One of my favorite meals, sushi, had its humble beginnings over 2000 years ago in Southeast Asia or China. Rice is, and has been the staple grain in Southeast Asia, cultivated for over 4000 years, and fish has been the main source of protein. Sushi, which means “it’s sour” was origanally a fermented fish dish, or more precisely, a way to preserve fish. The fish was salted and packed in rice. As the rice fermented, it preserved the fish for several months. The rice itself was thrown away. This process probably reached Japan in the 8th century A.D. In the early 1800’s, a non-fermented, ready to eat version was created by Yohei Hanaya, in Tokyo. Fish was rolled in rice, mixed with vinegar, and covered with seaweed. It was sold fresh from mobile food stalls. It was a fast food, eaten with one’s hands, and it quickly became a sensation in Tokyo, mainly with the lower classes. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that sushi spread throughout Japan and became a cultural icon.
In Japan, there are certain formal procedures required for eating sushi. If you are eating at Japanese sushi bar, place your chopsticks in front of you, parallel to the edge of the bar, with the narrowed end on the Hashioki(a square-shaped bowl, usually used for the soy sauce). Always dip the sushi upside down in the soy sauce, and eat it rice side up. Sushi should be eaten in one bite, but two bites are acceptable. However, the piece should never be put back down on the plate. The use of fingers is actually okay for eating sushi, but never sashimi. Also, you are not supposed to leave even a morsel on the plate, and it is considered rude to stick your chopsticks into the food. Finally, only men are allowed to prepare sushi.
Sushi made its way to California in the late 1960’s, most likely by way of Hawaii, which has a very large Japanese-American population. It was not successful though, until about 1973, when a sushi chef in Los Angeles created a roll with cooked crab meat, avocado, and mayonnaise. This California roll was the beginning of the acceptance of sushi. Every region soon had its own variation. The New York roll used apple instead of avocado, and the Philadelphia roll added cream cheese. Gradually, Americans became more daring and raw fish sushi gained acceptance. American sushi pieces are enerally larger than in Japan. It is also sweeter since the vinegar used in the rice is sweetened. With Americans desiring big meals, the portions served are larger. The traditional Japanese reverence for good quality food, in small portions, has disappeared in America.
In England and the rest of Europe, the idea of raw fish is even less desired. In many restaurants most of the fish is cooked. Also, many restaurants serve their food on a conveyor belt. Recently, in a sushi competition in London, the winning entry was a mozzarella, spring onion, and almond roll, with second place going to a mashed kipper with crispy bacon concoction.
So sushi has evolved as it has spread throughout the world. Part of its current allure is that, in most cases, it is a very healthy meal, and health food is a growing industry. Unfortunately, as fish becomes more expensive, due to a decreasing supply sushi may evolve into a meal for the rich only.