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American-Style Sushi: Sushi from the Western World Vs Traditional Japanese Fare

on 03rd Jul, 2017
To many people, American style sushi might sound like a contradiction in terms. After all, the sushi restaurant is very much a Japanese invention with all its accompanying innovations and cultural norms. Sushi most certainly did not come from America, or anywhere in the west. Yet, sushi has found a way to combine both of these traditions to create some of the best sushi in the world. This article will help you to understand where sushi came from, a little bit about its history, as well as the differences between the best Japanese sushi and American style sushi available today. The best sushi is uniquely crafted by chefs who have solid foundational understandings of both traditions.

The History of Sushi in Japan

Many historians claim that the true origins of sushi restaurants began when humans started to intentionally farm and cultivate rice in Japan over 2,000 years in the past.

The exact origins of sushi include fascinating tales which mix folklore with history. There are quite a few variations of a story in Japanese culture, in which a woman started to hide her clay pots filled with rice inside of the nests of ospreys.

According to lore, her reasoning for this was principally to prevent her food from being stolen, yet she stumbled upon a valuable preservation technique in the process. While details of the story vary, the woman eventually went into the woods, slowly reclaiming her pots, only to find that the rice had started to ferment. She also noted that some of the osprey’s old food had been discarded into her pots, and instead of throwing the whole thing out, she tried a bite. The mixture was delicious and the beginnings of the best sushi today was born.

While no one knows exactly how much truth there is to that particular story, historians have been able to confirm that an old dictionary from the fourth century does make some mention of placing salted fish together with cooked rice to intentionally create a fermentation process. In fact, the name for this kind of ancient sushi was nara. During something referred to as the Muromachi age, individuals started to consume the rice and preserved fish together.

Today’s best sushi was invented during the 8th century—fish covered in salt and then surrounded by rice. Then, during the 9th century, the popularity of sushi exploded throughout Japan. Buddhist philosophies helped the spread of sushi through various regions, owing to the Buddhist practice of consuming vegetables, rice, and only limited amounts of fish (sans all other meats). The blend of fermented rice and fish was referred to as nare-sushi.

Fermented rice produces a compound titled lactic acid bacilli which notably slows down the growth of bacteria, specifically in fish. Today, we refer to the process as pickling. Japanese restaurants all over the world still use it today.

However, the real beginnings of sushi as we know it are found in areas around Lake Biwa over 1,000 years ago. Lake Biwa is by far, the biggest freshwater lake in Japan. Local people often fished for carp, which they then stored in packed fermented containers of rice, placing the combination under pressure to speed up fermentation. The resulting sushi took a minimum of a half a year to finish fermenting but was so delicious that it quickly became a luxury item available only to the Japanese elite.

During the 15th century, Japan now found itself in the middle of a war, and cooking time had become immensely important. For this reason, dishes started to include fresh fish and fish that had not yet fully decomposed. The year 1606 brought many changes for Japan and Tokugawa Leyasu relocated Japan’s capital from Kyoto to a place called Edo. This move created a boom in the economy of Edo, as well as a quickly growing class of merchants and the beginnings of Japanese restaurants appeared as outdoor stalls.

In the year 1820, Hanaya Yohei began to use only raw fish slices in the preparation of meals. In Edo, Mr. Yohei opened a small sushi station (called a yatai) and sold offerings of the fish and rice together, setting the stage for the best sushi we love today. By the early 1920’s these sushi booths had exploded in popularity throughout Japan.

After the Great Kanto Earthquake in Japan, the price of land dropped drastically. Because of this, the owners of sushi stalls were now able to buy spaces indoors—setting the stage for the modern Japanese restaurants we know and love today.

By the year 1970, the widespread availability of refrigeration meant that merchants could now move fish over long distances. Post-war Japan was ripe for something new, and again, the sushi market thrived. Soon, the custom spread to the rest of the world, as well as to America.

The History of Sushi in America

American Style Sushi.

In 1966, a man by the name of Noritoshi Kanai and his business associate Harry Wolff introduced Los Angeles to sushi by opening a restaurant called Kawafuku in Little Tokyo. This was the very first establishment, which made nigiri sushi available to Americans. Travelling Japanese businessman hungry for a taste of home often frequented the restaurant, inviting their American counterparts to come along. The trend caught on, and Americans were soon frequenting Kawafuku in droves.

Soon after, a restaurant called Osho opened in Hollywood, which quickly became popularised by the stars of Hollywood. The many celebrity endorsements encouraged sushi restaurants to spread to other major metropolitan areas like Chicago and New York.

The best sushi restaurants in America took these dishes and made them their own. While many parts of the style and presentation remained the same, American chefs introduced ingredients that were popular in American cultures, like faux crab, cream cheese, and deep-fried offerings. Spicy flavoured mayonnaise is also a uniquely American innovation. As America became more health-conscious, vegetable sushi rolls made their way onto the scene. As a result, American sushi restaurants took on the taste of comfort food—with echoes of the deep south evident in the heavy sauces.

The California sushi roll is the most modern evolution of sushi, that has become widely popular all over the world. In fact, Sushi Counter makes a fantastic California roll, which combines the best of Japanese culture with American innovation. In fact, the best sushi restaurants in Dubai or Saudi have found a way to blend both styles of sushi to create a delicious meaningful meal.

As sushi became more Americanised, some of the health benefits were compromised with the introduction of sugary and fatty sauces. This also pulled the focus from the taste of the fish and brought it to the presentation and the sauces and garnishes used on the plate. While American-style sushi tends to be higher in calories and fat, the vegetable offerings are low-calorie options.

In the end, like all other styles of food, sushi has evolved. The best sushi restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Riyadh, including Sushi Counter, are able to take the best of both worlds and create healthy foods which taste incredible.



American-Style Sushi: Sushi from the Western World Vs Traditional Japanese Fare

To many people, American style sushi might sound like a contradiction in terms. After all, the sushi restaurant is very much a Japanese invention with all its accompanying innovations and cultural norms. Sushi most certainly did not come from America, or anywhere in the west. Yet, sushi has found a...