The history of the typical Japanese dish begins elsewhere, even if it is from the Rising Sun that sushi started to conquer palates all over the world
Sushi has no Japanese origins. Someone, reading such a sentence, has probably already jumped from their chair. But it’s the truth. Sushi, a symbol of the Japanese country and its culinary tradition, would not have been born in Japan, but in China or even in Korea.
Sushi as a preservation method
Many elements of Japanese culture, in fact, draw their origins from other nations. And this doesn’t just apply to food. Just think of bonsai, tofu or ramen, a Chinese dish that has become a typical feature of the Rising Sun over the course of history. The same goes for sushi, imported into Japan, modified and adapted to the tastes of its inhabitants to the point of becoming part of their own culture and lifestyle. According to historians, the origins of sushi date back to the 4th century, when a very particular method of preserving fish was widespread in various areas of Southeast Asia. The fish, in fact, was first gutted, salted and finally placed in the middle of cooked rice, the fermentation of which caused an increase in acidity of the environment in which it was located, to the point of being able to keep it even for entire months, even by storing and transporting it comfortably . Then when it was necessary to consume this food, the rice was eliminated and only the fish was eaten.
The turning point
Through Chinese and Korean travelers, this conservation technique has arrived in Japan, where several reworkings have begun. The first dates back to the Muromachi period (1336-1573), which is the date of Ashikaga Takauji’s ascent to shōgun, up to the expulsion of commander Ashikaga from Kyoto. In this period, fermented rice was no longer thrown away but consumed with fish in a dish that took the name of Namanare. Subsequently, from a conservation technique, this becomes a real recipe appreciated by the Japanese, who soon also began to prepare it with vinegar in addition to boiled rice.
During the Edo era, Tokyo’s ancient name (1603-1867), Japan was almost completely isolated from the outside world. And at the same time those socio-cultural aspects that still characterize modern Japan were increasingly consolidated. At the same time, haya-zushi, literally “fast sushi” spread in the capital: you no longer had to wait for the rice to turn sour, but mixed it with vinegar, fish, eggs and vegetables. However, it was still a distant relative of sushi as we know it all over the world today.
Sushi for everyone
The birth of modern sushi comes later: it comes around 1800 from a stall selling food on the streets of Tokyo and requiring the fish to be marinated in soy sauce and salt, to last longer. Wasabi, a spicy green paste served with sushi, was added to cover any unpleasant flavors of the fish which, in the absence of ice, did not always manage to be properly fresh, while it is only after the Second World War that sushi really becomes like it. we know today. The final turning point came in a restaurant in the late 1950s, with a manager who, in an attempt to lower costs and make it affordable for everyone, invented kaiten-zushi, literally “revolving sushi”. We are talking, as you can imagine, of the famous sushi plates placed on a conveyor belt to make it turn in front of the counter where the customers sit. Another symbol of Japanese culture. The success was enormous and in a short time Mr. Shirahishi, the pioneer restaurateur of this innovation, opened more than 250 similar restaurants all over Japan, making sushi more and more popular. Even outside its national borders.