A Brief History of Japanese Delicacy ‘Sushi’

Food and taste defines your thoughts, moreover the history of food is strongly connected to the history of human race. We have evolved, so is the culture of food, but some food continues to remain significant part of our life and Sushi is one of them.

We all have some point of time tasted Sushi, a Japanese delicacy with a legacy and a number of folklore associated with it. In simple terms Sushi is a Japanese dish prepared of vinegared rice accompanied by a variety of ingredients such as sea food, often raw, and vegetables.

Sushi is traditionally made with medium grain white rice, though it can be prepared with brown rice or short grain rice. It is very often prepared with seafood, such as squid, eel, yellowtail, salmom, tuna or imitation crab meat and is often served with pickled ginger, wasabi and soya sauce.

Sushi is an outdated Japanese term that means ‘its sour’ and refers to the traditional practice of fermenting rice to preserve the fish. So, sushi gets its name from the sour rice, not raw fish. With the invention of vinegar, people started using vinegar to make rice sour and soon the tasty rice also became an edible part of the dish.

As with many ancient foods, the history of sushi is also surrounded by legends and folklore. According to an ancient Japanese folk tale, an elderly woman began hiding her pots of rice in osprey nests, fearing that thieves would steal them. Over time, she collected her pots and found the rice had begun to ferment. She also discovered that fish scraps from the meal had mixed into the rice. Not only was the mixture tasty, the rice served as a way of preserving the fish, thus discovering a new way of extending the life of seafood.

The first reference to “Sushi” appeared in the Yoro Code, written in the year 718, which mentions salted fish being placed in cooked rice, causing it to undergo a fermentation process. The process of using fermented rice as a fish preservative originated in Southeast Asia several centuries ago. When rice begins to ferment, lactic acid bacilli are produced. The acid, along with salt, causes a reaction that slows the bacterial growth in fish.

The concept of sushi as formal eating was likely to be introduced to Japan in the ninth century and its popularity began to spread with the spread of Buddhism. The Buddhist dietary practice of abstaining from meat meant that many Japanese people turned to fish as a dietary staple, which is then considered vegetarian by many.

At the turn of the 15th century, Japan found itself in the midst of a civil war. During this time, cooks found that adding more weight to the rice and fish reduced the fermentation time to about one month. They also discovered that the pickled fish didn’t need to reach full decomposition in order to taste great. This new sushi preparation was called mama-nare zushi or raw nare-zushi.

Thus the Japanese are credited with first preparing modern day sushi as a complete dish, eating the fermented rice together with the preserved fish. So, next time when you eat Sushi, remember its glorious history too.