SUSHI THE JAPANESE
1000 Years of History
By Jorie Nolen
What has become a Japanese
culinary art with delicious flavor and colorful form, actually
evolved from very meager beginnings. In the 7th century, Southeast
Asians introduced the technique of pickling. The Japanese acquired this same practice
which consisted of packing fish with rice. As the fish fermented the
rice produced a lactic acid which in turn caused the pickling of the
pressed fish. Nare-Sushi is 1300 years old and refers to the
finished edible product resulting from this early method.
However, due to its lengthy process,
anywhere from 2 months to a year, an altered form appears through
the 15th and 16th centuries. Nama-Nare refers to this more rapid
process of pickling which cut the fermentation time while including
the rice as part of the meal. Ancient sushi such as, Nare-Sushi and
Nama-Nare were the foundation for what later became the delightfully
tasteful sushi we are familiar with today.
Improvements through the centuries came about because of a
few entrepreneurial Japanese who possessed the knack for recipe
variation. The 17th century saw this delicate finger food
complimented with vinegar. Matsumoto Yoshiichi of Edo (Tokyo)
introduced the use of rice vinegar into the sushi rice. The vinegar
was a welcome ingredient. It served to reduce the usual lengthy
preparation while adding a pleasant flavor of tartness.
Although the process of fermentation was shortened, the custom of
aged pickling with the boxed or rolled method was continued until
the 19th century.
In the 1820's Hanaya Yohei of Edo (Tokyo) brought to Edoites
a recipe most similar to what we are served today. His morsels,
which included Sashimi (fresh sliced raw fish) or seafood combined
with the vinegared rice, were prepared and served for customers
directly from his sushi stall. Not only did Hanaya introduce raw
fish to sushi rice (Edomae-Sushi/Nigiri-Sushi), he began a tradition
of serving snack food at it's freshest and fastest. His idea won
immediate favor over the more time-honored sushi dishes. The
portable stall was popular through WWII and was the "Fast Food"
predecessor to the sushi bars of today.
This healthy and delicious mouthful saw its most recent transformation in the
20th century. Sushi now appears world wide with a United States
popularity increase around the late 1970's. As in art,
Japanese Sushi continues to grow, change and blossom. The most
common forms are: Nigiri -Sushi (hand shaped sushi), Oshi-Sushi
(pressed sushi), Maki-Sushi (rolled sushi) and Chirashi-sushi
(scattered sushi). The changes are not in form or preparation as
much as they are in the ingredients and the atmosphere where it is
served. These adventurous and tasty creations can be found in the
most elegant of settings or the grocery market counter.
The Itamae-San (expert chef) has also
seen change as demand for his/her craft has grown. Years
ago, one could not practice this art form without a minimum of 10
years of training and proven skill. Now, due to the growing
need, restaurants will hire Sushi chefs with just a few years of
learning experience. But Sushi is about culinary expertise and
an Itamae-San continually strives to master his/her skill while
performing for the delight of the patron and serving an array of
bright colors, mouthwatering tastes and tingling sensations.
Even the most timid can indulge themselves with the amazing
selections of sushi. Just the history of these rolled treasures
should warrant a taste
so give in and enjoy an authentic Japanese