WHAT IS SUSHI?
When most Westerners hear the word "sushi", the first thing that comes to mind is an image of raw fish. But history of sushi isn't about the fish alone - it's also about the rice. Raw fish served without the rice is called sashimi in Japan.
The origin of sushi is more than a century old. In Japan, it dates back to 700A.D. Historically, fish was salted and then sandwiched between layers of rice, then pressed down with heavy stones. This process would preserve the fish for months and sometimes up to a few years by "pickling" the fish. The rice was used to help start the fermenting process and was thrown out afterwards and only the fish was eaten. This form of sushi was called nare-zushi.
Because of food shortages that followed years later, rice became too valuable to be discarded and this method of preserving fish began to change. The Japanese people shortened the curing time to a period of three or four weeks and would then eat both the fish as well as the rice. With the shortened curing time, the fish was closer to raw when it was eaten. However, both the rice and the fish had begun to take on a subtle sour flavor due to the fermentation. This type of sushi became known as nama-nare sushi.
It was later found around the year 1600, by a doctor named Matsumoto Yoshichi, that the same curing and sour flavor could be achieved by using vinegar to prepare the rice. This reduced the curing time to one day. This form of sushi is still common in Tokyo today and is called haya-zushi.
Then, in the mid-nineteenth century, a sushi peddler named Hanaya Yohei opened his own shop and introduced sushi in a new style, called nigiri-zushi. Nigiri-zushi is a hand formed ball of vinegared rice and a slice of raw fish. This type of sushi is also known as Edomae, which comes from the name of region Edo, now called Tokyo, where Yohei opened his shop.
Recently, a new type of sushi called Kawari-zushi has become popular worldwide. This sushi is a roll with sushi-dane toppings and might be more commonly known as Californian rolls.
The preparation of sushi is a highly developed skill, requiring years of apprenticeship under a master chef, the Itamae-San. Sushi is more than just food - it is an edible art with countless variations in flavor and appearance.