Let us begin, shall we?
Although many of you are already aware of this since an interest in sushi has likely lead you to my blog, this thought needs to be dispelled once and for all because I still hear it:
“EEK I don’t like sushi because I can’t eat RAW fish! That’s gross!”
First and foremost: Sushi is not raw fish. Sushi is a style of food dating back to 19th century Japan. It’s a very general term for a large array of consumable goodies; the only one consistent unifying factor being vinegared sushi rice. Many types of sushi do not use raw fish, or any seafood at all. There are even types of sushi that do not use seaweed, which can scare some people as well. This unique style of food is so versatile to which it can be customized to any palette, and can serve as a canvas for all kinds of creative culinary minds. Part of the misconception comes from the fact that there really is no clear definition of sushi. Most definitions are very wordy and include an excessive amount of constraints.
For example… “Cold, cooked rice dressed with vinegar that is shaped into bite-sized pieces and topped with raw or cooked fish, or formed into a roll with fish, egg, or vegetables which is wrapped in seaweed and garnished with various ingredients and condiments.
While this may be accurate…I forgot what I was reading about half-way through.
The confusion also stems from there being 3 different kanji (Chinese characters used in Japanese) that can be used for sushi. The two traditional kanji for sushi 鮓 and 鮨, date back some 2,000 years originating in China. 鮓 means sliced fish and 鮨 means deliciously sophistichated fish. Translations from Asiatic languages are always going to be a little rough, so keep that in mind. The third and most commonly used kanji today is 寿司, which is actually quite odd because the translation really has nothing to do with sushi; it’s something along the lines of to have a celebration. The reason this came into use is because of it’s phonetic equivalent to the original kanji for sushi. Think of it as a Japanese version of a pun. The Japanese language has a funny way of evolving like that, and becoming ever-so mystifying to outsiders.
With all that said, you can see why the western world has had a difficult time coming up with a succinct definition for the word sushi. Here at the Maki Zavellian School of Fish, we have a saying: sushi equals happiness. A philosophy is not the same as a definition, however.
For all intensive purposes, let’s see what we can come up with. Sushi is such a general term for such a wide variety of food that the definition is hard to pinpoint and would have to somehow account for that without becoming overly wordy. Ok here we go, I will do my best to provide a definition. Are you ready for this?
Sushi – “Sweet, sticky rice presented in a variety of ways with many types of ingredients, often fresh seafood.”
That is the best I can do for now, so I hope that helps.
Now let’s delve a little further into the history behind sushi.
Sushi started as a means of preserving fish, and grew into a popular street snack often touted as the world’s first form of fast food. Let’s fast forward to after the invention of refrigeration. Sushi has come a long way since its preservation days. It is generally a vehicle for eating the freshest possible seafood of the highest quality. Sushi has also migrated all over the world, and started gaining popularity in the United States around the early 70s. This spike in demand and lack of concern for our abundant oceanic ecosystem, has created very real dangers to precious seafood populations. It is the responsibility of those whose fates are closely tied to seafood to raise awareness for issues regarding the sustainability of fisheries.
With expensive sushi bars popping up everywhere, and sushi even becoming available in many grocery stores; it is clear that sushi is not only a part of Japanese culture, but also is now a part of American culture. To save on cost, and have more control of your ingredients, you can make sushi at home. The notion that learning to prepare sushi takes an insurmountable amount of time and training is simply a myth propagated by Japanese traditions. Sushi chefs these days do not go through the arduous 7 year apprenticeship of old times that you may often hear about in sushi lore. Learning how to prepare rice does not take a year; let’s not make things more difficult and complicated than they are. That is the makizavellian way. I seek to share, de-mystify, and teach all about sushi and remove the perceived intimidation factor that has deterred home cooks from trying to make sushi. With proper preparation and practice, you’ll be on your way to impressing your friends, family, and taste buds in no time.