· Photographs by Dwight Eschliman
Sure, nowadays you’ll find sushi beside the cash register at your local gas station, but it has taken a long time for North Americans to accept raw fish as a respectable meal. Centuries ago, the Japanese inherited the Southeast Asian pickling practice of layering salted fish on rice, weighing it down with a stone and leaving it to ferment for up to three months. Always adept at refinement, the Japanese accelerated the process by adding vinegar to the rice and creating what we now call sushi. Everything changed in the nineteenth century, when chef Hanaya Yohei came up with a brave idea—he placed the day’s catch, uncooked, on top of fist-sized portions of rice and sold them at his stall on the busy streets of Tokyo. An instant hit and one of the first types of fast-food outlet, sushi stalls soon spread across Japan. It wasn’t until the late 1970s, however, that North America took notice. Today, anything goes. Herein, a brief history of sushi:
1. The original open-faced sushi, called hakosushi, was a combination of marinated fish on a bed of fermented rice. Portions were served as one large piece.
2. Nigiri-sushi was the next major evolutionary step. The raw fish on top of the rice was cut in half and served in twos. To this day, nigiri-sushi is served in pairs, since two bites allow diners to better appreciate the taste.
3. Tuna is the most coveted fish for sushi, and the fattier, creamier otoro (belly) is the favoured part. The pink chutoro (also from the tuna belly) is a close second.
4. Cultivation of nori (seaweed) began in the seventeenth century when fishermen started building offshore fences to trap fish. Seaweed grew easily on the fences and, once dried, made a perfect wrapper for holding rice and fish together.
5. Sushi connoisseurs always order tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette) to test a chef’s prowess in presentation and flavour. The perfect tamago is firm, not too sweet and not too salty.
6. Gunkan-maki (battleship sushi) was invented about seventy years ago at a popular Tokyo restaurant called Kyubei. Chefs wrapped nori around the rice, creating a boat to elegantly hold in place messier seafoods like salmon roe and sea urchin.
7. Inari-sushi, one of the few sushi that is fish-free, is a pocket of fried tofu stuffed with rice. It was developed in the late 1800s and was popular among vegetarian Buddhists in Kyoto.
8. Maki (rolled sushi), one of the earliest sushi, and the most decorative, first appeared in the Kansai region of Japan where fresh fish wasn’t readily available. Chefs in Osaka and Kyoto improvised by using local ingredients, such as plums and winter melon, and rolling everything into a sheet of nori.
9. While salmon sushi is popular in North America, only recently have the Japanese started to eat it raw. Usually it is grilled or salted—a holdover from pre-refrigeration days when freshwater fish were considered unsafe eaten raw.
Canada & its place in the world. Published by
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