Evolution of Sushi


Sushi is a type of Japanese cuisine that combines vinegar rice and fish. It is growing in popularity throughout the world. Originating in Asia, traditional sushi is fermented rice and fish preserved with salt. The word “sushi” literally means sour. There are 5 different tastes of sushi depending upon the fermentation process.

The basic taste of sushi is termed umani. It is produced when the rice ferments producing vinegar that breaks down the fish into amino acids. The oldest form of sushi in Japan, Narezushi, is very similar. Over the years, Nazerushi evolved to Edomae nigirizushi. Edomae nigirizushi is what Americans know as “sushi” today.

However, modern Japanese sushi is far distant from the original umani. When sushi originated, only the fish was eaten. The rice was used solely for fermentation and not consumed. This traditional style of strong tasting fish is still made today in Lake Biwa in Japan. The dish is known as funazushi and is a type of narezushi. In the Muromachi period between 1336 and 1573, vinegar was added to the dish for taste and preservation. The vinegar accented the sour rice and sped up the process of fermentation. Eventually, fermentation was excluded all together in the dish. The dish was now termed oshi-zushi. Oshi-zushi included fish and rise pressed together with bamboo molds. It made it’s way to Edo which is Tokyo today in the mid 18th century.

Hanava Yohei invented the contemporary version of sushi in the 19th century. It was created as form of fast food since it was not fermented, and therefore, could be prepared quickly. In addition, the food could be eaten by hand on the go. This sushi was known as Edomae zushi as it was composed of fresh fish caught from the Edo-mae Bay. To this day, sushi is formally known as Edomae nigirizushi.

Today nigiri sushi is still eaten with fingers. It is served on minimalist wood or lacquer plates. The prices are often fixed and selected by the chef. Grades are matsu (pine), take (bamboo) and ume. Ume is the least expensive and matsu is the most costly. It is common in Japan and gaining popularity abroad for sushi to be served kaiten zushi or train style. A conveyor belt runs with different colors of plates of sushi. Each plate is worth a certain price, and at the end of the meal, the customer’s dishes are tallied to calculate the bill.

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