Sushi: The Long History of Iconic Japanese Cuisine


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Sushi might be the most famous Japanese food globally. But how much do we know about its history? Did you know that sushi actually started as an affordable street food in 19th century Japan? Or that back then, sushi was never eaten with wasabi or served with gari (pickled ginger)? With the advancement of technology and globalization, sushi has spread to every corner of the world and has become one of the most popular and sought-after cuisines.

However, behind its deliciousness and popularity, there is a long story of how sushi became the iconic food that we know today. From its unique preparation and time-consuming process, to the cultural and traditional values it embodies, there are many interesting things to learn from the history of sushi. That's why in this article, we will explore the long history of sushi, how this street food evolved into a luxury dish, and the role of sushi in modern Japanese culture and life. So, let's start exploring the fascinating history of sushi!

Table of Contents:

  1. How did Salty Food from China Transform into the Iconic Japanese Sushi?
  2. How did Sushi become Popular Worldwide?
  3. What are the Different Types of Sushi and How to Tell Them Apart?
  4. How did Sushi become an Art during the Edo Period?
  5. How did Sushi Develop and Adapt to the Tastes of People Outside of Japan?


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How Did Salty Food From China Transform into the Iconic Japanese Sushi? 

The origin of sushi comes from a salty food from China called narezushi. Originally, narezushi was made by mixing raw fish with rice and rolling it with peach leaves. This mixture was then stored for several months and massaged every few days to ensure that the rice and fish were evenly mixed. When narezushi was first brought to Japan in the 8th century by monks, the food had become more toxic and less suitable for consumption. 

The Japanese began making a new version of narezushi, known as namanare or awasezushi. Namanare is a mixture of raw fish with unfermented rice and eaten immediately after it is made. In the 17th century, a Japanese chef named Hanaya Yohei introduced a new sushi-making technique, adding rice vinegar to the rice to make it more acidic. This technique made the rice fresher and longer-lasting, allowing sushi to be made outside of the sea. 

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Hanaya Yohei also served sushi quickly to maintain its freshness and is known as the pioneer of the now popular Edo-mae sushi style. The popular sushi style today, nigiri sushi, first appeared in the early 19th century. This style was developed by a chef named Hanaya Yohei II, the grandson of Hanaya Yohei, who introduced a simpler and faster style of making sushi. He sliced the fish thinly, placed the rice underneath, and formed it into a round shape with his hands.

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Technological advancements then allowed for sushi to be made on a larger scale, and it became increasingly popular throughout Japan. In 1923, the first sushi restaurant was opened in the United States, and in the 1960s, sushi began to spread worldwide. Today, sushi is one of the most popular international dishes, with various variations served all over the world. Thus, the long history of China's narezushi transformed into the iconic Japanese sushi. Although this food has undergone significant changes over time, its cultural and traditional values have been preserved and appreciated by people all over the world. 

How Did Sushi Become Popular Worldwide? 

Sushi became popular worldwide in the late 20th century, after globalization and transportation technology advancements made it accessible worldwide. Initially, sushi could only be found in Japanese restaurants abroad. However, as more people tried and enjoyed sushi, many non-Japanese restaurants began to offer their own creative sushi variations. In addition, tourism promotion in Japan also played a role in popularizing sushi. 

The Japanese government promoted sushi as an iconic Japanese food that should be tried by tourists visiting Japan. Many tourists then brought their sushi dining experiences back to their home countries and introduced sushi to their friends and families. With the advent of social media and the internet, sushi became more accessible and easy to learn. 

Many tutorial videos on how to make sushi were posted on social media, and many websites explained the types of sushi and their history. This made sushi even more popular and made people more interested in trying this food. In a short time, sushi became one of the most popular international foods in the world. Today, we can find sushi in almost every country in the world, from luxury restaurants to fast-food chains. This shows how influential sushi is as a popular global food.

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What Are the Types of Sushi and How to Tell Them Apart? 

Sushi is a popular Japanese food consisting of oval-shaped rice topped with a slice of raw fish or other ingredients. There are many types and variations of sushi, and here are some of the most common ones:

1. Nigiri Sushi: A type of sushi consisting of a slice of raw fish placed on a hand-formed ball of rice. Nigiri sushi is usually served with wasabi and soy sauce.

2. Maki Sushi: This type of sushi consists of a piece of rice wrapped in nori (dried seaweed) and filled with ingredients such as raw fish, vegetables, and scrambled eggs. Maki sushi is then cut into small rolls.

4. Temaki Sushi: Similar to maki sushi, but shaped like small cones and eaten with hands. Temaki sushi is often made with ingredients such as raw fish, vegetables, and scrambled eggs.

5. Chirashi Sushi: This sushi is a mix of rice, sliced raw fish, vegetables, and scrambled eggs. Chirashi sushi is usually served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon.

6. Inari Sushi: This sushi consists of a piece of tofu filled with rice and other ingredients such as raw fish or scrambled eggs. Inari sushi is usually served as a snack or appetizer.

The way to differentiate between these types of sushi is by looking at their shape, ingredients, and presentation. Nigiri sushi has a slice of fish on top of a rice ball, while maki sushi and temaki sushi are wrapped in nori and filled with ingredients. Chirashi sushi and inari sushi are usually served in a bowl or a piece of tofu.

Furthermore, the ingredients used in sushi can also be a factor in distinguishing between types of sushi. Some sushi types use raw fish as the main ingredient, while others use vegetables or scrambled eggs. The variety of sushi types and ingredients makes this food even more interesting and appetizing.

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How did Sushi become an art form in the Edo period? 

During the Edo period (1603-1868), sushi became more than just ordinary food. Its presence as a dish served in restaurants and places like markets and festivals made sushi popular among the common people and was considered part of Japanese culture. Sushi became an art form in the Edo period when chefs started developing more complex and attractive techniques and presentations, and using high-quality ingredients.


Chefs began carefully selecting fish and other ingredients, as well as honing their skills in cutting fish and cooking rice. They also started creating different types of sushi, such as nigiri sushi, maki sushi, and temaki sushi. The art of sushi was enriched with the use of special tools and certain techniques, such as the use of special knives to cut fish, heating rice with bamboo fire, and interesting and aesthetic presentation methods. In addition, chefs also developed new ways to combine the taste and texture of sushi ingredients. 

Sushi became increasingly popular in the Edo period because Japanese society at the time highly valued beauty and perfection in everything, including food. Beautiful and attractive food was seen as a sign of luxury and high social status. Wealthy people and nobles at the time often held dinner parties with beautifully arranged and presented sushi, which further elevated sushi as an art form. In terms of technique and beauty, the art of sushi in the Edo period laid the foundation for the modern sushi art we know today. Techniques and presentations inherited from that time are still used today, making sushi one of the most beautiful and attractive foods in the world. 

How did Sushi develop and adapt to the tastes of people outside of Japan? 

Sushi has developed and adapted to the tastes of people outside of Japan since the 19th century. Initially, sushi was designed with raw ingredients such as fish and vegetables. However, over time, sushi has adapted to the preferences of Westerners and has become more popular outside of Japan.


Changes and adaptations to the Western palate have given rise to various sushi variations. One popular Western-style sushi variation is the avocado roll, where rice is wrapped around and topped with Western favorite ingredients like avocado. Furthermore, sushi has also been discovered using cooked ingredients like grilled meat and fish. In Indonesia itself, the ingredients used to make sushi have been adjusted to suit the Indonesian taste buds. Sushi has become a globally famous food and has become a part of Japanese lifestyle. Besides sushi, rice is also a staple food of the Japanese people, and some Japanese foods have innovated it.


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