Facts about sushi – A visually appealing, culturally addictive, and artistic form of food – those who are unknown to sushi may wonder what is sushi? And why the world is going crazy about tiny bits of fish and rice and the different types of sushi you can find.
Look closer and you will realize that sushi is not what you get in the supermarkets or chain restaurants.
There’s a lot more to sushi than just raw fish.
When a master uses years of experience and the warmth of his hands to create the perfect balance of textures and flavours, it gives birth to a culinary gem.
If you are new to sushi or don’t have much knowledge about the Japanese delicacy then here are a few interesting facts you will love to know.
1. Sushi started as a street-side cheap food
There was a time when sushi was not considered a delicacy to be enjoyed at fine dining restaurants.
Customers did not need a credit card to enjoy a lavish sushi spread.
It started as a cheap food sold at street-side stalls to provide quick lunch to people who did not have time to sit down and eat.
2. A 1923 earthquake changed the fate of sushi
The tragedy and devastation brought about by the 1923 earthquake had far-reaching effects and caused the land prices to decline significantly.
It offered an opportunity for the sushi vendors to take their stalls indoors and this led to brick-and-mortar sushi-ya.
By the 1950s, sushi was mostly served indoors at restaurants.
3. A surge in demand for sushi
In the 1970s, the modern advances in refrigeration technology and the ability to send sushi-grade fish to long distances increased the demand for premium sushi in Japan.
Sophisticated sushi bars popped up throughout the country, and a growing network of distributors and suppliers enabled sushi to expand across the globe.
4. Sushi has its roots in Southeast Asia
Although you know sushi is a traditional Japanese delicacy, its roots trace back to Southeast Asia from where it derived the inspiration.
It is believed that narezushi originated in some regions along the Mekong River in the way of fermenting fish by wrapping it in sour rice.
It then reached China, before eventually evolving into sushi in Japan.
5. Hanaya Yohei – the inventor of sushi in Japan
Hanaya Yohei is credited as the inventor or introducer of sushi in Japan close to the mid-1800s, during the end of the Edo period.
He used tuna fish caught from the Tokyo Bay and slightly cooked or marinated the fish in soy sauce or vinegar to prevent spoilage.
He served slices of fish on vinegared rice balls, which is believed by many to be the cradle of today’s modern sushi.
6. Los Angeles was the first US state to embrace sushi
Los Angeles became the first US state to introduce sushi to American food culture.
The credit goes to a man named Noritoshi Kanai and his business partner who opened a sushi restaurant in Little Tokyo in 1966.
It is believed to be the first known place to offer traditional nigiri sushi to the Americans.
7. First sushi restaurant in Hollywood
As the popularity and demand for sushi grew far and wide in America, the first sushi restaurant outside Little Tokyo opened in Hollywood in 1970.
It was mainly created to cater to the Hollywood celebrities who had taken a liking for this Japanese delicacy.
This gave sushi the ‘push’ needed to achieve American success.
Typical sushi restaurant.
8. The green paste is not real wasabi
A traditional plate of sushi will have a green paste known as ‘wasabi’ at the side. However, most places don’t serve the real thing that comes from the rhizome of wasabia japonica plant.
Instead, it is substituted with horseradish, cornstarch, mustard flour, and green coloring.
Most people have never tasted real wasabi, but the substitute which tastes almost similar. Authentic wasabi is very expensive and often served in high-end sushi restaurants for an extra price.
Most of the mid-range restaurants serve fake stuff and customers don’t mind it.
9. Wasabi was used to kill parasites
The heat of real wasabi comes from the antimicrobial chemicals present in the plant, and it was used in sushi to kill any parasites and microbes in raw fish.
With advances in technology, fish and seafood are now flash-frozen, ruling out the fear of parasites. However, wasabi paste is still served with sushi as a tradition.
Wasabi is spicy!
10. Initially rice was not a part of sushi
Although today you can’t imagine sushi without rice, originally rice was only never eaten and only used to ferment the fish.
It helped in achieving that umami flavor and when the fermentation was completed, rice was discarded and only fish was consumed.
It was an ancient method to preserve fish and protect it from decay.
Modern sushi includes vinegared rice as an important edible part of the delicacy.
11. Six popular types of sushi
There are mainly six different types of sushi that are namely Chirashizushi or scattered sushi, Inarizushi or sushi served in deep-fried tofu pouches, Maki sushi or sushi rolls, Nigiri sushi, fish over rice, Oshi sushi or boxed sushi, and Nare sushi, the original form of sushi.
12. Sushi in Japan reflects the seasons
In Japan, a sushi dinner often reflects the season’s bounty and gives diners a feel of the spring, fall, winter or summer.
Thus, the sushi chefs avoid the out-of-season sushi and choose only the fattest and tastiest ones that are getting ready to reproduce in that season.
13. Nigiri sushi is meant to be eaten upside down
Not many sushi lovers know this but the nigiri sushi with a fish slice on top of vinegared rice is meant to be eaten upside down.
To eat it correctly, you must hold the nigiri by hand or chopsticks, turn it upside down, dip the fish part in soy sauce and eat it at once.
14. Sushi does not mean raw fish
While most people envision raw fish when they hear sushi, there is much more to this Japanese delicacy.
There are various types of sushi that contain fried, smoked, or cooked fish and seafood. Vegetarians can also enjoy a plethora of veggie options that include cucumber, spinach, carrots, avocado, and so on.
15. Nori is believed to originate in scums
It is believed that in the past, seaweed was scraped off boat undersides and wooden pier legs. The scummy material was then made into sheets and dried outside.
Today, nori is cultivated in sophisticated farms as there’s a huge demand for it worldwide. The Western brand nori is often toasted to get rid of the fishy smell.
16. Sushi chefs train for over 10 years to become a master
The reason why sushi masters are so highly revered is that they train for years, often over ten years to achieve the status of a ‘master’.
The initial training years are spent in learning how to hold a sushi knife correctly. They know the art to create the perfect balance of form, texture, and flavours.
Editors note: This is one of the facts about sushi I didn’t know that surprised me.
17. Machita Ichiro was the man behind inside-out sushi rolls
The concept of uramaki first emerged in Little Tokyo in the 1960s and it is believed to have been invented by a Los Angeles-based chef named Machita Ichiro. He used avocado in the place of tuna and hid the nori sheet by turning the rice part outside.
This was done to appeal to the foreign customers and it turned out to be an instant hit.
18. Makizushi derives its name from sushi mat
Makizushi is the Japanese term for traditional sushi rolls and derives its name from the bamboo mat used to give it a cylindrical shape.
This type of sushi contains nori on the top, a layer of sushi rice under nori, and fillings include fish, seafood, veggies or fruits.
The inside-out sushi roll is called Uramaki in Japanese.
19. Makizushi may be rolled in other things too!
Yes, unlike the traditional method of rolling sushi rice and fillings inside a nori sheet, makizushi may also use other substitutes for rolling sushi.
These substitutes include soy wraps, rice paper, cabbage wraps, cucumber sheets, collard greens, and egg sheets.