History of Sushi
Did you know that sushi was casual fast food before it became the intimate dining experience we know and love? Let's dive in to where sushi started and how it became what it is today.
The first iteration of sushi dates all the way back to the beginning of 8th century Japan. The method of fermenting fish in between layers of rice was actually taken from the Chinese who figured out that the fermentation of the rice produced lactic acid bacilli which slowed down the bacteria growth in the fish.
The first kind of sushi was called funa-sushi, and it’s more than 1,000 years old. It was developed in the regions surrounding Lake Biwa, which is the largest freshwater lake in Japan. Here, the locals fish for Golden Carp, which they called funa. They packed the fish in salted rice and compacted the combination under weights, which helped speed up the fermentation process. Even then, the process took six months to complete, and the end result was serviced only to the upper classes in Japan who could afford it.
In the 15th century, Japan experienced a civil war. At this point, cooks realised that they could speed up the fermentation time to just one month by adding more weight to the fish and rice. This allowed them to prepare food to support them through the war. The cooks also realised that the fish doesn’t have to turn to a state of total decomposition before it tasted good. Instead, they began preparing sushi with freshers fish, which was known as mama-nare zushi.
During the 1820s, a more modern form of sushi was developed by a man called Hanaya Yohei in a place called Edo. Yohei is widely considered to be the man behind modern nigiri, which is a kind of sushi that uses slices of raw fish. By 1824, Yohei opened up the very first stall that sold sushi in Edo, selling sushi that utilised a quicker fermentation process. He added vinegar and salt to rice that had just been cooked, letting it sit for just a matter of minutes, and then serving it with raw, fresh fish.
In 1923, hundreds of these sushi stalls appeared all around Edo, which is a region of Japan that is now called Tokyo. This sparked the sushi revolution, which soon spread to America and the rest of the world.
Sushi, the artful dining experience once uniquely Japanese, has now evolved to another level beyond the traditional Japanese methods. Western influences have given rise to new styles of sushi, such as California rolls and the many elaborate ‘fusion’ creations at upscale sushi restaurants. The history of sushi is a long one, at least 1,800 years in fact, but the current iteration is popular around the world, and rightly so. It is not often that something so singly cultural can not only take the world by storm, but also influence the direction of food in other cultures.
Demand for sushi is only increasing and seems to be continuing to evolve. Traditional sushi restaurants sit alongside ‘fusion’ restaurants and both are popular for their own reasons. The history of sushi is still far from over.