We have put together a guide to help you identify, order and prepare some of the different types of sushi that you find in this country
There is a common misconception that sushi has to include raw fish. The truth is sushi is defined as rice seasoned with sweet rice vinegar. While fish and shellfish are very common they are by no means, all that the world of sushi has to offer. Other common ingredients include Chicken, egg, duck, pork and every type of vegetable you can think of (and probably some that you can’t).
The confusion probably stems from the fact that sushi sounds very much like ‘sashimi’. Sashimi is raw fish and is the most popular ingredient in sushi but without the rice it cannot be called sushi. It is customary to begin a meal with sashimi.
According to food historians, sushi probably started life in south east Asia or China, around 500 B.C.E. The people who settled in the mountains around Thailand, Borneo and Laos have a history of preserving fish by packing layers of cleaned raw river fish between layers of cooked rice. A heavy stone weight was placed on top of it and then left to ferment for as long as three years while the rice fermented. As the rice fermented it produced lactic acid and this would cause the fish to pickle and keep it from spoiling. As the rice turned sour it was thrown away and only the fish was consumed. This method is still used in Japan and goes by the name funa-sushi.
By the 17th century, fermentation practises had improved to the stage where the fish preserving processes only took a few days (Nama-Nare) which meant that the rice could be eaten as well. This expedited fermentation time revolutionised the way the locals ate and began the tradition of eating the fish and rice together.
Then in the 1640s, Edo (Tokyo) was well known for their business like impatience. The inhabitants had taken to the idea of adding vinegar to the rice to give it a fermented flavour without the bother of having to wait a few days for the fermentation to take place. In early sushi making the fish was either marinated, boiled in soy and mirin, or grilled. In time the range expanded to include raw fish (sashimi)
‘Yohei Hanaya’ is widely regarded as the father of modern sushi. He was the owner of a small snack cart in the middle of Yattai, an area of Edo. A fisherman by trade he brought his fish to his stall in an icebox which he would display to his customers for the day’s selections. He began serving sashimi on top of sushi rice. This is where modern sushi (nigiri-zushi) was born.
There is a lot of medical evidence that supports the claims that sushi is a health food. Sushi has been a staple of the Japanese diet for hundreds of years. They have roughly half the incidence of heart disease as western countries. This could be because they eat far less saturated fat. Even the fattest of raw fish contains fewer fat calories by weight then beef, pork and even chicken.
Breast cancer has long been associated with having a high fat diet and is very rare in Japan. The three main foods in the Japanese diet are fish rice and soy products. These three foods along with vegetables and condiments are the ingredients of sushi perhaps Japanese diet is a prescription for a long and healthy life.
This all adds up to a very healthy diet, sushi may be just what the doctor ordered!
Rice and fish are Japan’s treasures and have been central to Japan's culture for the past 1500 years. These two foods have been the staple diet in the lives of the Japanese, at all levels of society. Sushi as we know it today has evolved but has always been two sacred elements: Rice and Fish.
Ingredients can also include tuna, scallops, salmon, fish roe, avocado, cucumber, spring onions spicy salmon skin, shrimp, spicy crab, eel and many others combined in interesting ways
Rice is the foundation of all Japanese food it first came Japan as early as 200 BCE rice production has always been a labour-intensive, time-consuming and communal process.
For a long time rice was for the rich and powerful but in 1200 C.E a change to feudal society meant that rice became available to everyone. The ability to prepare perfect sushi rice (sumeshi),is a highly regarded skill and is pivotal when assessing a sushi chefs skills.
Good sushi rice must be prepared in a very particular way. it takes great attention to detail to create rice that is tender, and just sticky enough to be formed into shapes.
Japan has some of the biggest and best fishing grounds on the planet. it is estimated that the Japanese consume 3000 different kinds of fish every day.
Tokyo’s fish market is one of the largest and busiest fish markets in the world. At the turn of the 20th century roughly 60 percent of the fish sold around the world originated from Japanese waters. Trawlers and fishermen bring in the fresh and frozen fish early each morning and deliver it to the market each fish is tagged according to weight, place of origin, then sold and shipped all over the globe.
It’s usually assumed that most of the fish that is served at sushi bars is fresh. More often than not this isn’t the case. Raw does not equal fresh, nearly all sashimi has been frozen to a temperature as low as -60°
Although sushi can be healthy and delicious, we would be remiss if did not mention the potential risks of eating raw fish. Fish must be fresh and have been ‘flash’ frozen at very low temperature. it must be handled with care and cleanly stored.
The environmental health authority issues warnings against eating certain fish, raw fish in particular. Some types of raw fish pose health risks salmon for example must be frozen if it is to be eaten raw because it may carry parasites and freshwater fish should never be eaten raw because of the certain presence of parasites.
Our fish stocks and farms are regularly tested for presence of parasites, PCBs and mercury levels at the moment there is an advisory that people with compromised immune systems, women of childbearing age and new young children should not eat raw fish and stay away from shark, swordfish and mackerel.
This regulation is not always monitored, nor totally adhered to. There are benefits to freezing fish however, despite the stigma against it, for example; fish that is out of season can be served at any time of the year. Frozen fish cost of a half as much as fresh and this price difference can be extended to the diner. Perhaps most reassuring is the fact that even the most experienced chefs have said that they have a hard time telling the difference.
Wasabi is an extremely potent horseradish that is not usually available fresh outside of Japan. Powdered Wasabi made from the knobbly green root vegetable is readily available in the UK, just needs to be mixed with water into a paste.
Wasabi is meant to be in eaten in very small amount as it is so pungent that it can literally take your breath away.
Made from ginger that is been pickled in salt and sweet vinegar salmon pink in colour Gari has a sweet/sour taste and a crunchy bite. It is supposed to be eaten between sushi courses to refresh and cleanse the palate
Soy sauce is a salty sauce made from soy beans, wheat, Malt seed and yeast.
They are mixed together and fermented for one year. Lighter and less salty than Chinese soy sauce it makes a wonderful addition to sushi and sashimi. It is Japan’s most important seasoning.
Also known as finger sushi, is a handful of rice shaped into an oblong shape (about 7cm by 2cm),with a dab of wasabi and then a slice of some kind of fish; raw, marinated or cooked. Unstable toppings are banded on the rice by thin strip of Nori called an obi-jame.
Also known as rolled sushi. Is made by rolling up a layer of rice and a selected ingredient in a piece of Nori. There are several varieties of hoso-maki but all are thin and a single bite size with only one filling besides the rice.
They’re meant to be eaten in one or two bites, (preferably one) without putting them back on your plate. Rolling up nori in the shape of a cone makes temaki-maki which are similar hoso-maki.
A large fancy roll with more fillings then hoso-maki, typically using a full sized sheet of Nori spread evenly with a layer of sushi rice and enclosing several fillings and wasabi.
A variety of fillings may be used, making it very versatile. It is best served as soon as they are made because the rice inside expands and the nori tends to split. They will keep for half an hour before serving if they are rolled in a damp cloth.
Known as an inside out roll with various ingredients including a sheet of Nori rolled up with a layer of rice on the outside and sliced into several pieces.
The rice is often sprinkled with black or white toasted sesame seeds, or flying fish roe (tobiko). The ingredients for making Ura-Maki are the same for those making futo-maki using no more than two items besides the rice.
Battleship roll sushi is made by shaping the rice into cylinders, then wrapped in a thin strip of nori, cucumber or salmon (about four centimetres high and about an inch higher than the rice) This creates a container on top of the rice into which the chosen topping can be spooned.
Diced raw fish or fish roe are the most popular toppings.
The seas surrounding Japan’s stunning mountainous country are supplied with a cold current from the north and a warm Plankton rich sea from the equator. Which means that the waters are absolutely teeming with life, the variety of fish and shellfish available is truly astounding.
In contrast Japan has very little in the way of actual arable land. Japan’s unfriendly land has been terraced and cultivated by its industrious, ingenious and disciplined people for centuries. Rice has been grown year after year in the same place by generations of families underpinning the structure and development of villages throughout Japanese history.
Rice has always made up the bulk of Japan’s crop yield, Rice is so revered in Japan that the emperor has a small rice field within the imperial garden of Tokyo that he tends to the himself. As sign of ritual respect for the role it has played in history his country and the survival of his people, rice has been celebrated and acknowledged for over 1400 years
There are other aspects of Japanese character and culture that are represented in the making serving and eating of sushi. The Japanese have a great respect for nature seasons regulate which foods are appropriate to be eaten. They must be eaten as fresh and is close to their natural state as possible.
This is evident throughout Japan’s whole society. Whether it be in poetry, music, architecture or cuisine, balance is the core discipline. It’s simple elegance, traditions and ceremonies are part of the culture. If you have the opportunity to dine at an authentic real Japanese sushi bar, your food will be presented to you enhanced not transformed, the staff will be gentle and hospitable and you will experience an attentive yet peaceful dining experience. the sushi experience is an edible art form.