Do you like sushi? Do you know any sushi recipes?
Although sushi is nowadays more widely available and eaten in the U.S., not many people know the culture of sushi, which has a long history.
Historically, before the 8th century, there were no sushi recipes in Japan. However, people in the Southeast Asia and China, who knew how to preserve the mixture of cooked rice and fish with salt, eventually taught the Japanese how to make the mixture by the end of the 8th century. The difference between today’s sushi and this ancient form of preservation was that the mixture of rice, fish and salt was fermented.
Even today, in Shiga Prefecture, some of the locals use more or less the same ancient method to preserve cooked rice and raw carp together. Every year, the locals catch wild carp from the rivers, cut the fish up and mix it with boiled rice and salt to start the process of fermentation. After many months, the mixture is eaten with relish.
Today’s sushi cuisine, as commercially known in the U.S., does not use fermentation. However, the use of rice vinegar in the sushi cuisine originates from the lightly acidic taste of the fermentation, which was used in Japan centuries ago.
In any case, until about the 12th century, ‘sushi’ or the fermented mixture of rice and fish was not available widely. Being able to eat ‘sushi’ remained generally a privilege of the aristocracy.
By the end of the 14th century, the Japanese began to use a much shorter process of light fermentation to make a similar mixture of rice, fish and salt. Unlike the ancient cuisine, which required sometimes nearly one year of fermentation, ‘sushi’ after the 14th century was eaten after about 10 days of fermentation.
By the end of the 16th century, the culture of sushi was changing: the Japanese were using an alternative method of adding rice vinegar to the mixture of rice and fish to assimilate the taste of fermentation.
In any case, unlike today, only the privileged classes in Japan could eat ‘sushi’ until about the end of the 19th century. Even when ‘sushi’ finally reached the masses at the end of the Shōgun’s reign, in the beginning, the cuisine was quite different from what is widely known today.