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Sushi – How it Began, Where it Came From, and What it Inspired

on 28th May, 2017
Sushi is the famous Japanese dish that includes cold rice, vegetables, egg, and raw seafood. The term ‘sushi’ is often thought to simply mean raw fish, but this is not the case. There are many varieties of sushi, some which don’t include any fish at all. The dish has become popular all over the world, spreading to Europe and North America, and then to the MENA regions, where sushi restaurants like Sushi Counter serve up some of the best sushi in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and beyond, including both traditional and more modern sushi dishes. 

Sushi’s Origins in Japan

The origins of sushi in Japan is surrounded by folklore. One old wives’ tale in Japan says that sushi began when an old women started hiding her pots of rice in osprey nests, scared that thieves would take them from her. Over a period of time, the old lady collected all her rice pots and found that the rice had started to ferment and that scraps of fish from the osprey had fallen into it. The old lady found that the rice mixture was delicious, and began serving the mixture and preserving fish in the same way.

The story is interesting, but the real origins probably go back to 4th century China. It was at the time that the Chinese were preserving salted fish in cooked rice, which initiated a fermentation process and created what could be considered a very early form of sushi. This occurs as a result of rice fermenting and producing lactic acid bacilli, which reacts and slows down the growth of bacteria in the fish. In essence, this is a pickling process.

It is thought that sushi really took off in Japan around the 9th century. The food became popular there during the time when Buddhism was spreading through the country, owing to the Buddhist dietary practice of eating only fish and vegetables, with no meat. Fish quickly became a staple in the Japanese diet, and preserved fish in rice was a delicious and convenient kind of food. The Japanese are the first people to actually serve fish and rice in a way that would be recognisable as modern sushi – though of course, it wasn’t quite the same as the sushi you’d find in a quality sushi restaurant in Dubai or Abu Dhabi!

At the time, the combination of rice and fish was known as “nare-zushi”, which translates to “aged sushi.”

The first kind of sushi was called funa-sushi, and it’s more than 1,000 years old. It was developed in the regions surrounding Lake Biwa, which is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. Here, the locals fish for Golden Carp, which they called funa. They packed the fish in salted rice and compacted the combination under weights, which helped speed up the fermentation process. Even then, the process took six months to complete, and the end result was serviced only to the upper classes in Japan who could afford it.

In the 15th century, Japan experienced a civil war. At this point, cooks realised that they could speed up the fermentation time to just one month by adding more weight to the fish and rice. This allowed them to prepare food to support them through the war. The cooks also realised that the fish doesn’t have to turn to a state of total decomposition before it tasted good. Instead, they began preparing sushi with freshers fish, which was known as mama-nare zushi.

During the 1820s, a more modern form of sushi was developed by a man called Hanaya Yohei in a place called Edo. Yohei is widely considered to be the man behind modern nigiri, which is a kind of sushi that uses slices of raw fish. By 1824, Yohei opened up the very first stall that sold sushi in Edo, selling sushi that utilised a quicker fermentation process. He added vinegar and salt to rice that had just been cooked, letting it sit for just a matter of minutes, and then serving it with raw, fresh fish. This is extremely similar to modern nigiri.

In 1923, hundreds of these sushi stalls appeared all around Edo, which is a region of Japan that is now called Tokyo. This sparked the sushi revolution, which soon spread to America and the rest of the world.

Varieties of Sushi

There are four primary kinds of sushi, with many other variations which have been developed after spreading to North America and Europe.

1.    Nigiri
Nigiri is a sushi that uses moulded rice with a slice of raw fish placed on top. This is the first kind of sushi developed in Japan.

2.    Maki
Maki sushi is prepared in a roll and then sliced up. Maki typically includes vegetables, rice, and seaweed.

3.    Chirashi
Chriashi sushi includes a piece of fish placed over a bowl of vinegared rice.

4.    Sashimi
Sashimi takes a slice of raw fish and serves it next to boiled rice. In Japanese restaurants in Dubai, it will typically use tuna or salmon.

Modern Sushi Adaptations

It was in the 1960s that sushi started making waves in America. The first sushi restaurant in America opened in 1966, in the Little Tokyo region of Southern California. On the bottom floor, there was a Japanese restaurant which served traditional dishes, but the top floor was totally new to Americans. Here, guests could enjoy delicious sushi dishes from Shigeo Saito – and from here, it really took off.

In the 1970s, the ‘sushi roll’ appeared, where chefs would create rolls based on seasonal fish. For instance, tuna was a seasonal fish during the 1970s, so in order to recreate the texture of the fish when it was out of season, chefs started using avocado. The crab was also used to replace the fish flavour.

These really are the origins of California rolls, which are an American invention inspired by sushi, and which are available at the best Japanese restaurants across Dubai and the MENA region. Sushi Counter offers the very best sushi in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and if you’d like to experience the end result of this amazing history, be sure to pay a visit!

 

Sushi – How it Began, Where it Came From, and What it Inspired

Sushi is the famous Japanese dish that includes cold rice, vegetables, egg, and raw seafood. The term ‘sushi’ is often thought to simply mean raw fish, but this is not the case. There are many varieties of sushi, some which don’t include any fish at all. The dish has become...