Sushi, anyone?

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sushi

Splinter, of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” fame.

But could you say exactly what sushi is or what type you’d prefer? We hear so much about sushi as it catches on in the US, but the term is kind of vague. As a child of the early ’90’s I first came to know sushi as  bits of nondescript food on Splinter’s plate in episodes of the cartoon “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”. I’d wondered then what exactly it was. I would again encounter sushi as an intern with my state’s department of environmental protection in 2003. There, a colleague of mine would often feast on sushi for lunch  and bestow its virtues as a healthy meal choice. Intrigued, I would order sushi at my goodbye lunch at the end of this seasonal job.  Still, though, what exactly made something sushi? Was it any raw seafood? Was there some special Japanese preparation involved? Only now have I learned for sure what sushi is. Here you’ll read all  you ever wanted to know about sushi, so that when you step up to the sushi bar you won’t end up staring blankly at  the menu (as I might have before) and looking bad in front of the sushi chef.

What is Sushi?

Sushi rice is the main component of sushi.

Simply put, to be sushi a dish must be made with sushi rice – a form of rice prepared in a specific way with vinegar3.

 

 

 

 

History of Sushi

Sushi originated in southeast Asia in the 2nd century AD. Well before the advent of modern refrigeration, a method was needed for preserving and storing meat. People in the region achieved this by wrapping cured meat in  rice and fermenting it for months2. The term “sushi” was originally used to refer to the meat or fish fermented in the rice3.  Once the meat was cured and ready to eat, the rice would be thrown away and the meat would be consumed. This process gained popularity in Southeast Asia, spreading to China and then into Japan2.

The practice of curing meat in  rice, once it had reached Japan, was often used to preserve fish along with sake (rice wine). Around 1,000 years after this procedure had reached Japan, vinegar came into use as an agent for preserving the meat in the rice2. It wasn’t until the 1820’s, however, that the form of sushi used in sushi bars today – edo style – was developed by Japanese chefs2. Edo style sushi consists of sashimi (meat) and rice treated with vinegar3.

Sushi did not arrive in the United States until the 1960’s. At this time, a new openness to diverse forms of cuisine prevailed among younger chefs and consumers. The first US restaurant to offer sushi, Kawafuku, opened in 1966 in Los Angeles California’s Little Tokyo. The sushi served at this establishment was purely traditional  Japanese sushi – as of yet not influenced by Western culture1.

California rolls

The first California rolls were served in the 1970’s, wrapped in a crispy seaweed sheet. American customers at the Tokyo Kaikan restaurant, however, were uncomfortable with something so different. Consequently, the chef began making California rolls with the seaweed sheet situated inside the rice – where it wasn’t as crunchy but still lent its flavor to the sushi. Sushi would continue to spread rapidly throughout the US in the 1980’s. As the food  gained popularity in the United States, chefs integrated more and more ingredients familiar to Americans into it. Examples include fruits, cream cheese, cooked seafood, and various flavors of mayonnaise1.

As many have come to realize the health benefits of sushi, it has become still more widespread throughout the United States2. Today sushi is available in US strip malls, supermarkets, and airports. As the food has become more popular in the US, chefs have developed ever – new forms such as tempura rolls and even dessert varieties of sushi1. Today, sushi is easy to come across in many nations around the globe2 and new sushi trends will doubtlessly develop3.

 

Varieties of Sushi

There is an order to the many tasty and artistically beautiful types of sushi available today. The main categories are Nigrizushi, Makizushi (with five different types of roll), Inarizushi, Chirashizushi, and Oshizushi5.

Nigrizushi

Nigrizushi is sushi is pressed by hand. It consists of a rectangle of sushi  rice, topped with a smear of wasabi. Above this is placed tuna, salmon, or (usually) another seafood5.

Makizushi (urimaki)

Makizushi is the sushi that most Americans are probably most familiar with.  There are Subcategories of makizushi, each of which is a different type of sushi rice, nori (seaweed), and filling rolled together5.

 

Inarizushi

One category of sushi is unique in that it is contained within a shell of deep – fried tofu (abura age) that has a degree of sweetness to it. This is Inarizushi. One can buy abura age pre – made, or make his or her own. The abura age is formed into a pouch that  contains sushi rice5.

Chirashizushi is considered the easiest variety of sushi to make and translates to ‘scattered sushi (Guthrie)’. This sushi, for which there is no specific recipe, is common as a meal at home in Japan as it provides a convenient way to make use of leftovers. Chirashizushi is sushi rice served in a bowl under toppings. Often there are nine of these toppings, but this is not always the case. Chirashizushi more often lacks fish than includes it5.

Chirashizushi, the easiest form of sushi to prepare at home.

 

Oshizushi

One other sushi is known as Oshizushi (meaning sushi that is pressed) or Hako – sushi (meaning ‘box sushi(Guthrie)’). To make Oshizushi a square – shaped wooden mold is required (called an oshibako). Toppings for the sushi are put into the bottom of the  mold. Sushi rice is placed atop these. The lid of the mold is then added and pushed downward, the result being a precise rectangular prism of sushi. This can then be sliced into smaller rectangular prisms or squares and served5.

 

Making Sushi at Home

As mentioned at the beginning of this post, the defining ingredient of any sushi dish is the sushi rice4. Once the sushi rice is created, it can serve as the base of any number of the plethora of sushi recipes7 available today. A bamboo mat, like that shown below, is needed to make sushi that is rolled6.

So many sources I’ve researched have made it clear that experimentation and innovation with sushi still continues to this day1. Who knows what sushi experts will come up with next?

Works Cited

1. Butler, Stephanie. “Nigri to California Rolls: Sushi in America”.
History.com, 12 Dec. 2014, www.history.com/news/hungry-history/nigiri-to-california-rolls-sushi-in-america.

2. Smith, Jacquelyne. “History of sushi”.
sushi.info, 2009, iml.jou.ufl.edu/projects/fall09/smith_j/history.html.

3. Sushiencyclopedia.com. “History of Sushi – Sushi Main.”
Sushi Encyclopedia, 2007, www.sushiencyclopedia.com/sushi/history_of_sushi.html.
Accessed 23 Feb. 2018.

4. Make my Sushi. “Perfect sushi rice”.
Make my Sushi, 2018, makemysushi.com/Recipes/how-to-make-sushi-rice.
Accessed 27 Feb. 2018.

5. Guthrie, David (DCG Worldwide Inc., AllAboutSushiGuide.com, InfoTechCopywriter.com). “Learn everything you ever wanted to know about all the different Types of Sushi…(but were afraid to ask!)”.
All About Sushi Guide,2013 – 2015, www.allaboutsushiguide.com/types-of-sushi.html.

6. “Sushi Mat Flat Bamboo 9.5 Inch”.
Everything Sushi,http://www.everythingsushi.co/sushi-mat-flat-bamboo-9inch.htm.
Accessed 3 Mar. 2018.

 

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