street stalls were already abolished on hygienic grounds, and although there were shops serving sushi at a moderate price, the idea that sushi restaurants were classified as high-class restaurants took root. Comics settling on the subject matter of office worker often showed a situation where a husband going bar-hopping until late at night bought and brought a box lunch of sushi in order to pay his court to his wife.
Heiroku Sushi,' "conveyor belt" sushi bar, opened in Osaka in 1958, and 'Kyotaru Company, Limited' and 'Kozosushi So-Honbu Co., Ltd.,' takeout sushi shops selling sushi at a moderate price, also opened. In around 1980, due to such sushi bars and shops completely became popular in various places in Japan and was visited by families, sushi regained the common touch. "How to Make Home-Made Sushi" written in 1910 by Seizaburo KOIZUMI who was a descendent of Yohe HANAYA already introduced peppered Maki-zushi using ham (or cold meat) as a filling, and Edomae-zushi (Haya-zushi) had an aptitude for accepting various kinds of foodstuffs.
In the 1970s, sushi had a burst of popularity mainly on the West Coast of the United States, and the 'California roll' developed under such circumstance had a great success and was brought back also to Japan. New ingredients for sushi and sushi' in the "Textbook of Sushi Techniques" in 1975 introduced as many as 100 kinds of new ingredients for sushi such as caviar, porcino, lobster, natto (fermented soybeans), junsai (water shield) and so on. Present-day sushi shops serve each and every kind of foodstuff as sushi, while sushi shops which stick to classical foodstuffs and technique also enjoy high popularity, and are regarded as a high-class restaurants serving expensive sushi. Sushi is a cuisine eaten out in most cases, as home-made sushi decreases.
SUSHI is Becoming an International Food
When the long national isolation ended and the Meiji period started, many Japanese people emigrated to South America and North America as immigrants, and Japanese communities were established in various places. It was 1887 when 'Yamatoya,' the first Japanese restaurant in the United States of America, opened in San Francisco. In Los Angeles, 'Miharashi-tei,' Japanese restaurant, opened in 1893 in an area which came to be called little Tokyo later, a soba restaurant opened in 1903, a restaurant of tenpura (Japanese deep-fried dish) opened in 1905, and a sushi restaurant opened in 1906. Japanese restaurants in little Tokyo before the war played the role of a cafeteria mainly for Japanese-Americans in a community which expanded to the scale of several tens of thousands of people at the maximum. However, the Japanese-American community broke down in the form of compulsory confinement because Japan became an adversarial country during World War II. For a while after the war, little Tokyo had only one sushi restaurant which started operation in the 1930s and served Inari-zushi, Maki-zushi, and sushi just topped with fish on the cut-out vinegared rice.
A glass box to put ingredients in was shipped overseas in 1962, and a 'sushi bar' equipped with authentic sushi counter was established in the corner of 'Kawafuku,' long-established Japanese restaurant. After that, 'Sakaegiku,' and 'Tokyo Kaikan' which invented the California roll were also equipped with glass cases in 1965, and the number of 'sushi bars' increased to three. Initially, there were almost no white people who ate sushi, but, in the 1970s sushi came to be accepted in white society, and grew to the extent of being called a sushi boom in the latter half of the 1970s. Reasons why the resistance to raw fish and dried laver was removed and sushi grew to the extent of being called a boom were that an image that sushi was low in fat and a healthy food took root, and the style of ordering sushi to a sushi chef face-to-face over the counter interested them. A Customer enjoyed sushi specially made for him/her by taking a seat in front of sushi chef familiar to him/her and ordering this and that like ordering cocktail at a bar, and a sushi chef invented new sushi one after another in order to respond to a customer's request using a character of Maki-zushi that it was easier to give a variety to Maki-zushi than to Nigiri-zushi. In addition, under the encouragement of a topic that a Jewish lawyer who was attracted by sushi opened a sushi restaurant by headhunting a sushi chef, and famous Hollywood actors and actresses with whom such lawyer had many contacts visited the restaurant every night, it became a status symbol to become a regular customer of a sushi restaurant, a so-called 'sushi connoisseur.'
Due to synergic effect of subsequent Japanese economic foray, a sushi boom ignited in Los Angeles rapidly spread to various places in the world, mainly in the United States of America. In 1983, 'Hatsuhana,' sushi restaurant in New York, was rated as a 4-star restaurant in the restaurant assessment by the New York Times, which showed that by around this time, an image was improved to the extent that a sushi restaurant valued as being equivalent to a high-class French restaurant appeared. At present, 'sushi' is part representative of Japanese food as well as teriyaki and tenpura, and many Japanese restaurants outside Japan contain sushi on their menus. Sushi enjoys high popularity especially in North America, and it's not rare that sushi is also sold at supermarkets even in local cities as well as in big cities.
Sushi restaurants around the world operated by and serve sushi prepared by non-Japanese people such as Chinese or Korean people have increased, and a percentage of sushi restaurants which are operated by and serve sushi prepared by Japanese people have decreased relatively. Therefore, even dishes prepared in a manner largely far (or departing) from a Japanese traditional manner of preparing sushi came to be sold as 'sushi.' Some sushi shops serve cuisine made by just putting fish or Chinese food on non-vinegared rice as 'sushi.' For this reason, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Japan announced a plan to 'assess Japanese food for the purpose of correct understanding of Japanese food' covering Japanese restaurants outside Japan.
Even in Russia achieving a remarkable economic growth, the sushi boom rises, and fanciers of sushi increase mainly in the wealthier categories. Due to spread of sushi culture worldwide by Japanese people, another phenomenon that prices of ingredients for sushi rise suddenly occurs.
How to Eat Nigiri-zushi
Take Nigiri-zushi by Hand and Eat It in One Bite
It is considered that a traditional way is to take fresh Nigiri-zushi by hand and eat it in one bite, and it is believed that this is the best way to enjoy sushi. This is because Nigiri-zushi was originally served at street stalls in many cases, and was equivalent to present-day fast food. Therefore, no strict eating manners are required in general. In recent years, it is sometimes preferable and recommended to eat sushi with chopsticks. This may be because 'when eating sushi by hand, fats of neta eaten right before remain on fingers, and ruin the taste of sushi eaten thereafter.'
Nigiri-zushi is divided into flavored and unflavored, and when eating unflavored, one individually adds a salty taste by dipping it into soy sauce. The flavored one is served by applying soy sauce-based liquid seasoning called 'tsume' (boiled down sauce) to the surface of toppings or by sprinkling with salt (not merely salt, but salt flavored with some seasoning is sometimes used). The unflavored one is eaten by placing it in a small saucer having soy sauce prepared beforehand (it is often said that the surface of topping should be dipped in soy sauce, and this is because if the rice side is dipped in soy sauce, the rice may lose shape, and such rice looks messy). Since flavored sushi is not usually dipped in soy sauce, some sushi restaurants say that sushi is already flavored when serving it.
10 Years of Training is Required to Be a Good Sushi Chef
It is said that to become an accomplished chef, training for about ten years is required as the saying goes, "Three-years of training for cooking rice and eight-years for making sushi." However, no legal qualification is required especially. In fact, part-time workers are in charge of making Nigiri-zushi in many cases, and it is possible to use an industrial robot can form a shape of Nigiri-zushi almost accurately in such process as a substitute. However, to become a sushi chef who makes good sushi, an ability to distinguish fresh fish at a market, knowledge, experiences and techniques such as slicing fish more thinly when fish are fatty based on the knowledge about season of various kinds of fish, and so on are required. A difference from "shari" (rice) formed by a sushi robot is that grains of cooked rice are not compressed one another inside the shari of Nigiri-zushi formed by a chef. It is true that long training is required to become a first-class sushi chef.