Sushi (すし、寿司, 鮨, 鮓, 寿斗, 寿し, 壽司) is a Japanese delicacy consisting of cooked vinegared rice (shari) combined with other ingredients (neta). Neta and forms of sushi presentation vary, but the ingredient which all sushi have in common is shari. The most common neta is seafood. Raw meat sliced and served by itself is sashimi.
The ancient form of sushi is fermented fish and rice, preserved with salt in a process that has been traced to Southeast Asia, where it remains popular today. The term sushi comes from an archaic grammatical form no longer used in other contexts; literally, sushi means “sour-tasting”, a reflection of its historic fermented roots.
The vinegar produced from fermenting rice breaks down the fish proteins into amino acids. This results in one of the five basic tastes, called umami in Japanese. The oldest form of sushi in Japan, narezushi, still very closely resembles this process. In Japan, narezushi evolved into oshizushi and ultimately Edomae nigirizushi, which is what the world today knows as “sushi”.
Contemporary Japanese sushi has little resemblance to the traditional lacto-fermented rice dish. Originally, when the fermented fish was taken out of the rice, only the fish was consumed and the fermented rice was discarded. The strong-tasting and smelling funazushi, a kind of narezushi made near Lake Biwa in Japan, resembles the traditional fermented dish. Beginning in the Muromachi period (AD 1336–1573) of Japan, vinegar was added to the mixture for better taste and preservation. The vinegar accentuated the rice’s sourness and was known to increase its shelf life, allowing the fermentation process to be shortened and eventually abandoned. In the following centuries, sushi in Osaka evolved into oshi-zushi. The seafood and rice were pressed using wooden (usually bamboo) molds. By the mid 18th century, this form of sushi had reached Edo (contemporary Tokyo).
The contemporary version, internationally known as “sushi”, was created by Hanaya Yohei (華屋与兵衛; 1799–1858) at the end of the Edo period in Edo. The sushi invented by Hanaya was an early form of fast food that was not fermented (therefore prepared quickly) and could be eaten with one’s hands at a roadside or in a theatre. Originally, this sushi was known as Edomae zushi because it used freshly caught fish in the Edo-mae (Edo Bay or Tokyo Bay). Though the fish used in modern sushi no longer usually comes from Tokyo Bay, it is still formally known as Edomae nigirizushi.
Chirashizushi (ちらし寿司, “scattered sushi”) is a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of sashimi and garnishes (also refers to barazushi). Edomae chirashizushi (Edo-style scattered sushi) is an uncooked ingredient that is arranged artfully on top of the sushi rice in a bowl. Gomokuzushi (Kansai-style sushi) are cooked or uncooked ingredients mixed in the body of rice in a bowl. There is no set formula for the ingredients and they are either chef’s choice or sometimes specified by the customer. It is commonly eaten because it is filling, fast and easy to make. Chirashizushi often varies regionally. It is eaten annually on Hinamatsuri in March.
Inarizushi (稲荷寿司) is a pouch of fried tofu filled with usually just sushi rice. It is named after the Shinto god Inari, who is believed to have a fondness for fried tofu. The pouch is normally fashioned as deep-fried tofu (油揚げ, abura age). Regional variations include pouches made of a thin omelette (帛紗寿司, fukusa-zushi or 茶巾寿司, chakin-zushi). It should not be confused with inari maki, which is a roll filled with flavored fried tofu. A very large version, sweeter than normal and often containing bits of carrot, is popular in Hawaii, where it is called “cone sushi”.
Makizushi (巻寿司?, “rolled sushi”), Norimaki (海苔巻き?, “Nori roll”) or makimono (巻物?, “variety of rolls”) is a cylindrical piece, formed with the help of a bamboo mat, called a makisu (巻簾). Makizushi is generally wrapped in nori (seaweed), but can occasionally be found wrapped in a thin omelette, soy paper, cucumber, or parsley. Makizushi is usually cut into six or eight pieces, which constitutes a single roll order. Below are some common types of makizushi, but many other kinds exist.
Futomaki (太巻?, “thick, large or fat rolls”) is a large cylindrical piece, with nori on the outside. A typical futomaki is three or four centimeters (1.5 in) in diameter. They are often made with two or three fillings that are chosen for their complementary tastes and colors. During the Setsubun festival, it is traditional in Kansai to eat uncut futomaki in its cylindrical form, where it is particularly called ehou-maki (恵方巻, lit. happy direction rolls). Futomaki is often vegetarian, but may include non-vegetarian toppings such as tiny fish roe and chopped tuna.
Hosomaki (細巻?, “thin rolls”) is a small cylindrical piece, with the nori on the outside. A typical hosomaki has a diameter of about two centimeters (0.75 in). They generally contain only one filling, often tuna, cucumber, kanpyō, thinly sliced carrots, or, more recently, avocado. Kappamaki, (河童巻) a kind of Hosomaki filled with cucumber, is named after the Japanese legendary water imp fond of cucumbers called the kappa. Traditionally, Kappamaki is consumed to clear the palate between eating raw fish and other kinds of food, so that the flavors of the fish are distinct from the tastes of other foods. Tekkamaki (鉄火巻) is a kind of Hosomaki filled with raw tuna. Although some[who?] believe that the name “Tekka”, meaning ‘red hot iron’, alludes to the color of the tuna flesh or salmon flesh, it actually originated as a quick snack to eat in gambling dens called “Tekkaba (鉄火場)”, much like the sandwich. Negitoromaki (ねぎとろ巻) is a kind of Hosomaki filled with scallion (negi) and chopped tuna (toro). Fatty tuna is often used in this style. Tsunamayomaki (ツナマヨ巻) is a kind of Hosomaki filled with canned tuna tossed with mayonnaise.
Temaki (手巻?, “hand rolls”) is a large cone-shaped piece of nori on the outside and the ingredients spilling out the wide end. A typical temaki is about ten centimeters (4 in) long, and is eaten with fingers because it is too awkward to pick it up with chopsticks. For optimal taste and texture, Temaki must be eaten quickly after being made because the nori cone soon absorbs moisture from the filling and loses its crispness and becomes somewhat difficult to bite.
Uramaki (裏巻?, “inside-out rolls”) is a medium-sized cylindrical piece, with two or more fillings. Uramaki differs from other makimono because the rice is on the outside and the nori inside. The filling is in the center surrounded by nori, then a layer of rice, and an outer coating of some other ingredients such as roe or toasted sesame seeds. It can be made with different fillings such as tuna, crab meat, avocado, mayonnaise, cucumber, carrots. Uramaki has not been so popular in Japan and most of makimono is not uramaki because it is easy to hold makimono with nori skin by fingers. However, since some Western people dislike the black impression of makimono with nori skin, uramaki has become more popular in Western countries than nori-skinned makimono.
Narezushi (熟れ寿司, “matured sushi”) is a traditional form of fermented sushi. Skinned and gutted fish are stuffed with salt, placed in a wooden barrel, doused with salt again, then weighed down with a heavy tsukemonoishi (pickling stone). As days pass, water seeps out and is removed. After six months this funazushi can be eaten, remaining edible for another six months or more.
Nigirizushi (握り寿司?, “hand-formed sushi”) consists of an oblong mound of sushi rice that the chef presses into a small rectangular box between the palms of the hands, usually with a bit of wasabi, and a topping (the neta) draped over it. Neta are typically fish such as salmon, tuna or other seafood. Certain toppings are typically bound to the rice with a thin strip of nori, most commonly octopus (tako), freshwater eel (unagi), sea eel (anago), squid (ika), and sweet egg (tamago). When ordered separately, nigiri is generally served in pairs. A sushi set (a sampler dish) may contain only one piece of each topping.
Gunkanmaki (軍艦巻, “warship roll”) is a special type of nigirizushi: an oval, hand-formed clump of sushi rice that has a strip of “nori” wrapped around its perimeter to form a vessel that is filled with some soft, loose or fine-chopped ingredient that requires the confinement of nori such as roe, natto, oysters, sea urchin, corn with mayonnaise, and quail eggs. Gunkan-maki was invented at the Ginza Kyubey restaurant in 1931; its invention significantly expanded the repertoire of soft toppings used in sushi.
Temarizushi (手まり寿司, “ball sushi”) is a ball-shaped sushi made by pressing rice and fish into a ball-shaped form by hand using a plastic wrap. They are quite easy to make and thus a good starting point for beginners.
Oshizushi (押し寿司, “pressed sushi”), also known as hako-zushi (箱寿司, “box sushi”), is a pressed sushi from the Kansai Region, a favourite and specialty of Osaka. A block-shaped piece formed using a wooden mold, called an oshibako. The chef lines the bottom of the oshibako with the toppings, covers them with sushi rice, and then presses the lid of the mold down to create a compact, rectilinear block. The block is removed from the mold and then cut into bite-sized pieces. Particularly famous is battera (バッテラ?, pressed mackerel sushi) or saba zushi (鯖寿司?).
The increasing popularity of sushi around the world has resulted in variations typically found in North America and Europe, but rarely in Japan. Such creations to suit the Western palate were initially fueled by the invention of the California roll. A wide variety of popular rolls has evolved since. Some examples include:
Alaska roll/a variant of the California roll with raw salmon in the inside, or layered on the outside.
B.C. roll/contains grilled or barbecued salmon skin, cucumber, sweet sauce, sometimes with roe. Also sometimes referred to as salmon skin rolls outside of British Columbia, Canada.
California roll/consists of avocado, kani kama (imitation crab/crab stick) (also can contain real crab in ‘premium’ varieties), cucumber and tobiko, often made uramaki (with rice on the outside, nori on the inside)
Dynamite roll/includes yellowtail (hamachi) and/or prawn tempura, and fillings such as bean sprouts, carrots, avocado, cucumber, chili and spicy mayonnaise
Hawaiian roll/contains shoyu tuna (canned), tamago, kanpyō, kamaboko, and the distinctive red and green hana ebi (shrimp powder).
Philadelphia roll/consists of raw or smoked salmon, cream cheese (often Philadelphia cream cheese brand), cucumber or avocado, and/or onion.
Seattle roll/consists of cucumber, avocado, and raw or smoked salmon.
Spider roll/includes fried soft shell crab and other fillings such as cucumber, avocado, daikon sprouts or lettuce, roe, and sometimes spicy mayonnaise.
Other rolls may include chopped scallops, spicy tuna, beef or chicken teriyaki roll, okra, and assorted vegetables such as cucumber and avocado. Sometimes, sushi rolls are made with brown rice and black rice, which appear in Japanese cuisine as well. An inside out roll allows the consumer to drape sashimi on top of the entire roll. Examples include the Rainbow Roll (an inside out topped with thinly sliced maguro, hamachi, ebi, sake and avocado) and the Caterpillar Roll (an inside out topped with thinly sliced avocado). Also commonly found is the Rock and Roll (an inside out roll with barbecued freshwater eel and avocado with toasted sesame seeds on the outside) and the Tempura roll where shrimp tempura is in the roll or an entire roll is battered and fried tempura style.