If I tell you to name Japanese food, the first name you will probably say is sushi.
Yes! Sushi and Japan go hand in hand. And when the scenario is like this, you might never think that sushi can be Chinese or Korean other than Japanese.
So the question: “is sushi Is Sushi Japanese OR Chinese OR Korean?” may seem kinda shocking to you.
But the truth is that I am constantly facing this question!
So, to let you know the true origin and history of sushi, I am here today with my explanation.
Let’s see where sushi is from.
Is Sushi Chinese, Korean or Japanese?
If I talk about the origin of sushi, Korea will be the first to be eliminated, as the origin of sushi is not related to Korea in any case.
Now let’s start talking about the other two countries.
Where Did Sushi Originate?
Sushi originated millennia ago, around the 2nd century, in the rice field of Asia. If you want me to be precise, it was China.
Anyway, what you know is not wrong either.
Japan is definitely the sushi capital of the world, and it is responsible for introducing this famous dish to tourists and travelers, but sushi traces its origins back to a Chinese dish called narezushi. This dish consisted of salted fish and fermented rice.
Then is sushi a Chinese dish?
Well, the interesting fact is that the Chinese only consumed the pickled fish discarding the rice. Actually, the rice was only used to wrap and preserve the fish, nothing else.
However, history says that the first evidence of people eating raw fish along with rice was found in Japan. Therefore, sushi is Japanese food.
Sushi got introduced to Japan in the 8th century. Later it was known as narezushi by the 9th and 10th centuries.
So, the dish may be inspired by China, but the real concept of sushi as we know it today was created in Japan.
It was about the origin of sushi, in short, and that’s how sushi was invented. If you are curious to know the details, stay with me and keep going through.
References of Sushi In Chinese Culture
The mention of Narezushi was found in the Chinese dictionary in the 2nd century CE. It involves fish and rice, but the preparation method and the way it was consumed are quite different from the sushi we know today.
This food was adopted from the non-Han civilization by the Han Chinese, who were expanding in the southern region of the Yangtze River.
They used rice as a means to preserve the fish due to lack of refrigeration, not as a part of the food, as I said earlier.
The fermentation of the rice prevented the growth of bacteria and microorganisms in the fish to keep it fresh for a longer time.
The flesh turned acidic due to fermentation. The pH levels reduced below 4.5, making it unfavorable for the formation of bacteria. This resulted in half-fermented sushi, known as namanare.
In the Hunan province in China, you can still find a dish that uses rice and salt to ferment fish.
How Did Sushi Originate In Japan?
The dish traveled from China to Japan in the 8th century. The first mention of sushi appeared in the Yoro Code, which was written in the year 718.
However, the Japanese adaption of sushi was much different from how it was consumed before. They started eating the rice portion along with the raw fish, and this dish was known as namanari or namanare (formal style sushi made by fermenting fish or seafood with rice and salt).
During the Muromachi period, namanare became a very popular dish that involved raw fish covered in vinegared rice. It was meant to be eaten fresh before the flavor changed. This method of consuming fish became a new style of delicacy in Japanese culture instead of being only a means of preservation.
In the Edo period, the Japanese created a new style of sushi called hayazushi, a recent sushi-style with vinegared rice and fresh seafood.
Sushi spread to Edo (the name of Tokyo during that time) by the middle of the 18th century, when three famous sushi restaurants were opened – Kenukizushi, Matsunozushi, and Yoheizushi. And thousands more of them followed in the late 18th century. In 1852, a writer said that in every 100×100 meter square block in Edo, there were 1 or 2 sushi restaurants!
However, the sushi they provided was not the same as the sushi we know today. It was often cooked due to a lack of refrigeration and served in larger pieces.
If you want to track the history of sushi we know today, you will need to look at around the 19th century when a man named Hanaya Yohei showed a record-breaking method of production and presentation of sushi. He just changed the world of sushi forever.
Hanaya opened a fast food stall in a busy street close to the coastal area where getting fresh fish was not so difficult.
He gave the seasoned sushi rice a rectangular shape instead of wrapping the fish in rice and then topped it with a slice of fresh fish, making a bite-sized, flavorful treat that was portable, delicious, and affordable for the masses.
Thus, nigiri was born, and the history of sushi we know today began in Japan.
The alluring presentation of nigirizushi united with the appeal of fresh fish made it an instant hit.
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He not only used his hands to shape the vinegared rice but also served sushi with soy sauce and wasabi.
Shortly thereafter, this sushi tradition started to spread throughout Japan, followed by the whole world.
Let’s know how that happened.
When & How Did Sushi Spread to Other Parts of Japan?
So, you have got to know how today’s nigiri sushi was born. The name nigiri sushi means finger sushi. The reason behind this name is that the rice is shaped with the help of fingers.
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This sushi is also referred to as “edomae sushi,” as it was derived from Edo. And from the streets of Edo, this nigiri sushi spread everywhere in Japan.
If you want to know a vital point that plays an important role in increasing its popularity, I must mention the Great Kanto earthquake that happened in 1923.
After the earthquake, a few nigirizushi chefs ran away from Tokyo (Edo) and settled in different regions of the country. And consequently, sushi became a popular dish nationwide.
Well, there is no doubt that the origin of this world-famous cuisine lies in the tradition of fermenting fish with rice. But the sushi we are being served today at restaurants is not only limited to raw fish.
It went through a lot of evolution, and a variety of vegetables, cooked meat, and seasonal fruits are being used now to make sushi more appealing. Even you can find sushi without fish now!
Now we will know how present-day sushi earned its popularity outside Japan.
Sushi in China today
Sushi is enjoyed in china today, just like in every part of the world.
Aside from being eaten in the old namanare form, you will also find them being served in their modern-day presentation in numerous sushi restaurants.
And most often, these restaurants are run by Japanese businessmen.
A few people still realize that China was truly behind it all and deserves credit for playing a major role in making sushi available to the world.
And obviously, we Japanese thank them also for this amazing dish!
Sushi in Korea
While the line between Chinese and Japanese sushi is quite clear and apparent, the line between Japanese and Korean sushi is pretty blurred.
However, it is clear that Japan introduced sushi in Korea when it seized Korea in 1910. They brought dishes like sushi into Korea at that time, and that said why there are such solid culinary ties between the two.
The Korean sushi now you see is called gimbap, and it is an evolution from the sushi that Japan brought. It is more like sushi bowls, while Japan also has sushi bowls, but they are quite different.
How did sushi get mixed up with western culture? Are you curious to know that?
Sushi in Western Culture
Following Japanese immigration after the Meiji Restoration, sushi was introduced to the West in the early 1900s.
However, it was then only popular among the elite group of the society, and in the late 1900s, it became much less common due to the declination of Japanese immigration.
Then when did sushi become popular again?
A few years after the termination of World War II, when Japan became open for international trade, tourism, and business once again, sushi started earning more popularity than ever before in the United States.
In the 1960s, this craze initiated to take hold in America in earnest. Even the middle-class Americans started trying sushi for themselves and loving it.
A particular restaurant always plays a vital role in popularizing a specific dish in the food history. Which one was that in terms of this aspect?
Well, there is a great deal of debate about which restaurant introduced sushi to western diners. It is really not easy to determine exactly who was responsible for this.
However, a restaurant in Los Angeles named Kawafuku is often credited with this honor, as it was one of the first and foremost restaurants to offer sushi.
Yes, as you can expect, the Americans took a little while to get used to the concept of eating raw fish, but by the late 1960s, sushi became trendy, and new sushi restaurants were opening up throughout the country.
Many restaurants began experimenting with new taste fusion and sushi rolls to help Americans get used to it.
One of the rolls that the Americans loved most was the now-ubiquitous California Roll. It is an inside-out makizushi (rolled sushi) with crab meat, cucumber, and avocado with white rice.
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The diners instantly found its flavor combination appealing. As the crab meat was cooked in the roll, they didn’t have to be tensed about eating raw fish.
Then they got used to the idea with time. So, they were able to branch out into more traditional nigiri dishes. And after a certain time, sushi restaurants became a national phenomenon.
This is how sushi went through many evolutions and turned out to be a popular dish worldwide.
How Did Sushi Get To America?
Wars, tourism, and political and commercial ties between America and Japan all helped bring sushi to America. Japan’s doors to the outside world were reopened following World War II. Sushi was widely consumed in America, and many Japanese people emigrated here.
The experience of new flavors and textures in the roll had a significant impact on how well it was received. The Kawafuku Restaurant in Los Angeles is reputed to have been the first establishment to serve sushi.
The concept of consuming raw fish in America was strange, despite the fact that it was favourably received. But after 1960, sushi started to appear in a lot of eateries all around the country. Chefs started using Chinese and Japanese ingredients to make their dishes. Today, gourmet innovation enables us to enjoy sushi with sauces, tempura, and even dessert sushi with Nutella.
Looking to the Future
The centuries-old Japanese staple has become a modern classic, and presently you will find hundreds of different sushi to try, with new ones being created every day. So, thanks to the continuous spirit of innovations among chefs.
From sushi that uses non-traditional ingredients like raw and cooked beef to some other modern innovations such as sushi burritos or sushi bowls, chefs all around the country are continuously trying new things.
Even though you are not a fan of traditional sushi, nowadays, it is easier to find sushi that you will enjoy.
And the history of this dish is still so far from over. In fact, it is still being written!
We expect that more chefs will continue to experiment just like Hanaya Yohei did and invent new dishes using raw fish and other traditional ingredients in the future.
I have nothing more to inform you regarding today’s topic. Let’s wrap it up here.
So, is sushi from China, Korea or Japan? Now you know the answer. Right?
I have described the history and origin of sushi till now, but I can’t wait to see what the future will behold.
Until then, I expect to find myself with a pair of chopsticks and explore all the current sushi options at all the sushi joints in Japan.
I hope you will join me too. Won’t you?
And yes, don’t forget to bring your appetite.