Sushi, in its current form first appeared in Japan in the 19th century. It had actually been around for a long time before this, but in a different style to the one we recognize today. In the 19th century, the capital of Japan, known as Edo already had more than one million inhabitants and the activity was intense. Sushi, made by putting a thin slice of raw fish onto a mouthful of rice, became popular as it allowed restaurants and food vendors to feed many people quickly – a real necessity in such a busy city! We could even say that Sushi was the first fast food! This approach to eating was extremely successful, and for the past two centuries sushi vendors have been improving their techniques to refine the taste of Japan’s favorite dish.
Although the aspect of sushi is quite simple, making it requires several years of practice. Preparing the rice is the most important step. When picking up a sushi with chopsticks, the rice should stay firm and not collapse. Firstly, vinegar is added to the rice which helps to give it the desired consistency, and then the rice is fanned to get rid of any dampness. As for the fish, it must be as fresh as possible. Once thinly sliced and cut into regular bite-sized shapes, the fish is also treated with vinegar and salt.
Sushi is eaten in a very simple way. It is not uncommon to eat it with one’s fingers, but most people prefer using chopsticks as a matter of hygiene. They are served with soy sauce that can be mixed with some wasabi (a very hot Japanese condiment). They are also accompanied by thin marinated ginger slices. As for the beverage, sushi is complimented by a cup of green tea, which is said to bring out the taste of the sushi.
Sushi is traditionally served in sushi-bars, which are small specialized restaurants run by a master chef who was trained for several years. In these types of restaurants, you tell the chef what you would like to eat and he prepares the fish right in front of you. Nowadays though you can also find the famous ‘kaitenzushi’, or sushi trains. These are restaurants in which the sushi is laid in pairs on small plates that rotate on a conveyor belt around a central table. Diners take the plates they want from the belt, and pay at the end according to how many plates they have in front of them. Even in such restaurants, sushi might be prepared by a chef, but it is true that sometimes it will be prepared by machines or unqualified workers in the back of the restaurant.
The most famous kind of sushi is ‘Nigirizushi’. This sushi is made from a mouthful of rice with a topping (called "neta", which is often fish). But there are also other sorts of sushi. Among them, the Makizushi, which is sushi made of rice and fish rolled in a sheet of Nori (dried seaweed).
In recent years, sushi has become very popular through the world, mainly because people are looking for a healthier way of eating. This globalization of sushi also contributes to its evolution, and many new kinds of sushi have appeared abroad (especially in London and the United States). Makizushi replaces fish with cheese and salads – you can even find sushi with a chocolate topping! Who said people were looking for a healthier food?!