History of Japanese Sushi

SushiIn this post I am going to talk about the history of Japanese sushi (with an emphasis on traditional sushi) and how it evolved to what it is today.

If one takes a historic look at sushi, the idea originates from the preservation of fish. The fermentation of fish and rice was a long process, as one did not have refrigerators back then. The process could take several months. One could say that this procedure was well-known throughout Asia, but was adopted in Japan more than 1000 years ago. It is said that the idea was widespread in south-east Asia and later in China, before coming to Japan. Salt was an important substance that enabled the preservation of fish, and it was later discovered that in order for fermentation to take place, one needed to use rice mixed with salt.

The rice that was used for fermentation was normally thrown away, but in Japan they evolved the concept by using it, once they had discovered that it was edible. From then on, the idea was further developed by the Japanese who also used a stone weight to extend the preservation time. The stone maintained pressure and could keep oxygen out, and its weight had a big influence on the taste of the fermented substance. This method is Japan\’s oldest sushi and it is called “Funa-zushi”. In time, the vinegar began playing a more important role in accelerating the fermentation process. In the 18th century, this led to the development of a type of sushi called “Hako-zushi”, which was served in wooden boxes.

One used both the vinegar and the stone weight to control the fermentation, but at the start of the 20th century, the process of making sushi was revolutionised through “Nigiri zushi”. Nigiri zushi means hand-shaped sushi, and it does not use the stone weight. Instead, the fermented taste of the vinegar-marinated rice is achieved using the pressure and heat of the hand.

Maki-zushi is another form of sushi that also does not use the stone weight. It is made by hand using a bamboo matt to roll the rice in seaweed. Maki-zushi is what we call “Maki rolls” and it originates from the latter part of the 19th century. Maki means “roll”, and the idea behind it is that one uses the pressure from the bamboo matt.

Apart from these two popular types of sushi, there is also Chirashi-zushi, which has evolved from sushi in wooden boxes. Here, the vinegar-marinated rice is served in a bowl, and the raw fish, shrimp, etc. is prepared on top of the rice.

Today, traditional Japanese sushi consists of the previously mentioned types, namely Nigiri-zushi, Maki-zushi, and Chirashi-zushi. Generally, one can say that traditional sushi adheres to the original concepts. The first of these is that the taste must be simple, meaning that one should be able to enjoy the fresh ingredients, consisting of the raw fish combined with the marinated rice. The second is that it must be a healthy and light meal.

Thank you for reading this post on the history of Japanese sushi. If you have any comments, or if I have missed something, please feel free to comment below.

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