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Sushi is a delicacy has been eaten for centuries in Japan. While foodies around the world have tried or at least heard of sushi before, not all know how there is a rich history and culture behind this dish. When did Japanese people start eating sushi? Why is sushi made with raw fish, rice, and vinegar? Are there “proper” ways to eat sushi? Read on to find out.

1. Sushi was born as street food in 17th century Japan.

Let us go back to the 17th century, when nigirizushi (hand-pressed sushi) was first made.  Back in those days, the capital of Japan was Edo, located in current-day Tokyo. (For this reason, in Japan we refer to this era as the Edo period.)

During the Edo period, sushi was a trendy meal for so-called blue-collar workers. There were many sushi stands on the streets of Edo so that workers could finish lunch and supper as quickly as possible and get back to work. In other words, sushi was a typical fast food meal in Japan.

Sushi Ginza Tenkawa (銀座 天川)
Nowadays you can still find many cheap sushi restaurants, but sushi has also evolved into a delicacy that has a rich culture associated with it. Try some high-quality sushi at distinguished restaurants like Sushi Ginza Tenkawa.

2. Why is sushi often paired with wasabi and ginger? Why is rice even mixed with vinegar in the first place?

Back in the 17th century when there were no refrigerators or freezers, there were not enough ways to preserve food. Despite these circumstances, sushi chefs were smart enough to find that using wasabi, ginger pickles, and rice mixed with vinegar can help raw fish from going bad quickly.

Although modern technology allows us to keep fish fresh for a longer time, sushi still remains in Japanese food culture as a delicious way to appreciate the plentiful seafood available in Japan.

Sushi Karaku (鮨 からく)
Sushi culture has evolved over the years, and these days there are many restaurants that even offer wine with their sushi. Why not try out this combination at Sushi Karaku? You might be pleasantly surprised.

3. Do chopsticks stress you out? No worries. You’re allowed to eat sushi using your hands.

As you may guess from its origins in the Edo period, back in the day, sushi was not something you had to learn rules to eat. Even to this day, unlike fancy French or Italian meals, picking up sushi with your hands is a proper way to enjoy it. Nowadays in Japan many people tend to use chopsticks to keep their hands clean, but some still prefer to eat sushi the traditional way.

The most important thing is to focus on enjoying the dish than getting too nervous about eating elegantly!

Irifunesushi (入船寿司)
The important thing to keep in mind is to enjoy the food in front of you without worrying too much about how you’re supposed to eat it. Enjoy a relaxed atmosphere while savoring toro sushi at Irifunefunesushi.

4. Dipping the rice into soy sauce is considered taboo. But what should you do when you’re eating rolled sushi?

The practical reason for not dipping the rice portion of sushi in soy sauce is because the sushi becomes fragile and the rice is more likely to fall apart before reaching your mouth. The rice will also soak up too much soy sauce and cover the flavor of the fish topping.

When you dip the sushi into soy sauce, you should flip it over so that the fish touches the soy sauce. (Just be careful not to let the fish fall off from the rice — that is an even bigger taboo.) But when you have ikura (salmon roe), uni (sea urchin) or other rolled sushi, you may find it difficult to flip the sushi over.

In that case, you can use the pickled ginger on the side. Just take a piece of ginger, dip it in soy sauce, and use it to brush the soy sauce onto the top of the sushi. You may not see people do this often, but this is a proper, elegant way.

Shirokane Taira (白金 鯛良)
Show off your skills while devouring some of the best sushi in Tokyo at Shirokane Taira.

Learn the different sushi names here and explore the best sushi restaurants in Tokyo. For more amazing restaurants in Japan, visit Pocket Concierge!

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