Sushi and Sashimi

A Brief Introduction to Sushi

The kanji for sushi comes from the word kotobuki (寿), which means longevity and shi (司), which means administer. Putting these together would indicate that sushi (寿司) was meant to increase one’s life. However, that’s a direct translation, and I’ve also found that sushi means “fermented things”. One dictionary actually used the following kanji (鮨) to describe sushi as fish on vinegared rice. Breaking this kanji into it’s radicals sakana (魚), meaning fish and mune (旨), meaning purpose, can be translated into the purpose of fish.

The kanji for sashimi comes from the verb sasu and mi (身), which means body. Putting these together would indicate the word sashimi refers to sticking the body or in this case slicing the body of a fish. The dictionary describes it as slices of raw fish.

A Brief History of Sushi

The concept of sushi originated from China at the end of 2nd century A.D. as salted fish meat fermenting anywhere from 1 to 3 years in rice. The original purpose of making sushi was to preserve fish, and unlike today’s sushi, the rice was thrown away and only the fish was eaten. This was accomplished by pressing raw fish between layers of salt and compressing under the weight of a stone. This type of sushi is called Nare-zushi.

In the 15th century A.D., the fermentation process was reduced to about 1 month and the rice was consumed with the fish resulting in a new type of sushi called Nama-Nari-zushi. 3 types of Nama-Nari-zushi, called Sake-zushi, Bara-zushi and Saba-zushi were developed during the 16th centry A.D. The use of rice vinegar was introduced in the middle of 17th century and used to shorten the fermentation time and enhance the flavor of sushi. The 17th century also saw the introduction of Haya-zushi and Hako-zushi which is an Osaka style sushi.

The 18th century found a chef named Yohei eliminating the fermentation process and preparing sushi similarly to the way it is prepared today. Two styles exist known as Kansai style, which originates from Osaka and Edo style, which originates from Tokyo. Most foreigners are familiar with the Tokyo style of sushi, but if you have a chance, and they serve it, ask for the Osaka style (or kansai style) known as battera. Nori-Maki-zushi was introduced at the end of 18th century. Nigiri-zushi was introduced in the early 19th century in Tokyo. The original style of sushi, called narezushi, is made using freshwater carp.

Sushi vs. Sashimi: What is the Difference?

Simply, sashimi is pieces of raw fish and sushi is pieces of raw fish placed on top of rice, sometimes wrapped in nori.

For Connoisseurs

The pink colored condiment that accompanys sushi is often thought of as jinja, but to connoisseurs it is known as gari (hiragana: がり). Soy sauce is referred to as shoyu, but to connosisseurs it is known as murasaki (kanji: 紫 – hiragana: むらさき) which is the word for the color purple and representative of the color of the soy sauce. When you are finished your meal, you can ask for your food bill by saying agaricha kudasai (kanji: 上がり茶 – hiragana: あがりちゃ) which literally translates into “standing up tea”, but is an indication that you are finished your meal and want to pay for the meal. Wasabi is the familiar hot green colored paste that is wiped onto the block of sushi rice before placing the fish on top. Wasabi is indigenous to Japan and goes back to at least the 10th century1, where it is described in a botanical text assigning the kanji yama or mountain and aoi or hollyhock. This assignment was made, because wasabi leaves resemble hollyhock and the plant itself grows wild in the mountains. Wasabi is grown mostly in Azumino, Nagano and Shizuoka. It’s not necessary to use extra wasabi since it is already put on the sushi, but for those who want it “hotter”, it’s best to place a little wasabi into a small dish, then pour a little shoyu over it, lightly mixing the two together. It’s generally not good etiquette, nor necessary to drown the wasabi paste with an excessive amount of shoyu.

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