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  • Leopold Huber

The History of Sushi

Sushi is a dish made of sushi rice, a special vinegared rice topped, filled, or covered by meat or vegetables. Most sushi contains raw (or lightly smoked/cured) fish, the most common being squid, eel, yellowtail, salmon, tuna or crab meat, or other aquatic ingredients, such as prawns or fish eggs. Sushi is also often paired with soy sauce, pickled ginger, and wasabi. Many people around the world enjoy the dish for its fishy, sour and umami flavors. In this article I will explore the history of this dish and its rise to today’s prominence. 



Narezushi, the first predecessor of the modern dish, first appeared in Han China and around the Mekong River Basin in Southeast Asia. It was the practice of preserving raw fish by storing it together with rice and salt. The juices and chemicals in the foods would leech out into each other, preserving themselves. This was very useful for the local people as protein could be stored year-round, but once the fish was eaten, the rice was then thrown out, as it was unpalatable due to fermentation. 


Early spread and development in Japan 

During the Muromachi period (1336-1573) in Japan, Narezushi was brought to south-western Japan by Chinese immigrants. 

Haya-zushi, another type of sushi, was developed during the Edo Era (1603–1867). Haya-zushi differed from earlier sushi in that instead of utilizing rice, rice vinegar was mixed with the sushi. This gave the sushi a pleasant sour taste and people started eating the rice and fish together. Sushi became a sort of fast food in Japanese society, mostly being enjoyed by the lower classes. Many modern sushi types were created at the time as people incorporated their own local foods and flavours, including the recently (1750) invented sheet seaweed which allowed for the sushi designs known today to take form. The most famous of these types include nigiri, maki, chirashi and inari.  


Global spread and modernization 

The first major spread of sushi into the wider world occurred in the US during the early 1900s. During the Meiji-Restoration many Japanese immigrants arrived in the US and the first sushi shop opened in Los Angeles in 1906. While the food’s popularity grew at the time, especially in the upper-class, xenophobia and anti-Japanese policies caused a decline in the dish’s reach. But during the 1950s, sushi rebounded in the US and spread globally due to Americanization. 

In 1958, the first conveyor belt sushi restaurant was opened in Osaka, southern Japan. In such restaurants, colored plates of different sushi would be transported around the facility, with customers being freely available to grab a dish. The diners would then have to pay according to the color of the plate. Conveyor belt sushi restaurants boomed in popularity and can now be found worldwide, and the industry is calculated to be worth 700 billion yen (3.566 billion gbp).  

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