Sushi – Japan’s most popular export

Sushi – Japan’s most popular export

In the last 20 years, sushi has grown in popularity, not only in the UK but throughout the western world. What was originally a uniquely Japanese meal has been embraced by all cultures.

It is seen as the ideal lunchtime food, healthy and not too filling, and can be found in supermarkets throughout the country. Also, restaurants, ranging from high-end establishments to less expensive chain eateries, have sprung up in nearly every city across the UK

The history of Japan’s favourite food is a long and interesting one. Its origins can be traced back as far as the 2nd century AD, and the paddy fields of Southeast Asia. At this time, a dish known as “narezushi” was popular; this consisted of fish wrapped in fermented rice. The rice was only used to keep the fish fresh and was thrown away before the fish was eaten.

Over the centuries this changed and developed. In the mid 14th century vinegar was added to improve the taste and keep the fish fresh, for a longer period.

Two centuries later “haya-sushi,” was introduced. Haya-sushi did not use rice for fermentation; instead, it was served as a meal where rice and fish were eaten together.

In 1824 a dish, not dissimilar in style and appearance to what we have today, was developed by a street-food stall owner from Tokyo called Hanaya Yoshi. It was seen as the fast food of its day; designed to be eaten, using fingers not chopsticks, in public or at the theatre.

Unsurprisingly, for food that has existed for such a long time, there are many interesting facts and some misconceptions about sushi. Here are a few:

The word itself does not mean raw fish, as most people believe, but refers to the rice, seasoned with vinegar, which surrounds the fish or vegetables.

Chefs originally underwent ten years of training before being allowed to start work in a restaurant. This was subsequently reduced to two years, due to the shortage of skilled chefs.

Fugu, a dish consisting of Puffer fish, can cause death if incorrectly prepared. The organs contain a lethal toxin, which can contaminate the meat, and only licensed chefs are permitted to make the meal. The emperor of Japan is not allowed to taste Fugu, due to its dangerous nature.

The rice should not be dipped in soy sauce, only the fish. However, the fish should not be removed from the rice, to dip it, as this is considered rude.

Bluefin tuna, the most popular and expensive sushi fish, was used as cat food in the 1960s, as it was thought to be unfit for human consumption. In 2013 $1.76 million was paid for a bluefin weighing 489 pounds.

The knives used for preparing the fish are descended from samurai swords. The blades are sharpened daily; enabling the chef to cut the fish into incredibly thin slices.

The Japanese believe that people eat with the eyes as well as the mouth. So, the presentation of the dish is seen to be as important as the preparation. Each dish is treated as if it were a work of art.

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