Sushi: a bit of history and curiosities

Sushi is a very popular food all around the world. Outside of Japan, in fact, we can count more than 24,000 Japanese restaurants. Many people think that this food has Japanese origins, but…they’re wrong. Sushi in fact wasn’t born in Japan, but more probably it was born in China.

It seems that this delicious and famous food in fact, has a really nice ancient history behind it. In the 4th Century B.C. in China they used to put every kind of fish, after being cleaned and gutted, in large containers filled with cooked rice and salt in layers, to be preserved or transported on long journeys, to avoid any spoiling risk. Once the fish was then consumed, the rice used as a preservative, was thrown away. This preservation technique is still used in some parts of China and Korea, with the name of Narezushi or Funazushi.

The first real sushi which we have traces of, is dating around 1820, in Edo, the actual Tokyo. Hanaya Yohei, a local restaurant owner, began to serve small bites of fish and rice, and since then sushi began to spread into several small street kiosks where every sushi master was giving his own version of sushi. On every stalls, they used to fix a curtain that allowed customers to wipe their hands after every meal and the method that people used to find out which was the best sushi kiosk to eat in, was to look at the one with the dirtiest curtain.

Since the preparation of sushi is a very complicated "ritual", there are proper courses to attend to become "sushi masters". During the first two years of training, the apprentice can only watch his teacher, called "Shokunin", and perform a few other tasks trivial. Only after this period, he will be taught about how to cook rice to perfection, the best cuts of fish suitable to be bought, and other little secrets. Understanding what types of fish can be used and what not, learn to serve them in the right way, sometimes it is vitally important for a sushi master, literally. Some restaurants in Japan and all around the world, are serving in fact a type of sashimi prepared with "fugu" fish. This kind of fish, if not prepared correctly and with all the necessary precautions, can be fatal, because of the poison contained in it, called “tetrodotoxin”. Only some types of the world's chef can prepare and remove toxic parts from the fish, that must be thrown then into proper containers which are then locked by the chef and it will be disposed with a special process. In Europe, serving fugu is prohibited almost everywhere.

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