History of Sushi – Thanks to My Lexus Dealer

Posted: April 30, 2009 in Uncategorized

Ok, I received a promo email full of Lexus specials today. I like my Lexus, but I’m not buying another one anytime soon. Lucky for me, I am going to buy Sushi soon! This great article was included in the email and caught my interest… (article source here)

(reproduced without permission, please don’t sue me :))

If You Knew Sushi (Like We Know Sushi)
Getting hooked on the “Lexus” of Japanese cuisine.

When we refer to a “Japanese delicacy,” we are not referring to your Lexus; we’re talking about sushi, arguably the “Lexus” of Japanese cuisine. Recently, Lexus Magazine encouraged us to get to know sushi with an article entitled, “10 Sushi Dining Tips.” Now that you know how to eat sushi, here’s some background on what you are eating!

Like many cuisines, sushi comes from rather lowly beginnings. The practice of eating raw fish can be traced back to the 7th century when the Japanese picked up the art of pickling fish from the Chinese. It consisted of packing fish with rice. As the fish fermented, the rice produced a lactic acid that accomplished the pickling process. They called it Nare-Sushi, the 1,300 year-old practice of the pairing of fish and rice.

While Nare-Sushi resulted in a tasty, nutritious and healthful meal, the process took too long, anywhere from two months to a year, tedious even for the ultra-patient Japanese. By the 15th century, there was an alternative referred to today as Nama-Nare, a faster way of pickling fish using rice. Nare-Sushi and Nama-Nare are the forerunners of what we now call sushi.

Thanks to the Japanese flare for invention, sushi became an art form practiced by master preparers, many of whom added a lasting flavor to the delicacy. For example, Matsumoto Yochiichi of what is now Tokyo introduced the use of rice vinegar, an ingredient that not only further quickened the pickling process, but contributed a pleasant tartness to the dish.

The “modern” form of sushi was developed in the 1820s by Hanaya Yohei, the Tokyo sushi vendor credited with combining raw fish with traditional sushi. Instead of meal-size portions, Hanaya sold bite-size portions from a sushi stall near the Tokyo fish market. His morsels are arguable the first recorded examples of “fast food!” Hanaya prepared his sushi on the spot using the freshest fish just like the sushi chefs of today. His “sushi snack bar” was an instant hit and the inspiration for the sushi bars of today.

In Japan, sushi is the most serious of cuisines requiring years of training and study before chefs are considered qualified to serve it. A minimum of 10 years of learning and apprenticing was considered the minimum qualification for an Itamae-San (expert chef) specializing in sushi.

The advent of trans-cific airfreight in the 1970s made it possible to enjoy sushi in the United States. Americans embraced the art form and became knowledgeable sushi gourmets. Among the more popular forms of sushi are Nigiri-Sushi (hand shaped sushi), Oshi-Sushi (pressed sushi), Maki-Sushi (rolled sushi) and Chirashi-sushi (scattered sushi). The differences in various types of sushi are not so much due to form, but to the ingredients and the theatrics of their preparation.

The best sushi experience dazzles the eyes and delights the taste buds. The Itamae-San prepares sushi with the flair and precision of a master craftsman. As you observe its preparation, the sushi chef will proudly stress the freshness of his fish and shellfish. The array of bright colors, shapes and garnishes are as fascinating as the varieties of flavors and sensations.

Unfortunately, the sushi bar has taken on an air of intimidation, at least for the novice. This is why Lexus Magazine published the article, “10 Sushi Dining Tips” based on the advice of Trevor Corson, author of The Story of Sushi, a fascinating book covering every aspect of sushi.

  1. Sit at the bar—this is traditional, and lets you watch the preparation, which is part of the overall experience. It also enables you to interact with your chef.
  2. Order omakase (literally “I leave it up to you”)—you can expect a unique experience, but also a higher bill (it’s OK to suggest a budget).
  3. Don’t mix wasabi and soy sauce for dipping—the chef should have already seasoned the sushi for you. Dipping in a little soy is OK, and if you particularly like wasabi, you can ask the chef to use more.
  4. Eat nigiri (the rice rectangles topped with fish) with your fingers: it’s customary, and lets the chef pack the rice more loosely—which is correct—instead of packing it to accommodate chopsticks.
  5. Turn nigiri fish-side down in your hand to help prevent it from falling apart (especially important if you choose to dip).
  6. Eat ginger only between courses, as a palate cleanser.
  7. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Many people stick with firm, smooth-textured fish, and thereby miss out on other interesting flavors and textures.
  8. Sushi rolls are an American invention that, ironically, has made its way back to Japan. Avoid rolls that contain nontraditional (and unhealthful) ingredients like mayonnaise and sweetened sauces.
  9. Avoid fish that is unsustainable or improperly farmed (see our Sustainable Sushi article for insights from sushi expert Trevor Corson).
  10. It’s traditional to order miso soup at the end of the meal—it aids digestion.

So don’t be intimidated by the sushi bar. Enjoy!

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