Origins of Sushi and Sashimi

History of Sushi – as part of the education series by GeoBeats.

Like many delicious food creations, sushi was discovered somewhat accidentally, but over time it has evolved into a visual and palatable art.

It began in Southeast Asia with a simple method to preserve fish. Raw fish was stored with rice under heavy stones for months and would emerge with a sour, pickled flavor. The rice was then discarded. Eventually, tough economic times heightened the value and demand for rice, so it was no longer wasted after the fish was pickled. The fish was also cured for shorter durations of time, so it was still a little raw when consumed.

Several centuries later, around 1600, it was discovered that soaking in vinegar was another way to attain the sour flavor in the fish and rice, yet it took far less time. Before we go any further, a distinction must be made: “sushi” refers to the vinegar rice, and “sashimi” refers to the raw fish. Contrary to some misconceptions, sushi doesn’t always involve raw fish — it’s sometimes complemented with fried tofu, vegetables, or fried eggs.

The two most popular types of sushi are maki-zushi and nigiri-zushi. Maki involves rolling fish and vegetables into seaweed and rice, then cutting the roll into bite-size circles. Nigiri-zushi, which originated in Tokyo (formerly known as Edo), is a little more complex, and it’s said that only professionals with years of training make it right. In a simple display, the raw fish is placed atop a hand-cupped bed of rice with a dab of Japanese horseradish, or wasabi. Nigiri-zushi became popular after a devastating earthquake in 1923, which caused the sushi chefs of Tokyo to spread into new areas of the country looking for work.

Another popular form that emerged was oshi-zushi. The sushi is pressed in a wooden box to form a unique shape, and then raw fish and cooked vegetables are placed on top.

Sushi’s global popularity has only amplified over the years. With its introduction to other nations — thus, exotic taste buds — sushi’s variety of style and flavors have further burgeoned from regional tastes and creativity.

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