Sushi is one of the traditional Japanese dishes you should eat when you come to Japan. When talking about sushi, you would imagine "Nigiri Sushi (握り寿司)" which has fresh raw seafood ingredients on top of vinegared rice, but there are various types of sushi other than that. Let's take a look at the origin of sushi and how the “Nigiri Sushi” has become the most popular sushi in the world.
Fermented food is the origin of Japanese sushi?
When talking about sushi, most people imagine something that has fresh raw fish like tuna, salmon, or shrimp, etc. on top of vinegared rice, like the sushi in the photo. This sushi is called “Nigiri Sushi (握り寿司)”. It is said that the origin was a pickled fish called "Narezushi (なれずし) which existed before the Nara era. Salted fish is placed in a container together with rice and is immersed for a long period of time with weight(stones) on it. The fish ferments with an acidity flavor.
Sushi was arranged for a quicker fermentation
Although Narezushi took 1 or 2 years to ferment, only the fish was consumed, the rice was not. During the Edo period, "Oshizushi (pushed sushi)" which uses strong pressure for it to accelerate the fermentation process was invented. The other invention during this period was "Sasamaki sushi(笹巻寿司)" in which sushi is rolled with a bamboo leaf and mixed with vinegar. It is said that the current form of “Nigiri Sushi” was born from this Sasamaki Sushi.
Nirigi Sushi was fast food in the Edo period!
Nigiri Sushi was most popular during the Edo period. At that time, it was not something like in modern times but was sold at stalls on the streets. The price was around 80 yen (or Yonbun “四文”, the currency at that time) per piece which was a reasonable price where the customers would eat the sushi like a snack. During Edo, a lot of laborers worked on a daily wage basis. So, those inexpensive stalls of sushi were popular among them.
Sushi spread throughout the country due to the evolution of ice-making technology and refrigerators
Meanwhile, high-class sushi began to appear which cost one silver coin (一朱銀). During Tenpo's reform (1841-1843) in the Edo period, more than 200 sushi craftworkers were executed to prevent the excessive luxury style of living. In the Meiji Era, due to the development of ice-making technology, and the spread of commercial refrigerators, fresh fish became easier to preserve. So, the sushi spread from Tokyo to the whole country. In the Showa era, thanks to Kaiten Sushi (回転寿司 conveyor belt sushi) and Temakizushi (手巻き寿司 hand-rolled sushi), sushi became more familiar in general households.