Sushi: it’s one of the world’s top cuisines, eaten everywhere from its home in Japan to the United States and beyond. Demand in the States alone supports more than 4,000 sushi bars, generating $2 billion in annual revenues, according to IBIS World. These sushi restaurants aren’t all the same. Some restaurants, like the famous conveyor belt sushi joints, deliver budget sushi to the masses. Others, like a number of eateries in New York City, are rightfully counted among the best sushi restaurants in the world.
Regardless of the restaurant and the type of sushi served, every delicious roll of soured rice and delectable filling has the same history. What you might not realize is that the sushi you’re eating at your favorite local sushi restaurants is not some fad popped up over the last few decades. Rather, this is a food that street vendors and fine sushi restaurants alike have spent centuries developing.
It All Started in China
As the popular food history website The History Kitchen details, the precursors to sushi are thought to have come from fourth century China. It was under the reign of the Jin Dynasty that fishermen began experimenting with ways of preserving fish and vegetables. By placing salted seafood on top of cooked rice, the Jin found that they could ferment the fish, a process that made the fish last much longer.
When Chinese Buddhists traveled to Japan in the ninth century to try and spread the teachings of the Buddha, it’s thought that this pickled fish was brought along. The Japanese would spend the next thousand years perfecting the technique of fermenting rice, either with bacteria or vinegar, and pairing it with pickled seafood. By the 15th century, as the back to back eras of civil war between rival samurai factions got underway, it’s thought that the Japanese had developed techniques for making sushi that are very similar to modern methods. Still, the best sushi restaurants wouldn’t be brought into the world for another couple of centuries, as Kikkoman’s brief history of sushi details.
Modernization, War Drive Sushi from the Streets
From the 15th century to the middle of the 19th, sushi was effectively served as a street food. Samurai, merchants, and others could simply walk up to a cart in Tokyo, drop a few coins, and be on their way with lunch. By the time Matthew Perry, an American naval commander, arrived on the shores of Japan in 1863, sushi was seen as a food of the masses more than something fitting for a high ranking soldier, politician, or member of the imperial order.
Flash forward 82 years: Japan has just surrendered to Allied forces, marking the end of World War II in the Pacific. At this time, American soldiers moved freely throughout the country, helping the Japanese people get back on their feet. Americans wanted beer and something tasty to go with it. It’s at this time of increased demand for delicious sushi that the best sushi restaurants began to take root in many parts of the country.
Jump ahead another few decades, and you find that sushi is regarded quite differently. Sushi chefs spend five to 10 years as apprentices, spending most of their time just learning how to cook rice properly, and are often revered for it. The global sushi industry employs more than 20,000 people. In short, sushi has transformed from a street food into a global culinary treasure. Check out this website for more: www.carminesog.com