Ten surprising facts about sushi

By Kaz Matsune

1. Sushi is no raw fish.

The word sushi refers to cooked rice mixed with seasoned rice vinegar (with sugar and salt). Sushi rice in Japanese is called “Shari.” So by definition, as long as you use sushi rice, it can be called sushi. There are plenty of vegetable sushi in Japan such as pickles roll, futomaki (egg, spinach, kanpyo), kappa (cucumber), ume shiso (Plum), add many others including vegetable chirashi.

In recent years, we have seen “newcomers” like mac and cheese sushi, hamburger sushi and beef sushi.

2. Sushi was invented in South East Asia First

Originally developed in Southeast Asia as a way to preserve fish in salt and rice., then it was introduced to Japan through China around 8th century. The form of sushi, nigiri and rolls we know now were developed in Tokyo (Called as “Edo” around 19th century. In the beginning, it was a street fast food served at a sushi stand, just like a hot dog stand. We see the remaining of the original stand as a sushi bar at sushi restaurants.

3. Sushi rice is not sticky rice

Many people think sushi rice means “sticky rice.” Sticky rice refers to mochi rice, which is used to make mochi. To make sushi rice, which is called “shari,” sushi chefs add sushi vinegar to cooked rice. High sugar content in sushi vinegar gives stickiness to rice and keeps rice stick together.

4. Ginger is a strong antibacterial agent

Pickled ginger not only brings fresh flavor in your mouth, it also cleanse one’s palette, especially after oily fish. It functions as an antibacterial against raw fish, which can carry parasites.

5. California Roll is an American invention.

The story goes like this. One evening a customer at the sushi bar in little tokyo, LA, requested a “special.” The sushi chef used avocado (that was not a common sushi ingredient back then) and called it avocado special. The customer liked it so much that it became a regular menu and evolved to the California Roll we know now.

Recently, a sushi chef in Canada claimed he invented it first. Regardless, California roll has become the most popular sushi item in America.

6. Nobody eats Tuna sushi until recently

Around 12-13 century in Japan, tuna was called “shibi,” which rhymed with “day of dead” in Japanese. So, they avoided eating tuna because it was bad luck. Until 19th century when Yohei Hanaya invented nigiri sushi, people considered eating tuna as low class. Yohei marinated tuna in soy sauce and used for his sushi and became popular sushi item.

7 Nigiri or Roll?

When Japanese say sushi, they think of Nigiri. When Americans think of sushi, they say Rolls.

8 Not all fish taste great when they are fresh

Similar to beef aging, Tuna (yellow fin, big eye and bluefin) starts to taste better after one to two weeks of aging. Halibut is almost uneatable when fresh- chewy and no flavor like eating an unripe green banana.

9. Sashimi does not mean raw fish.

Sashimi means sliced meat. Therefore, sliced raw beef has a name “Beef Sashimi.” Japanese enjoy chicken sashimi (only fresh selected chicken) and vegetable sashimi as well.

10. Most so called wasabi is not necessary wasabi

Most of the sushi restaurants in US use powdered Wasabi. This wasabi consists of western horseradish and mustard with some food coloring. Of course, there are some restaurants use “real” wasabi powder. So why do most of them use non-wasabi powder? That’s because wasabi costs a lot of money. The fresh wasabi from Japan can cost anywhere from $50-$100/lbs., which could cost more than Toro (tuna belly).

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