With its festive layer of white rice, pink salmon, and the solid color of nori (seaweed), there is no denying that there is beauty found in sushi.
Sushi is the preparation and serving of vinegared rice, layered and combined with various ingredients such as raw or cooked seafood, vegetables, and sometimes fruits, then wrapped meticulously in nori. The key ingredient to a great sushi is the sushi rice or referred to as shari or sumeshi. It can be made with either brown rice or white rice and mostly served as an appetizer or main dish. Although most sushi dishes use seafood as its main protein, other ingredients can be used as well like boiled meat or sweetened egg. Because of its distinct similarities, sushi is often confused with sashimi, another Japanese dish that consists of thinly sliced raw fish or meat with optional rice.
The origins of sushi came from a Southeast Asian dish called narezushi (salted fish), which is the process of fermenting rice stored for several months. The fermentation prevents the fish from spoiling and often when it’s eaten, the rice is discarded. During Muromachi Period, vinegar was added to the dish to augment both taste and fermentation. The development was visible and in Osaka, it was called oshi-zushi, which is basically the seafood and the rice were pressed together to shape into wooden molds. In Edo Period, fresh fish was added over vinegared rice and was called nigirizushi. However, edomae zushi was born and invented by well-known chef Hanaya Yayoi in his shop in Ryogoku in 1824. Edomae referred to the freshly caught fish in Tokyo Bay and the term edomae nigirizushi is still used today in certain towns in Japan.
Different Types of Sushi
Sushi is found almost everywhere and we all know that tuna and salmon are found year-round. For tourists coming in for the first time in Japan and wants to enjoy authentic and delectable sushi, you’ll find that there are many types of sushi. They can be eaten from breakfast until dinner. Listed down are the types of sushi that you can find in most restaurants. Take note that some may vary depending on the region that you are in:
- Makizushi – this is also known as norimaki. It’s a type of sushi wherein the vinegared rice and other ingredients are wrapped in nori seaweed, rolled, and then into smaller pieces. Norimaki is actually made of two words, nori meaning the seaweed and maki means to roll. Other types of norimaki are: hosomaki, which is long, thin rolls composed of vinegared rice and one other ingredient only, typically tuna, cucumber, or pickled daikon; futomaki which is the thicker version of norimaki and includes combination of ingredients and less likely to be sold in restaurants; Urumaki, or often called inside-out sushi, is a more modern version of norimaki invented in California and was made by layering the vinegared rice first, then nori, and topped with remaining ingredients and rolled.
- Gunkan Nori – it is another type of rolled sushi that was invented in a Ginza restaurant in the 1940’s. It was made by wrapping a wide strip of nori around a rice ball while leaving enough space at the top to be filled with other ingredients. It literally means a battleship or warship sushi because it resembles the shape of a tiny ship.
- Temaki – with its ice cream cone shape, no wonder this is popular with the kids. It is a type of sushi resembling a conical shape where the rice and other ingredients are wrapped like an ice cream cone. It is popular among restaurants and can be easily made at homes too. Usually, its ingredients include umeboshi, sweetened omelet, squid with or without natto, and negitoro.
- Nigiri – it is also known as edo–mae, which means in front of Edo, referring to its birthplace. Made into a cylindrical shape, it is hand-pressed rice (shari) topped with other ingredients (neta). The topping is usually fresh seafood but other variants like vegetables, omelet, boiled meat or tofu are also recommended. Garnishes like chives or spring onions can also be added. It was sold in markets as “fast food” during 1800’s by a sushi chef to nearby workers as a quick snack.
- Oshizushi – also known as hakozushi or boxed sushi which originated in Osaka. It is made by pressing the ingredients into a rectangular box called oshiwaku, then layered and topped with the remaining ingredients. It is then cut into its precise shapes, be it rectangular or triangular. Because of its convenient shape, it is typically given as a gift or packed in a bento.
- Sasazushi – it is a type of sushi wherein rice and toppings are wrapped in bamboo leaves. Sasa means bamboo leaf in Japanese. There was a legend who says that people from Nagano, where sasazushi was believed to have been invented, made the sasazushi to impress then the visiting samurai warlord that time, Uesugi Kenshin.
- Kakinoha-zushi – it is another type of leaf-wrapped sushi which came from the Nara region. This type of sushi is wrapped in a persimmon (kaki) leaf. It features rice topped with fresh seafood like mackerel or salmon, but prawns and eels work too. It’s a popular souvenir for visitors and is available in local stores.
- Chirashizushi – literally means scattered sushi. It is a type of sushi wherein the vinegared rice is placed in a bowl and topped with ingredients like boiled prawns, shredded omelet, squid, and cucumber. Similar to kaisendon, another Japanese dish which is a rice bowl topped with generous amount of seafood. It is usually made during celebration because of its beautiful appearance.
- Inari-zushi – unique and different from other of types of sushi, inari-zushi is a pouch like a piece of deep-fried tofu and is quite sweet, having been simmered carefully in mirin, sugar, dashi, and soy sauce. It was said that it was named after a Shinto god named Inari who was fond of tofu. Inside the inari pouch is filled with vinegared rice which is rich and sweet but other ingredients such as mushroom, chives or shredded omelet can be added.
Rice is the main ingredient and base for sushi dishes, which is completed by secondary ingredients.
- Sushi-meshi – it is the art of preparing the rice. It is white, short-grained rice mixed and complemented with rice vinegar, sugar, and salt. Sometimes they use kombu and sake.
- Nori – while it can be eaten on its own, nori is what holds the sushi together. Often used in rolled type sushi.
- Neta – it is basically the topping for sushi. Most commonly known topping is seafood, like thinly sliced tuna, salmon, snapper, and mackerel. They can be raw or cooked. Other seafood such as squid, eel, prawns, crabs, and shrimps can also be used. For vegetables, we have avocado, cucumber, daikon radish, umeboshi, etc. Tofu and eggs can also be used.
- Condiments – while sushi can be eaten on its own, a little condiment won’t hurt. Soy sauce and wasabi are commonly used.
Sushi Etiquette 101
Eating sushi will always be a delightful experience. However, due to our evolving nature, we often forget our manners and does the first thing that comes to our mind. Next time you’re dining out, remember these quick sushi etiquettes:
- Do eat with fingers. While using chopsticks are okay, eating sushi with your fingers is still the best way to go. Because of its delicate structure, using chopstick may break the composition of the sushi.
- Do make reservations. Most sushi restaurants have limited seating capacity and while waiting in line is okay, it’s best to make a booking. Also, in this way, you can tell ahead of time any other requests or dietary restrictions you have. And if you did make a reservation, it is advisable not to miss it because even though you didn’t show up, it can be still charged you. Understand that sushi dishes are made fresh and chefs don’t want them to go to waste.
- Do bring cash. Most sushi restaurants don’t accommodate cards so it’s best to bring cash, just in case.
- Do pay attention to the rice. After all, sushi is all about the rice and sushi chefs spent more than ten years studying and perfecting the craft. It is an art. Appreciating the rice is another way of saying that you have enjoyed your meal.
- Do drink something traditional along with your sushi. This means sake or green tea.
- Don’t put too much wasabi on your soy sauce. The chef has already put the right amount of wasabi on your fish. Putting too much wasabi kills the original taste.
- Don’t dip your sushi all the way. Otherwise, the rice will fall apart.
- Do finish what you ordered. It is considered rude to leaving anything on your plate. It is essential to understand that chefs have exerted a lot of effort in making the perfect sushi.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sushi chefs are always happy to talk with their guests and you can learn from them while you ask questions.
Famous Sushi Restaurants in Tokyo
Sushi is found almost everywhere! From high-end restaurants to convenience stores. The delectable and accessible dish is loved not just by Japanese consumers but even from foreign consumers. It can be eaten from breakfast up to midnight snack by some people who claim themselves sushi fanatics. Here are some of the best restaurants to get delicious sushi.
- Hashiguchi – located in a suburban neighborhood, this low-key restaurant is not to be missed. Aside from their delectable and diverse menu, it’s the dining experience that’s got everyone talking about. And did anyone tell you that they can make your sushi dance? Chef Hashiguchi does this technique wherein he applies pressure to his sushi and for a split second, can make your sushi dance! It’s one thing to be witnessed here in Hashiguchi. Located in 1-5-20 Motoakasaka, Minato, Tokyo.
- Hanamaru – know as the most beloved conveyor belt sushi restaurant, Hanamaru is an affordable sushi restaurant that serves excellent sushi dishes. Because of its popularity, they now have nine branches in Hokkaido, where it was originated, and two more branches in Tokyo. It can get pretty crowded because of the long lines, so the best time to come is between lunch and dinner. There are no reservations. Located in Marunouchi: 5F Kitte Tower, 2-7-2 Marunouchi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo | Ginza: Tokyo Plaza Ginza 10F, 5-2-1 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo
- Genki Sushi – located near Shibuya Station, this restaurant will leave you with a happy tummy and a happy pocket. The customers always say that customizing their sushi is the best part because you get to choose what goes into your dish and you’ll be surprised with its price because it comes cheap yet stays true to its quality. Located in first floor 150-0042 Tokyo Udagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku 24-8 Leisure Plaza Building.
- Sushi Dai – a sushi counted located in Tsukiji Market, the restaurant is known for its sushi breakfast selection, which includes a set meal of sushi rolls accompanied with egg. The restaurant is so popular that line starts even in the early hours of the morning. Located in Sushi Dai, Japan, 〒104-0045 Tokyo, Chuo.
- Fukuzushi – unlike most sushi restaurants that only accommodate a limited seating, this restaurant is spacious and is great for families, group of friends, or even hold business meetings. Although popular, Fukuzushi is priced slightly lower than the others without skimping on quality sushi. The chef seasons each piece of nigiri with the right amount of wasabi and soy sauce and is perfected in many ways. Located in Fukuzushi, 5 Chome-7-8 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo-to.
Interesting Facts About Sushi
- Placed in high-end restaurants and considered a luxury food, sushi was eaten by merchants during the Edo Period.
- Women weren’t trained to be a sushi chef back then because it was told that their hands are too warm to handle the fish and would only taint the quality of it.
- You might be confused with the use of sushi and zushi. However, there is a difference. Sushi is used when it is not specified while zushi is used when speaking a specified kind of sushi like inari-zushi, maki-zushi, etc.
- Sushi is often accompanied with wasabi. That is because wasabi is added to soften the dish and to draw out the flavor of the fish.
- The most expensive sushi was made in the Philippines by Angelito Araneta Jr. who wrapped his famous sushi with a 24-karat gold leaf which acted as the nori and sprinkled with real diamonds. Talk about luxury.
- Traditionally eaten by hands, high-end sushi restaurants opted with using chopsticks, unlike conveyor belt sushi restaurants.
- There is a day that is solely dedicated to sushi and it’s every 1st of June every year. It’s to show everyone’s love for sushi.
- Japanese chefs take their craft seriously and for you to be even called a legit sushi chef, or most known as itamae (in front of the counter), you must start from the bottom of the ladder. It can take you 10 to 15 years of training, sometimes 20 years!
She’s cooking and baking for her family and friends. She finds grocery shopping therapeutic, always takes the longest time in the Asian section and debates with herself whether she needs that extra pack of instant ramen. A lover of sweets, she dreams of owning a patisserie and publishing her book but most of the time, she’s just really thinking of what to eat for breakfast the next day.