Are you ready to have your world rocked? Are you prepared to be dazzled and delighted? Because we’ve got some news for you: Sushi is not just for snooty foodies anymore. In fact, sushi is becoming so popular that even people who used to turn up their noses at it are giving it a try. And once they do, they often become converts. That’s because sushi incorporates a wide variety of ingredients and flavors – some familiar and others not – in ways that will delight and surprise you with every bite. Not to mention it can be a healthy dish, leading some researchers to believe it contributes to Japan having the lowest coronary heart disease rates and longest life expectancies of any developed nation.
In this article, we’ll explain more about this popular Japanese food, including its history, different types of sushi, how to eat it the right way and what other foods you should consider pairing with it.
A Brief History of Sushi
The history of sushi is a bit more complicated than most people realize. Many think it was invented in Japan, where plenty of varied options are available at every turn. But not so fast! The dish traces its roots back to China, where over 2,000 years ago, they ate a fermented fish and salted rice dish called narezushi.
Hundreds of years passed when the dish known as sushi made its first appearance in 8th century Japan. Now a distant relative of the Chinese food it grew from, the Japanese put their own mark on it. Over time, this traditional staple began to change with each new generation’s preferences for different flavors or plentiful foods during each period.
Sushi made its way to the West in the mid-1900s after World War II, and by the 1960s, it took hold in the American dining and culinary scenes. Along the way, it gained new flavors through different styles and ingredients that weren’t found in traditional Japanese sushi.
Today, sushi is a popular and easily recognizable dish that’s ready to delight you. With many different kinds of sushi rolls on offer, it has something for everyone.
Different Types of Sushi
First, let’s answer an essential question: What is sushi?
Sushi, by definition, is rice that’s been prepared with vinegar, sugar and salt. It can take many different forms, including nigiri (a piece of raw fish on top of a ball of rice), sashimi (the fish itself) and maki (slices of fish and veggies wrapped in seaweed and rice). However, when people think of sushi, they usually picture the rolled style called maki.
- Nigiri – A thin slice of raw fish, or other toppings such as egg or beef, on top of a small elongated ball of sushi rice. Nigiri is believed to have been invented in Tokyo in the early 1800s and gained popularity as fast food. It comes from the Japanese word nigiru, which means “to grasp.” It was generally eaten without chopsticks – using one’s hands instead.
- Sashimi – Slices of fish and other seafood served on a platter without rice. They are sliced very thin and often served raw, but some may be pan-seared. Sashimi predates nigiri, going back to the 1600s.
- Maki – The most popular form of sushi worldwide, especially in the West, maki is a bit of rice covered with a sheet of seaweed and filled with fish, veggies or other yummy ingredients. It is then wrapped into a long roll and cut into individual pieces. A roll will usually be about 2.5 inches thick and produce around five or six pieces. It has been around since the 1940s, so it is a much more recent addition to the world of sushi.
There are, of course, other types of sushi out there, with regional variations existing throughout Japan. Countries like South Korea and Canada have also done their own unique takes on this storied food. However, the point we’re trying to make is that sushi really isn’t anything new and that tons of variations exist. You’re bound to find some you like if you let yourself try new things and be a little adventurous.
How to Eat Sushi
Let’s start by saying there is no right or wrong way to eat sushi so long as you are enjoying it. That being said, it’s essential to have a proper understanding of some basics, so you know the first bites will be delicious.
When you get your sushi plate or platter, some other things will be accompanying it. These are worth mentioning first, so you know what to do with them.
- Soy Sauce – This is often served with sushi as a dipping sauce. Individuals can freely add it to their tastes, but it’s generally meant for the fish, not the rice.
- Wasabi – This is best described as Japanese horseradish. It can be added separately to your sushi or mixed with soy sauce to create a dipping sauce. Wasabi can be quite potent and will definitely make your nose run the moment you taste the very hot and spicy flavor. Varying strengths exist, so be sure to taste your wasabi before using too much. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out!
- Pickled Ginger – Also known as gari, it’s traditionally served alongside sushi to cleanse your palate between different pieces. Some people find it refreshing, while others describe it as spicy. It comes in various colors, generally pink or a pale yellowish-white.
So, what now? Do you use a fork, chopsticks or your hands? Generally, sushi may be challenging to eat with a fork, and many restaurants won’t offer you one, so we’re not a fan of that. Nigiri sushi is easy to eat by hand or with chopsticks because the rice is sticky and holds together well. However, if you’re at a restaurant, people may look at you funny if you’re eating with your hands, so practice those chopstick skills before you go out. Sashimi is always eaten with chopsticks because it’s raw fish and there’s no rice to grasp onto. Maki rolls are similar to nigiri, so use chopsticks or hands. Both work. But again, chopsticks win at the restaurant.
When eating nigiri or sashimi, you can add a dash of wasabi to the fish itself. If you’re eating maki, refrain from adding wasabi to the inside of the roll. Instead, add it to the outer end of the roll to give the dish a little zing and flavor. Otherwise, you risk poking out the filling. While wasabi is traditionally used in sushi, you don’t have to put it on your meal. Instead, try eating some with and without to see what you find tastiest.
The soy sauce can either be poured directly onto the sushi or used as a dipping sauce. Generally, pieces of sushi are dipped because, otherwise, the rice may lose its shape and fall apart. If you’re having trouble with the soy sauce, simply dip your sushi into it for a moment or two. Don’t let it soak before you eat.
And don’t forget to clean your palate with some pickled ginger in between different types of sushi. This way, you’ll be able to taste each kind of sushi distinctly and enjoy the flavors without any distraction.
Time to Eat!
And that’s pretty much all there is to it! Congratulations on learning how to eat sushi like a pro. Now that you know what to expect, it’ll be easier than ever to go out and enjoy it. And if you like it enough, it’s also not too hard to make at home. Simply visit your local or online Asian grocery store to stock up on some essentials like sushi rice, nori (seaweed) and wasabi. Then, you can impress your family and friends with your very own homemade sushi creations at home!