First introduced to Japan thousands of years ago, sushi is now one of Japan’s most famous food exports and served all over the world, from conveyor belt restaurants to fine dining establishments. 18th June is International Sushi Day, so there’s no better time to bring you the 101 on all things sushi! Come on a journey of discovery with us as we take you on a whistle-stop tour of this bite-sized Japanese delicacy.
What is Sushi?
Fish or seafood continue to be the toppings or fillings of choice for most sushi, but there are a few other key ingredients that will usually be involved in your sushi meal. These include rice, seaweed (nori), wasabi paste, pickled ginger and soy sauce. Sushi can theoretically be prepared using any type of vegetable, meat or protein, so vegans or vegetarians can enjoy sushi too, by switching out the fish for vegetables such as avocado or cucumber, or Japanese omelette (tamagoyaki).
Online sushi-making classes and video tutorials have contributed to the rise in sushi’s worldwide popularity and are a great way to experience the delights of sushi from the comfort of your own kitchen!
There are a myriad of different types of sushi to enjoy so we’ll take a closer look at some of these. But first, let’s explore those staple ingredients for a traditional sushi meal.
Key Sushi Ingredients
The most essential ingredient for your sushi is the rice! Akitakomachi is a popular rice choice for sushi as it has a short grain with a glutinous texture when cooked, making it easy to roll and form into different shapes. The rice is mixed in a bowl with a combination of rice vinegar, sugar and salt until each grain has been coated. Check out our guide to cooking the perfect sushi rice on Japancentre.com
Nori is made from sheets of flattened seaweed which are mainly used for the outer layer of maki sushi. Nori has a subtle flavour and enhances the taste of sushi.
Fish or seafood is usually the topping or filling of choice for most sushi dishes, and popular options include tuna, salmon, prawns, octopus, squid and mackerel. It takes a trained, skilled chef to slice the fish to perfection using a super-sharp knife.
Pickled sushi ginger (gari) is thinly sliced and used to cleanse the palate between different sushi dishes.
A green hued condiment which packs a punch, wasabi is similar to horseradish. When a chef prepares your sushi they will have chosen just the right amount to complement your sushi dish, so it’s not necessary to add any additional wasabi. But if you do want to use more, restaurants may have a little jar available to spoon extra onto your sushi.
One of Japan’s staple condiments, soy sauce can enhance the flavour of your sushi. It has a fairly strong and salty taste so use it sparingly. Pour into a shallow dish and dip one corner of the fish into the soy sauce.
Types of Sushi
Now you’ve got the lowdown on the staple ingredients you’ll need to create mouth-watering sushi, it’s time to take a look at different types. With so many different formats, we’ve covered some of the most popular options below. But there are plenty of opportunities to get creative with your sushi recipes. Why not try out our vegetarian sushi doughnuts or spicy tuna and salmon rolls?
Maki Sushi Rolls
Maki sushi (makizushi) means ‘rolled sushi’. The rice and other ingredients (such as fish and vegetables) are formed into long rolls which are then sliced into individual pieces. Most types of maki have a sheet of nori seaweed on the outside, apart from uramaki (inside out rolls) where the rice is on the outer layer. Other varieties of maki roll include thin (hosomaki), medium (chumaki) and thick (futomaki) rolls. Temaki are cone rolls which are formed by hand rather than using a sushi mat.
Another popular option and one you will likely be familiar with if you have ever eaten sushi before, is nigiri sushi (nigirizushi). Nigiri means ‘hand-pressed’ and consists of rice shaped into small rectangular shapes and topped with fish such as salmon or tuna or Japanese omelette (tamagoyaki). A dab of wasabi holds the topping in place.
Inari sushi (inarizushi) is a simple dish made from pockets of fried tofu (abaru age) which are seasoned and filled with sushi rice. The tofu gives this sushi a slightly sweet flavour and is a vegan-friendly alternative to fish based sushi dishes. For a few Japan Centre variations on the classic inari sushi, including edamame/furikake and carrot/hijiki seaweed recipes take a look at our inari sushi round-up.
Chirashi sushi (chirashizushi) meaning ‘scattered sushi’ consists of sushi rice served in a bowl and topped with various meats and vegetables. One of the most popular toppings is fried tofu (abaru age) Japanese omelette (tamoyaki), carrots, beans and fish cake.
Sushi Through the Ages
The origins of sushi actually lie in ancient China. The very first type of sushi was created around the 4th Century BC by wrapping salted fish in rice and leaving it for months to ferment. The salt acted as a preserving agent for the fish and the rice was disposed of. This dish (known as narezushi) arrived in Japan by the 8th Century, and by the 15th Century cooked rice was being added to the interior of the gutted fish. The invention of rice vinegar in the 1700s created another sushi evolution, adding flavour to the rice in an instant, doing away with the need for a lengthy fermentation process.
The first nigiri sushi was created by Hanaya Yohei in 1824, which he sold on a stall in the streets of Tokyo. The popularity of sushi spread across Japan and by the mid 20th century, sushi had become something of a delicacy, predominantly being served in restaurants rather than on street stalls.
Today, sushi is popular worldwide and can be experienced in a variety of different types of restaurants. Sushi fine dining is the most expensive option, where you can enjoy a delicious feast prepared by sushi chefs with years of specialist training. The head chef (itamae) can make recommendations and your sushi will be carefully crafted and served on a wooden board (geta). A less costly option is to visit a conveyor belt restaurant, where the sushi will be transported around the belt under clear domes, so you can reach out and choose whatever takes your fancy. Even convenience stores (conbini) sell sushi in Japan, allowing you to pick up your sushi, condiments and chopsticks on the go.
Japancentre.com has all your sushi essentials, from cookery books, ingredients, meal kits and step-by-step sushi-making guides. Enjoy all this and more by shopping in-store at Japan Centre Leicester Square, Westfield London and Westfield Stratford City. Alternatively you can get fresh produce delivered straight to your door by shopping online at the Japan Centre website.