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In Japanese cuisine, sushi (寿司, 鮨, 鮓) is vinegared rice, usually topped with other ingredients including fish (cooked or uncooked) and vegetables. Outside of Japan, sushi is sometimes misunderstood to mean the raw fish by itself, or even any fresh raw-seafood dishes. In Japan, sliced raw fish alone is called sashimi and is distinct from sushi, as sashimi is the raw fish component, not the rice component. The word sushi itself comes from an outdated grammatical form of a word that is no longer used in other contexts; literally, sushi means "it's sour."
Sushi can be eaten as is or dipped into shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) and then eaten. Much care is put into the creation of the dish and the many methods of preparing the food indicate the importance of appearance to the educated consumer.
If you did not understand this explaination, sushi is basically a dish composed of rice, nori (and sometimes seaweed) and fillings such as seafood, chicken, tuna etc. Sushi is made by first cooking rice, then cooling it, wrapping it in nori; using a bamboo mat to help and then cut into smaller pieces. Usually served cool and with soy sauce/shoyu. (The description above is one that is only relative to making makizushi).
Beginning as a method of pickling fish centuries ago, sushi has evolved into an artful, unique dining experience. In its earliest form, fish was placed between two wads of rice, producing a moderately complex chemical reaction as the fish fermented, helping to preserve it. Sometime between the 14th and 16th centuries, rice vinegar started to be added to the rice to help speed up the process which took several months. Around this time the rice also started to be consumed with the fish it was used to preserve. Nori (red algae seaweed paper) was added about this period as a way to keep one's fingers from getting sticky, thus creating the first ancestor of modern 'makizushi', or rolled sushi.
Sometime in the mid to late 18th century, a restaurant in Edo (modern Tokyo) started serving sushi rice alone with thinly sliced fresh fish pressed into it. This was the start of Edo-Mae sushi, which is also known as 'nigirizushi', or pressed sushi.
Sometime after this, a chef took this one step further and eliminated the sushi rice all together: the birth of sashimi. It is important to note that sashimi specifically refers to thinly sliced raw or mostly raw fish and shellfish.
It is hard to tell when exactly the wasabi and pickled ginger were added, but it is probable they came in with the Edo-Mae sushi, as this was when the focus of sushi became enjoying the taste of the exceedingly fresh fish, and the condiments heighten the experience.
Types of Sushi
Sushi types include makizushi, nigirizushi, oshizushi, and inarizushi.
Makizushi (rolled sushi), or maki for short, is the kind that is most common to North American consumers (see California Rolls) as it is basically sushi layered on top of nori, rolled into a tube, and cut into thick slices. Easy to make and even easier to mass produce, it has found a wide proliferation as a new form of fast food, but still manages to be found in Japanese restaurants that still respect the tradition.
Nigirizushi (hand formed sushi), or nigiri for short, is, as stated above, a hand-formed small bed of rice with an ingredient on top (ranging from tuna or salmon to eel or egg). Nigiri sushi that is served without the rice is called sashimi. Gunkanmaki (battleship roll or boat sushi) is a nigirizushi where an oval piece of sushi rice is surrounded by nori and topped with a topping such as fish eggs.
Oshizushi (pressed sushi) is similar to nigirizushi but it is formed by pressing with the aid of an oshibako, a wooden mold. Generally, the topping is placed in the oshibako first, the rice is added on top, then the combination is pressed together with the oshibako top or lid. After pressing, the sushi is removed and cut to serving sizes.
Inarizushi (stuffed sushi) is generally a pocket or pouch containing the rice and other ingredients. Materials used to make the pocket include tofu, bean curd, egg, and cabbage leaves.
Sashimi (basically sliced raw seafood, mostly fish without any rice) is often the most artistic form, with thin slices of fish and shellfish being formed into a range of different shapes, especially flowers. While technically not sushi, sashimi is often grouped together with the different types of sushi.
Saikuzushi is an artistic type of sushi, which makes a beautiful image. It is quite difficult to make this, and also quite expensive when bought. Rice is tinted with different colors and later sliced to make an image.
Chirashizushi, is scattered sushi with rice in a box or bowl and seaweed on top. Different kinds of seafood and fish are placed on top, including octopus, squid, tuna, alongside with chopped cucumbers and green onion. Chirashizushi has two main regional types, the version of Tokyo, and the Osaka Version.
Edomae or Temakizushi
Edomae, or Temakizushi, is one of the most common types of sushi, with rice and fish rolled up in seaweed. Crab, octopus, tuna, shrimp, and several other types of seafood is rolled up inside the rice. It is even found in convenience stores in Japan.
An authentic sushi-eating experience can include miso soup, makizushi (sushi rolls), sashimi (pieces of fish with no rice), nigirizushi and garnishes of wasabi, soy sauce and pickled ginger. Hot, fresh, green tea is an excellent beverage to drink with your meal, as is beer or plain water. While sake can be consumed with sushi, because it is made from rice it is considered to be too much rice in one meal.
In Japan, sushi chefs will apply a small amount of wasabi to the appropriate types of sushi during preparation. For example, sushi that features its own unique sauce will be prepared sans wasabi so as not to compromise the flavor. Western sushi chefs may do this, but some may not apply wasabi to any sushi.
Sushi can be eaten with chopsticks or by hand; nigiri sushi in particular may be eaten by hand because the rice is packed lightly and may fall apart if eaten with chopsticks.
Start your meal with simple miso soup but do not spend too much time on any one item as this is the proper Japanese etiquette. Instead, rotate through your meal to appreciate the quality of each aspect. Many people start with a mild sushi, such as tamago (a sweet, cold omelette on rice), and end with a stronger taste at the end of the meal, like a darker fish. Between different items it is recommended that a piece of pickled ginger be eaten to cleanse the palate and ensure that none of the subtle flavours of the sushi is missed.
There are different types of seafood used for sushi, and the most common ones are tuna, salmon, squid and octopus. Using expensive seaweed makes sushi taste much better. Expensive seaweed is darker in color, and is less likely to break when folded or rolled. Cheap seaweed is usually greenish in color. The type of soy sauce (shoyu) used also affects the taste of the sushi; the most commonly used brands are Kikkoman and Yamasa. Many people like to mix wasabi, which is a green coloured, spicy condiment with their shoyu, which makes it quite spicy and wakening.
Sushi is generally served with