The origin of Sushi can be traced back to the 4th century BC in Southeast Asia. This delicacy is mistakenly believed to have originated in Japan. The original form of Sushi called, Nare-zushi was made of fermented rice and fish.
For purposes of preservation, traditionally fish was wrapped in fermented rice a lacto-fermented rice dish. Gutted fish was wrapped in fermented rice and stored for months at a time. The rice actually acted as a preservative for the fish and was discarded while the fish was consumed.
As time passed the dish spread through China and it wasn’t until the 8th century AD that this meal was introduced in Japan in the Heian period. It was around this time and through this shift that the dish became popular in it current form. This happened mainly since Japanese prefer to have their fish along with the rice. This form of Sushi called, Seisei Zushi was popularized towards the end of the Muromachi period. The unique part about this dish was that it was eaten while the fish was still slightly raw and the rice had not really lost the flavor.
So, what was originally developed as method to preserve fish had transformed into the most popular healthy fast food on the planet. Sushi, in its current form, was indeed formulated in Japan. Perhaps, that is why it is believed to be a Japanese dish. However, we can say that while modern Sushi is truly Japanese, its antecedents were Southeast Asian.
Japan’s contribution to Sushi has been in the development and introduction of the variations of the original dish. In the Edoperiod, for instance, Haya-zushi was introduced. This dish became an integral and unique part of the Japanese culture. For the first time, rice was not used for the purpose of fermentation. Haya-zushi comprised rice mixed with vinegar which then combined fish dried foodstuff along with vegetables.
Haya-zushi continues to be very popular in Japan. This dish varies subtly in flavor from region to region, as every region introduces its own unique flavoring to the dish. This has resulted in a great variety of Sushi which has been passed on for generations in various regions of Japan.
It is funny to note here, that as time progressed, so did the variations on this dish. To the point that today there exists a large variety of variations on this dish. Almost as if as man progressed so did his tastes and preferences. So, from being a method of preservation of food to three different varieties, Sushi had come a long way already. The journey wasn’t over though.
While Tokyo was still called Edo, street side mobile food stalls run by vendors gained popularity. It was at this time in the 1800s that Nigiri-zushi was introduced. This form of Sushi consisted of an oblong mound of rice that had a slice of fish draped over it. Nigiri-zushi is what most Japanese people eat. A turning point in the popularity of Sushi came in 1923 after the unfortunate Great Kanto earthquake. This was when a lot of Sushi chefs were displaced from Edo and scattered all over the country, thus popularizing the dish across the nation.
The dish that is popular today in the name of Sushi is actually a variety invented by Hanaya Yohei, at the end of the Edo Period. Japan was as hasty and fast paced hundreds of years ago as it is today and there were immense need for food item that could be consumed on the go. The form of Sushi invented by Hanaya did not require too much preparation as it could be eaten with hands or with a pair of chopsticks.
While Japan was discovering the delights of Sushi, the dish was taking on the world by storm. There are variations to the dish that have been developed later, in different countries the world over, thereby giving the dish a number of foreign flavors.
As the trade relations between Japan, the United States and other continents deepened, Sushi restaurants were opened in neighborhoods where the Japanese business men lived. The Japanese tried their best to convince their American counterparts to eat Sushi, but the thought of eating raw fish was not appealing to the Americans. And so was born the California Roll. It was a perfect dish for people un-initiated into the world of Sushi.
As more westerners started eating Sushi, new variations of the dish came to be developed. The large variety of Sushi we have today would probably not have been possible without the initiative of the western patrons. No conservative Japanese chef would be willing to make the changes to the cuisine. Certain aspects that were earlier considered to be a taboo in the tradition of the dish have actually resulted in becoming signature styles and popular variations.
The Sushi eating culture has spread worldwide and the dish now basks in the glory of the fusion style or the American style. The peak of its culinary evolution is complete and Sushi has been this way for almost 20 years, since there have been no “revolutionary breakthroughs” such as the California Roll. While we believe that the new trends in this cuisine shall prove to be as interesting as the previous ones were, for now, let’s explore what already exists.
For more information on how to make Sushi.