History of sushi

History of sushi

Sushi originally began as the preservation of food, somewhere around inland China, in 4th century BC. Fish was salted then wrapped in fermented rice; it became a great source of protein. The original type of sushi was nare-sushi. Nare-sushi was gutted fish stored in fermented rice for preservation. Nare-sushi was stored for fermentation for a few months then removed. The fermented rice was discarded and the fish was the only part consumed.

It began to expand throughout China, and sometime around the 8th century AD it reached Japan. The Japanese preferred to eat fish with rice, this caused the creation of seisei-sushi. During the Muromachi period seisei-sushi was the most popular type of sushi. Seisei-sushi was partly raw fish wrapped in rice, before it lost its flavor. This new way of consuming sushi was no longer a form of preservation but rather a cuisine.

During the Edo era or the early modern period of Japan, a third type of sushi was introduced, haya-sushi. Haya-sushi was created so that both rice and fish could be consumed at the same time, the dish became unique to the Japanese culture. It was the first time that rice was not being used for fermentation. Rice was mixed with vinegar and fish as usual but then vegetables and dried preserved foods would be added as well. This type of sushi is still very popular today. Each region utilizes local flavors to produce many kinds of sushi that has been passed down for many generations.

When Tokyo was still being called Edo, at the beginning of the 19th century, mobile food stalls became the food services dominated industry. During this period nigiri-sushi was introduced. Nigiri-sushi is the most common type of sushi in restaurants. It is an oblong mound of rice with a slice of fish draped over it. After the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923, nigiri-sushi chefs lost their jobs and spread throughout Japan spreading it with them.

Today's dish internationally known as "sushi" ("nigirizushi"; Kantō variety) is a fast food invented by Hanaya Yohei (華屋与兵衛; 1799 - 1858) at the end of Edo period in today's Tokyo (Edo). People in Tokyo were living in haste even over one hundred years ago. The "nigirizushi" invented by Hanaya was not fermented and could be eaten by hands (or using chopsticks). It was an early form of fast food that could be eaten at a road side or in a theater.


The Japanese name "sushi" is written with kanji (Chinese characters) for ancient Chinese dishes which bear little resemblance to today's sushi.

One of these, might have been a salt pickled fish. The first use of "鮨" appeared in the face and hand, the oldest Chinese dictionary believed to be written around the 3rd century BC. It is explained as literally "Those made with fish (are called) 鮨, those made with meat (are called) 醢". "醢" is a fermented meat made from salt and minced pork and "鮨" is a fermented fish made from salt and minced fish. The Chinese character "鮨" is believed to have a much earlier origin, but this is the earliest recorded instance of that character being associated with food. "鮨" was not associated with rice.

In 2nd century AD, another character used to write "sushi", "鮓" , appeared in another Chinese dictionary: "鮓滓也 以塩米醸之加葅 熟而食之也", which translates as "鮓滓 is a food where fish is pickled by rice and salt, which is eaten when it is ready". This food is believed to be similar to "Narezushi", i.e. that the fish was fermented for long times in conjunction with rice and was then eaten after removing the rice.

A century later, the meaning of the two characters had become confused and by the time these two characters arrived in Japan, the Chinese themselves did not distinguish between them. The Chinese had stopped using rice as a part of the fermentation process, and then stopped eating pickled fish altogether. By the Ming dynasty, "鮨" and "鮓" had disappeared from Chinese cuisine.

ushi in Japan

The earliest reference to "sushi" in Japan appeared in 718 in the set of laws called "Yororitsuryo" (養老律令). As an example of tax paid by actual items, it is written down as "雑鮨五斗 (about 64 liters of zakonosushi or zatsunosushi?)". However, there is no way to know what this "sushi" was or even how it was pronounced. By the 9th and 10th century "鮨" and "鮓" are read as "sushi". This "sushi" was similar to today's "Narezushi".

For almost the next 800 years, until the early 19th century, sushi slowly changed and the Japanese cuisine changed as well. The Japanese started eating three meals a day, rice was boiled instead of steamed, and most important of all, rice vinegar was invented. While sushi continued to be produced by fermentation of fish with rice, the time of fermentation was gradually decreased and the rice used began to be eaten along with the fish. In the Muromachi Period (1336 to 1573), the process of producing "Oshizushi" was gradually developed where in the fermentation process was abandoned and vinegar was used. In the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573 - 1603), "namanare" was invented. A 1603 Japanese-Portuguese dictionary has an entry for "namanrina sushi", literally "half-made sushi". The namanare was fermented for a shorter period than the narezushi and possibly marinated with rice vinegar. It still had the distinctive smell of narezushi.

The smell of narezushi was likely one of the reasons for shortening and eventually skipping the fermentation process. It is commonly described as "a cross between blue cheese, fish, and rice vinegar". A story from Konjaku Monogatarishū written in early 12th century makes it clear that it was not an attractive smell, even if it tasted good: A man who had been visiting a friend in Kyoto got on a horse to go home. A drunken female street vendor sleeping nearby woke up, became dizzy, and vomited on a bowl of narezushi she had been selling. Instead of throwing it away or trying to scoop out the vomit, she quickly mixed it into the narezushi. Seeing this, the man pointed out that narezushi was like a pile of spit to begin with, and those who bought it often had probably often eaten other unintended ingredients. From this point on, the man would tell any one who would listen to him to not buy narezushi from anyone or any store.

In the early 18th century, "oshizushi" was perfected in Osaka and it came to Edo by the middle of 18th century. These sushi were sold to customers, but because they still required a little fermentation time, stores hung a notice and posters to customers on when to come for a sushi. Sushi was also sold near a park during a hanami period and a theater as a type of Bento. Inarizushi was sold along oshizushi. Makizushi and Chirashizushi also became popular in Edo period.

There were three famous sushi restaurants in Edo, "Matsunozushi" (松之鮨), "Yoheizushi" (興兵衛鮓), and "Kenukizushi" (けぬき寿し) but there were thousands more sushi restaurants. They were established in a span of barely twenty years at the start of the 19th century. Nigirizushi was an instant hit and it spread through Edo like wildfire. In the book "Morisadamanko" (守貞謾稿) published in 1852, the author writes that for a "cho" (100 meters by 100 meters or 10,000 square meters) section of Edo there were one or two sushi restaurants, but that only one soba restaurant could be found in 1 or 2 cho. This means that there were nearly 2 sushi restaurants for every soba restaurant.

These early nigirizushi were not identical to today's varieties. Fish meat was marinated in soy sauce or vinegar or heavily salted so there was no need to dip into soy sauce. Some fish was cooked before it was put onto a sushi. This was partly out of necessity as there were no refrigerators. Each piece was also larger, almost the size of two pieces of today's sushi.

The advent of modern refrigeration allowed sushi made of raw fish to reach more consumers than ever before. The late 20th century saw sushi gaining in popularity all over the world.

ee also

* Japanese cuisine
* Chinese cuisine

External links

* [http://homepage3.nifty.com/maryy/eng/sushi_history.htm History of Sushi]
* [http://www.ne.jp/asahi/saru/mayoicom/sushiyougo.htm Sushi Dictionary] (寿司用語辞典; in Japanese)
* [http://www.uotakesushi.co.jp/susinotisiki3.htm Sushi Q & A] (すしのQ&A; in Japanese)

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