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Sushi - What is it?

Updated on June 6, 2010

When you think of Japan what's one of the first things that springs to mind? Is it sushi?

Sushi is one of Japan's most iconic foods. But what is sushi? How was it developed? What is it made of?  I hope to address all of these questions in this hub. Please keep reading to learn more about this fascinating and delicious food and please check out my other hubs on sushi.

What is it?

Sushi has come mean several different things in modern times. Sushi originally meant simply "vinegared rice." However in modern times this word has expanded to include all the various ingredients we think of when we hear the word sushi.

Originally, raw fish was preserved by pickling it in rice and vinegar. However, it is thought that Japanese people began to develop a taste for less preserved forms of sushi, this leading to the modern day sushi we all love.

Let's look at the 3 main types of sushi to better understand what exactly sushi is.

Sushi

At the risk of being confusing, I'll start with the first type; sushi. Sushi as become a blanket term for all 3 types of sushi, however it is also a kind of sushi in its self. It can be further classified as "nigiri" sushi. Sushi consists of a raw or cooked ingredient placed on top of vinegared rice. The rice and usually fish is pressed together by hand and then placed on the plate. At most sushi places found outside of Japan, wasabi (horse raddish) is not added at this point leaving the choice to add wasabi up to the individual. However in Japan, traditionally wasabi is placed between the raw fish and rice when it is made. Raw fish is not always used. Some forms of this type of sushi use cooked crab, shrimp and eel.

Sashimi

Sashimi again falls under the blanket term "sushi" despite the fact that sashimi does not have any rice involved in it's preperation. Sashimi is also the most simple form of sushi, because it is simply slices of raw meat or fish. It is usually eaten with soy sauce and wasabi. The word sashimi refers to the style of cutting the chef does to prepare this sashimi. Ingredients can inlcude anything from tuna, and horse meat, to poisonous blowfish.

Maki

Last we have Maki. Maki consists of vinegared rice wrapped up in a thin sheet of dried seaweed. Traditional ingredients besides seaweed and rice usually include raw fish or vegetables. However, maki has been greatly tinkered with in modern times particularly outside of Japan. This is because maki makes it easy to keep a mixture of ingredients together without it falling apart. The most famous type of maki outside of Japan is probably the California Roll.

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