Easily Japan’s most famous dish, sushi is one of the most amazing yet delicious food in the world, and although for most the thought of eating raw fish is cringe-worthy, sushi is sure to change that mindset.
Sushi is a low-fat diet which is high in proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and omega 3’s, making it one of the healthiest dishes in the world. Sushi masters or Taisho regard the process of making sushi as an art form, so it’s important that as a consumer you understand the process of making the most of your experience.
Originally, sushi was a way to preserve rice, and it involved wrapping a piece of gutted fish in fermented rice and allowing to stay for several months after which, the rice was thrown away and the fish, eaten. This soon became a staple, and over the years, the different regions of Japan have created their versions of the delicacy. Today, sushi exists in countless forms and variations with each region specializing in their style of preparation.
The most common type of sushi is the Nigiri-zushi which is a slice of raw fish or another topping on top of a mound of rice and when wrapped with sea weed, is referred to as Gunkan-maki. Other forms are the Maki-zushi, Temaki-zushi, Chirashi-zushi, Nare-zushi, Inari-zushi and the Sashimi which is simply slices of raw fish with no rice. Sushi can be eaten with three different kinds of condiments which are soy sauce, wasabi, and shoga.
As mentioned before, sushi is regarded by most to be an art form so is revered accordingly. Some tips and manners applied when eating sushi include:
- Eating with very little perfume on so as not to detract from sushi’s delicate taste
- Avoid drenching the rice in soy sauce so as not to kill the taste of the dish
- Eat with either chop sticks or hand
- Try to eat as soon as possible especially for those served with seaweed
- Remember to say “Itadakimasu” before eating and “Gochisousama” after!
HISTORY OF SUSHI – EATEN STANDING 立食寿司
Sushi was originally served standing as a quick lunch and there are many places you can try as you walk around Tokyo. Here is a history write-up by Kotaku. Sushi itself has its roots in a dish imported from ancient China, in which fish was salted and then wrapped with fermented rice to keep it from going bad. The fish could be preserved for months and when eaten, the fermented rice was pitched. However, by the Edo Period (1603-1868), Japan had its own special spin on this meal by creating a type of sushi, known as haya-zushi, that was made so that the fish and the rice were eaten at the same time.
During the 18th century, Edo (present day Tokyo) experienced a boom in food stalls, which were akin to modern fast food restaurants. As part of the expanding take-out menu, nigiri-zushi was invented, appearing during the first quarter of the 19th century.
Yohei Hanaya (1799 to 1858) gets credit as nigiri zushi’s inventor—even Japan’s largest vinegar maker, Mizkan, calls him the “father” of sushi. (Though, as Nihombashi Tokyopoints out, there were other nigiri-zushi chefs at that time.) After selling his sushi at street stalls, Hanaya established his own restaurant, known as “Yohei’s Sushi,” that specialized in hand-pressed sushi.
As The History of Nihonbashi Uogashi explains, during the early 19th century, Japanese people did not hold tuna in high regard. Today, of course, tuna (or maguro) is one of the most important fishes found in sushi. Since the fish was plentiful, Hanaya served it up, preparing it with soy sauce and helping kick off a tuna craze in Edo.
The visual beauty of nigiri-zushi, combined with its freshness and quick prep time, made it a hit. Hanaya’s sushi was close to what you’d find today. For example, besides hand-pressing the sushi, he also used a dab of wasabi and vinegared rice—practices that continue. Below is a 1877 drawing of Hanaya’s famous sushi. You can still find many of these types of nigiri-zushi at restaurants in Japan.
Hanaya’s sushi was so popular that soon others began borrowing his creation. While Hanaya is credited with one of Japan’s most iconic meals, the government didn’t initially recognize him or his creation.
My favorite spots to eat Sushi
Right next to the old Tsukuji is one of the best sushi restaurants in all of Tokyo, for quite the price. Though Tsukuji is gone, Sushidai remains and is a favorite of businessmen in the evenings. My friend Chris and I went there on my return in 2019.
Toranomon is for a fancy sushi restaurant. I visited this place to grab lunch in Atago Green Hills with my new business friend/partner Ayami. She was the one who recommended this place and I am not complaining. The place is affordable, beautiful and they have a lot to offer you. They also concoction one of the best green tea – I loved it.
Rory and I went to sushi making class at Ganko. Original from Osaka, Ganko has several locations around Tokyo. I think for tourists this might be the best spot for good sushi, ambience and price. Midori Sushi is a close second in this regard. They even have sushi candy!
#4 Grand Hyatt: Roku Roku Sushi
Roku Roku sushi at Grand Hyatt is a fancy Sushi restaurant. It is expensive but worth every penny. Sushi here is fresh, delicious and appetizing. You can also try other dishes served here such as Uni. Uni served here was at different level. I definitely recommend at least a single visit to this place.
#5 Midori Sushi (go for lunch for huge chunks of cheap sushi). The one in Ginza is less crowded than Shibuya
#6 Nakameguro Sushi