Healthy and delicious Japanese food is gaining popularity even overseas. Sushi and sashimi are the stars of Japanese food, but there are not a lot of other countries that have the custom to eat fish raw. How did sashimi and sushi develop in Japan?
Let’s dig deep into the history of sashimi and sushi, Japan’s soul food.
Sushi Tsubasa | Pocket Concierge
1. “Sashimi” was eaten in different ways since ancient times
The history of eating fish or meat raw is said to have started with the history of humanity. While many countries stopped doing so due to pestilence, it developed in Japan, since the geographical advantage of being surrounded by the ocean and helped people to get a hold of fresh seafood. The way of eating raw fish with condiments is called “namasu,” which “sashimi” developed from.
【Soy sauce is a must when eating sashimi!】
The spread of soy sauce is tied with the development of sashimi. Before soy sauce was widely used, people ate sashimi, flavoring it with condiments like vinegar, ginger, sake, mustard. Sashimi was first mentioned in a book called “Suzukakaki” written in the Muromachi Period, introducing a way of eating sashimi with wasabi and soy sauce which is close to how we eat it today. However, this was not common among commoners since soy sauce was expensive. It was only in the Edo Period when soy sauce production significantly increased when it started to be produced across Japan, when commoners started to also eat sashimi with wasabi and soy sauce.
Ginza Ichibun | Pocket Concierge
2. From a pickle to hand-formed sushi
Meanwhile, “sushi” developed in a slightly different way from sashimi. The history of sushi can be traced back to ancient Southeast Asia. A dish that was made by combining salted fish and undergoing acetic fermentation is said to have arrived in Japan before Nara Period. The oldest sushi is called “narezushi” which was made by pickling salted seafood in rice. During those times, sushi was eaten more like a pickle.
After this time, sushi developed from a pickle to a rice-dish in the Kamakura and Muromachi Period. It was only in the Edo Period when the hand-formed sushi that tops rice on a vinegar-flavored rice appeared. Hanaya Yohei in Ryogoku is believed to have invented “Edomae nigirizushi” (Edo-style hand-formed sushi). The fast food-like sushi that was super easy to eat was thought to be a “stylish and cool” food and immediately become popular.
Sushi that time was considered to be a local cuisine of Edo, modern day Tokyo. The Great Kanto Earthquake happens after that, causing sushi chefs to be scattered around Japan and spreading sushi. After World War II, restaurants were prohibited to operate. However, the Tokyo Sushi Association stood up, and won the permission to operate their sushi restaurants with the condition to “charge a processing fee in exchange with an ichigo rice (approx. 180.39 millimeters) and make 10 pieces of sushi.” This standard become the condition to operate their restraints, and as a consequence, hand-formed sushi sushi spread all over the country. The current hand-formed sushi spread throughout Japan after overcoming two tragedies.
Nishi Azabu Sushi Ichi | Pocket Concierge
3. The different ways of eating “sushi” at different places in Japan
Hand-formed sushi called nigirizushi with a delicious topping on a vinegar rice is definitely the star of sushi. There also other amazing sushi that have uniquely developed in different regions.
The “narezushi” I explained above is still eaten at different regions. The “hatahata zushi” in Akita Prefecture and “funazushi” in Shiga Prefecture is also famous. Some people love it, and others may hate it because of the unique smell, but if you like it, you definitely would want to it a lot.
The “mackerel stick sushi” in Kyoto that is made by laying seafood on a evenly laid rice. The “battera” in Osaka is made by shiro-ita kelp simmered in sweet vinegar and direcutting mackerel and vinegar rice in a wooden frame. These are famous as examples of pressed sushi called oshizushi. Just as hand-framed sushi became popular in Edo, box sushi called hakozushi (same as oshizushi) was popular in Osaka, which still continues today.
“Unohanazushi” is a sushi that is made by putting toppings like sardines on soybean refuse that have been flavored after stir frying it. The “maruzushi” in Ehime Prefecture is famous for this. Since it uses soybean refuse, it is much healthier than normal sushi. We also recommended for people who have carbohydrate intake restrictions.
“Meharizushi” is a sushi that is said to have been created by people in the Nanki and Kumano region to bring with them when they do agricultural work or work at the mountains. White rice or vinegared rice is wrapped with mustard leaf. It is popular as a special product of Wakayama Prefecture and the unique appearance draws lots of interests.
Shirokane Taira | Pocket Concierge
4. Not just Japan! Other countries that also eat raw fish
There are also countries that eat dishes using raw fish other than Japan. “Ceviche” is famous in countries in South America such as Peru and Mexico. It is a classic dish that marinates raw seafood with citrus like lime and chili peppers. Add some salad and herbs, and you will be able to enjoy like a salad.
Many of you may think that“carpaccio” is an Italian dish made using fresh fish like bonito or tuna. However, it was originally a dish made with raw beef. In Italy, carpaccio using beef is more standard. The carpaccio using raw fish was invented by a Japanese chef. The Japanese food boom has helped to increase fish carpaccio in Italy.
In South Korea, there is a dish using raw fish or meat called “hweh.” Fish “hweh” that mainly uses white fish is eaten with gochujang or wasabi and wrapped with sangchu. There are many restaurants that will understand what you want even if you use the word, “sashimi.” There is a lot of similarities between South Korea and Japan since geographically, the two countries are so close.
The Hawaiian cuisine, “poke” that is made with seafood like raw tuna and octopus that is marinated with soy sauce and salt and eaten with rice is a local favorite. I am sure many of you who visited Hawaii before have ate it. Although Hawaii originally had the custom of eating raw fish, when a lot of Japanese migrated as immigrants in the 19th century, it developed to the “poke” we know today.
Sashimi and sushi had different processes of development until today. The modern day sushi or sashimi might be the best.