When most people think about Japanese food there is a single thing that comes to their mind first, sushi. The sushi we know today goes all the way back to the Edo period, which started back in 1603 when people started combining vinegared rice with raw fish and Nori (海苔), the seaweed famously used in Norimaki (海苔巻).
Sushi in the West
In the West, the most popular form of sushi are the widely established sushi rolls. However, these sushi rolls, to the surprise of many, do not represent the forms of sushi consumed in Japan and are highly modified to suit the western audience. Examples of these rolls are the California Roll, which is widely available in almost every western sushi restaurant but has its origins in North America and is regarded a foreign food in Japan.
Sushi in Japan
In Japan, the widely popular Uramaki (裏巻き) meaning “Inside Out Rolls” aren’t as popular as they are in the west like many of us may think. The word “sushi” derives from the old Japanese word 酸し (sushi) which means “tasting of vinegar.” The main components of sushi is the vinegared sushi rice and the raw fish which is also seen in 鮨, a kanji representing sushi and containing the fish radical 魚.
Japan has a wide variety of sushi. Take for example Nigirizushi and Oshizushi.
Nigirizushi (握り寿司) is a flat ball of rice with a topping, usually salmon, tuna or seafood. These toppings can be placed on the rice or bound to it with a piece of algae. Nigirizushi should not consist of too much rice, as served in many Western take-out sushi bars, but like with other kinds of sushi the fish should be tastable and should not be overwhelmed with the rice.
Oshizushi (押し寿司) is a type of sushi originating from the Kansai region, a region in the South of the Honshū island containing the the cities of Ōsaka, Kōbe and Kyōto,which form the second largest metropolitan area in Japan. This sushi is uniquely identifiable by its boxy look, which is achieved by it being pressed in a special box. Oshi (押し) means “to push” or “to press” and the box used to press these is called Oshizushihako (押し寿司箱), translating to “pressed sushi box”.
The Etiquette of Sushi
Sushi is commonly served with a side of soy sauce, ginger and wasabi. However these ingredients should not be used too much. Sushi should be slightly dipped in the soy sauce with the top, as the rice will absorb too much soy sauce and will overpower the taste of the fish. The same counts for wasabi. The sushi chef will have already added a slight amount of it to enhance the flavor of the fish. If you do, however, want more wasabi, be sure to gently put only a bit of it on the sushi as it would otherwise have the same effect as too much soy sauce.
Ginger is provided as a way to cleanse your mouth of the taste and should not be eaten individually as this would overwhelm the taste of the fish.
The best way to eat sushi is at a sushi restaurant where you sit down. Although sushi is widely available as a take-out, it should be eaten at the restaurant to keep the fish fresh. Japan, being an island, has a lot of coast line and harbors so there will always be a way to get fresh fish without going too far. If you live near a coast, chances are your fish will be more fresh than the fish served inland.
Due to sushi being very popular around the world, different eating habits and preferences of each country, especially in the western world, has changed drastically from the style it was originally eaten in Japan. However, this shouldn’t be seen as a negative development as due to this, we can enjoy a large selection of sushi almost everywhere we go.