SUSHI (寿司)

In Japanese cuisine, sushi (寿司) is a food made of vinegared rice combined with various toppings or fillings, especially seafood, but also vegetables, mushrooms, eggs, or meat. Most, but not all, fish used in sushi is raw; other ingredients may be cooked, blanched, sauteed, or marinated.

Sushi as an English word has come to refer to the complete dish (rice together with toppings). The original term Japanese: 寿司 sushi (-zushi in some compounds such as makizushi), written with kanji (Chinese characters) means snack and refers to the rice, not the fish or other toppings.

Outside of Japan, sushi is often misunderstood to mean only clumps of rice topped with raw fish or even the raw fish by itself. It is also misunderstood to refer to other raw-seafood dishes, such as sashimi (sushi and sashimi are considered distinct in Japan).

There are various types of sushi. Sushi served rolled in nori (dried sheets of laver, a kind of pressed and dried alga) is called maki (rolls). Sushi made with toppings laid onto hand-formed clumps of rice is called nigiri; sushi made with toppings stuffed into a small pouch of fried tofu is called inari; and sushi made with toppings served scattered over a bowl of sushi rice is called chirashi-zushi, or scattered sushi.

Sushi originates from the practice of preserving fish by fermenting it in rice for months, a tradition which can be traced back to Southeast Asia, specifically the Mekong River section of Indochina. The fermented fish and rice dish still exists today as Pla Som in Thailand, Som Pa in Laos and Ngachin in Burma, all meaning "sour tasting fish". There are no known names for this dish in Chinese or Korean, indicating a likely southeast Asian route of introduction into Japan along with Southeast Asian rice.

Modern Japanese adopted sushi evolved to have little resemblance to this original Southeast Asian cuisine. The Japanese name "sushi" is written with kanji (Chinese characters) for ancient Chinese dishes which bear little resemblance to today's sushi. However the fact that "sushi" is written in Kanji bears no relationship to its origin as words in the Japanese language are written in Kanji.

Modern Japanese-adopted sushi evolved to have little resemblance to this original Southeast Asian cuisine. When the fermented fish was taken out to be eaten, only the fish was eaten - the rice was discarded. The strong-tasting narezushi which is made near Lake Biwa resembles the traditional fermented dish. Starting in the Muromachi Period (1336–1573) in Japan, rice vinegar was added to the mixture. This accentuated the sourness of the dish and increased its life span, while allowing the fermentation process to be shortened and eventually abandoned.

The following centuries saw the development of oshi-zushi in Osaka, where seafood and rice were pressed into wooden moulds, and this dish arrived in Edo (present-day Tokyo) in the middle of the 18th century. It was in Edo in the early 19th century that the dish evolved into what is known as Edo-mae zushi, using fish freshly caught in "Edo-mae" (Edo Bay). At the time, it was considered a cheap meal for the common people. It is this Edo-mae zushi which is popular today throughout Japan and the world.

The science behind the original form of fermenting fish and rice is that the vinegar produced by the fermenting rice breaks down the fish into amino acids. This results in a taste sensation we now call "umami". Modern sushi was developed in Edo, Japan. Rice vinegar was added directly to the rice and fresh raw fish was used, thereby bypassing the lengthy fermentation process.

The common ingredient across all the different kinds of sushi is sushi rice (shari in Japanese). Variety arises in the choice of the fillings and toppings, the other condiments, and in the manner they are put together. The same ingredients may be assembled in various different ways, traditional and contemporary.

NIGIRI-SUSHI (握り寿司, Two-Cut Or Hand-Formed Sushi)
Arguably the most typical form of sushi at restaurants, it consists of an oblong mound of sushi rice which is pressed between the palms of the hands, with a speck of wasabi and a thin slice of a topping (neta) draped over it, possibly bound with a thin band of nori. Assembling nigiri-zushi is surprisingly difficult to do well. It is sometimes called Edomaezushi, which reflects its origins in Edo (present-day Tokyo) in the 18th century. It is often served two to an order.

GUNKAN-MAKI (軍艦巻, Warship Roll)
A special type of nigiri-zushi: an oval, hand-formed clump of sushi rice (similar to that of nigiri-zushi) that has a strip of nori wrapped around its perimeter to form a vessel that is filled with the topping. The topping is typically some soft ingredient that requires the confinement of the nori, for example, roe, natto, or (a contemporary fusion) macaroni salad. The gunkan-maki was invented at Kyubei restaurant (est. 1932) in Ginza and its invention significantly expanded the repertoire of soft toppings used in sushi.

MAKI-SHUSHI (巻き寿司, Rolled Sushi or Cut Rolls)
A cylindrical piece, formed with the help of a bamboo mat, called a makisu. Makizushi is generally wrapped in nori, a sheet of dried pressed edible seaweed that encloses the rice and fillings, but can occasionally be found wrapped in a thin omelette.[1] Makizushi is usually cut into six or eight pieces, which constitute an order. Below are the common types of makizushi, although many other kinds exist.

FUTOMAKI (太巻き, Large or Fat Cut Rolls)
A large cylindrical piece, with the nori on the outside. Typical futomaki are three or four centimeters diameter. They are often made with two or three fillings, chosen for their complementary taste and color. During the Setsubun festival, it is traditional in Kansai to eat the uncut futomaki in its cylindrical form. Futomaki is typically vegetarian, and can include toppings such as daikon and egg.

HOSOMAKI (細巻き, Thin Cut Rolls)
A small cylindrical piece, with the nori on the outside. Typical hosomaki are about two centimeters thick and two centimeters wide. They are generally made with only one filling.

Kappamaki, a kind of hosomaki filled with cucumber, is named after the Japanese legendary water imp fond of cucumbers, the kappa (河童). Kappamaki is consumed as a way of clearing the palate in-between eating raw fish, so that the flavors of the fish are distinct from one another.

Tekkamaki (鉄火巻き) is a kind of hosomaki filled with tuna. "Tekka" (鉄火) describes hot iron, which has a color similar to the red tuna flesh.

Uramaki (裏巻き, Inside-Out Cut Rolls)
A medium-sized cylindrical piece, with two or more fillings. Uramaki differ from other maki because the rice is on the outside and the nori within. The filling is in the center surrounded by a liner of nori, then a layer of rice, and an outer coating of some other ingredient such as roe or toasted sesame seeds. Typically thought of as an invention to suit the American palate, uramaki is not commonly seen in Japan. The California roll is a popular form of uramaki.

TEMAKI (手巻き, Hand Rolls)
A large cone-shaped piece, with the nori on the outside and the ingredients spilling out the wide end. A typical temaki is about ten centimeters long, and is eaten with the fingers since it is too awkward to pick up with chopsticks. Temaki must be consumed quickly after being made for optimal taste and texture, as the nori cone soon absorbs moisture from the filling, making it lose its crispness and become somewhat difficult to bite through.

A pouch of fried tofu filled usually with just sushi rice. It is named after the Shinto god Inari, whose messenger, the fox, is believed to have a fondness for fried tofu. The pouch is normally fashioned from deep-fried tofu (油揚げ or abura age). Regional variations include pouches made of a thin omelet (帛紗寿司 (hukusa-zushi) or 茶巾寿司 (chakin-zushi)) or dried gourd shavings (干瓢 or kanpyo).

OSHI-SUSHI (押し寿司, Pressed Sushi)
A block-shaped piece formed using a wooden mold, called an oshibako. The chef lines the bottom of the oshibako with the topping, covers it with sushi rice, and presses the lid of the mold down to create a compact, rectilinear block. The block is removed from the mold and cut into bite-sized pieces.


ChirashizushiChirashizushi (ちらし寿司, Scattered Sushi)
A bowl of sushi rice with the other ingredients mixed in. Also referred to as barazushi. It is commonly eaten in Japan because it is filling and easy to make. Chirashizushi most often varies regionally, and it is eaten annually as a part of the Doll Festival, celebrated in March in Japan.

Edomae chirashizushi (Edo-style scattered sushi) Uncooked ingredients artfully arranged on top of the rice in the bowl.

Gomokuzushi (Kansai-style sushi). Cooked or uncooked ingredients mixed in the body of the rice in the bowl.

Narezushi (熟れ寿司, Old Style Sushi) is an older form of sushi. Skinned and gutted fish are stuffed with salt then placed in a wooden barrel, doused with salt again, and weighed down with a heavy tsukemonoishi (pickling stone). They are salted for ten days to a month, then placed in water for 15 minutes to an hour. They are then placed in another barrel, sandwiched, and layered with cooled steamed rice and fish. Then this mixture is again partially sealed with otoshibuta and a pickling stone. As days pass, water seeps out, which must be removed. Six months later, this funazushi can be eaten, and it remains edible for another six months or more.

Funazushi (鮒寿司) is a dish in Japanese cooking which involves the fermentation of the funa fish, a member of the carp family. The dish is famous as a regional dish of Shiga Prefecture, and is considered to be a chinmi, a delicacy in Japanese cooking.

Sushi is made with white, short-grained, Japanese rice mixed with a dressing made of rice vinegar, sugar, salt, kombu, and occasionally sake. It is cooled to room temperature before being used. In some fusion cuisine restaurants, short grain brown rice and wild rice are also used.

Sushi rice is prepared with short-grain Japonica rice, which has a consistency that differs from long-grain strains such as Indica. The essential quality is its stickiness. Rice that is too sticky has a mushy texture; if it is not sticky enough, it feels dry. Freshly harvested rice (shinmai) typically has too much water, and requires extra time to drain after washing.

There are regional variations in sushi rice, and of course individual chefs have their individual methods. Most of the variations are in the rice vinegar dressing: the Tokyo version of the dressing commonly uses more salt; in Osaka, the dressing has more sugar.

Sushi rice generally must be used shortly after it is made.

NORI (Seaweed)
The seaweed wrappers used in maki and temaki are called nori. Nori is an algae traditionally cultivated in the harbors of Japan. Originally, the algae was scraped from dock pilings, rolled out into sheets, and dried in the sun in a process similar to making paper. Nori is toasted before being used in food.

Today, the commercial product is farmed, produced, toasted, packaged, and sold in standard-size sheets, about 18 cm by 21 cm in size. Higher quality nori is thick, smooth, shiny, black, and has no holes.

Nori by itself is edible as a snack. Many children love flavored nori, which is coated with teriyaki sauce. However, those tend to be cheaper, lesser quality nori that is not used for sushi.

In sushi restaurants, wasabi may be referred to as namida ("tears").

In Japan, green tea (ocha) is invariably served together with sushi. Better sushi restaurants often use a distinctive premium tea known as mecha. In sushi vocabulary, green tea is known as agari.

In Japan, and increasingly abroad, conveyor belt sushi/sushi train (kaiten zushi) restaurants are a popular, cost effective way of eating sushi. At these restaurants, the sushi is served on color-coded plates, with each color denoting the cost of that sushi it contains. The plates are placed on a conveyor belt or boats floating in a moat. As the belt or boat passes, the customers choose their desired plate. After finishing, the bill is tallied by counting how many plates of each color have been taken. Some kaiten sushi restaurants in Japan operate on a fixed price system, with each plate, consisting usually of two pieces of sushi, generally costing ¥100.

More traditionally, sushi is served on minimalist Japanese-style, geometric, wood or lacquer plates which are mono- or duo-tone in color, in keeping with the aesthetic qualities of this cuisine. Many small sushi restaurants actually use no plates — the sushi is eaten directly off of the wooden counter, usually with one's hands.

Modern fusion presentation has given sushi a European sensibility, taking Japanese minimalism and garnishing it with Western gestures such as the colorful arrangement of edible ingredients, the use of differently flavored sauces, and the mixing of foreign flavors, highly suggestive of French cuisine, deviating somewhat from the more traditional, austere style of Japanese sushi.

Unusually for Japanese food, sushi can be eaten either by hand or by chopsticks. Traditionally, one should start with white-fleshed or milder-tasting items and proceed into darker, stronger-flavored varieties later. Only the fish (not the rice) should be dipped into soy sauce, which should be used sparingly. In top-end sushi restaurants, it is considered bad form to request or add extra wasabi, as the chef has (or should have) already placed a suitable amount in each morsel.

Many sushi restaurants offer fixed-price sets, selected by the chef from the catch of the day. These are often graded as ume (梅, ume), take (竹, bamboo) and matsu (松, pine), with ume the cheapest and matsu the most expensive.

In Japan, staff in sushi restaurants often employ a complex code-like vocabulary, where alternate words are substituted for common items. For example, egg is called gyoku ("jewel"), rice is called shari (Buddha's bones), soy sauce is called murasaki ("purple") and the bill is known as o-aiso ("courtesy", "compliment"). The code words vary from place to place and often evolve locally to incorporate puns: for example, shako (giant clam) might be called garēji (garage), because the Japanese word shako can also refer to a vehicle depot. These terms would not be used, or even understood, in other contexts, but regular patrons may pick up and use this specialized terminology themselves while dining in the restaurant.

The main ingredients of sushi, raw fish and rice, are naturally low in fat (with the exception of some roes and western style rolls), high in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. Specifically:

Fats: Most seafood is naturally low in fat, and what fat is found in them is generally unsaturated fat rich in Omega-3. Since sushi is often served raw, no fat is introduced in its preparation.

Proteins: Fish, tofu, seafood, egg, and many other sushi fillings contain high levels of protein.

Vitamins and Minerals: These are found in many of the vegetables used for sushi. For example, the gari and nori used to make sushi are both rich in nutrients. Other vegetables wrapped within the sushi also offer various degrees of nutritional value.

Carbohydrates: These are found in the rice and the vegetables.
On the other hand, some fish such as tuna can carry high levels of mercury and can be hazardous when consumed in large quantities.

In January 1992, A 325 kg (715 lb) Bluefin tuna was sold for $83,500 (almost $257 / kg or $117 / lb) in Tokyo, Japan. The tuna was reduced to 2,400 servings of sushi for wealthy diners at $75 per serving. The estimated takings from this one fish were approximately $180,000. At the time, the fish held the record for Most Expensive Fish.

In October 12, 1997, The longest sushi roll was creted. Six hundred members of the Nikopaka Festa Committee made a kappamaki (cucumber roll) that was 1 km (3,279 ft.) long at Yoshii, Japan.