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Origin of the typical japanese dish: Sushi

By Nahoko Sato |

Discover the origin of sushi and become an expert in washoku with our cheat sheet for foodies who love this typical Japanese dish.

Japanese Gourmet Food

Without doubt, tasty local food is one of the best things to enjoy while traveling. Every destination has its unique gastronomic qualities, and today, DINKtravelers, your world travel guide, is heading to Japan. Shall we?

People’s Favourite Typical Japanese Dish

If you’re a foodie, you might know that washoku (Japanese food) is considered Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Also, you’ve probably heard about or even tried several Japanese dishes and drinks such as Okonomiyaki, sake or Osechi-ryori. But do you know the history of the world’s favourite Japanese dish?

We will take you on a journey back in time to learn about the origin of the most famous typical Japanese dish: sushi. That way, your gourmet experience of washoku will be much more tasty. Here we go!

The Most Popular Sushi in the World

Sushi is one of the most popular Japanese foods in the world, not only because it’s a typical Japanese dish but also because it’s healthy. In 1980, sushi debuted in the United States with the concept of sushi bars, which popularized the Japanese dish all over the western world. In general, sushi has a direct relationship with raw fish. However, nowadays there are customized versions of sushi, including the California roll, which has avocado and surimi instead of raw fish. By the way, some people who are allergic to seafood are able to eat surimi because it’s actually artificial crab. Many people love it!

The Origin of  Sushi in Japan

Sushi was taken to Japan from East Asia during the Heian Era (794-1185). At that time, it was called nare zushi. They prepared it with rice and vinegar, and added raw fish on the top. Then, they let it rest all night. As you can see, it didn’t even closely resemble the type of sushi we’re familiar with nowadays. Furthermore, back then there were no refrigeration systems. Consequently, people used nare zushi as a food preservation technique.

Nigiri sushi was born in the late Edo Era (nineteenth century). This sushi was called edomae sushi because they used fish and seaweeds captured at Tokyo Bay, located in front of the city of Edo. Mae means “in front of” in Japanese, hence the name edomae sushi. Compared to nare zushi, edomae sushi is cooked much faster. For this reason, later on they called this type of sushi haya sushi (hayai means “fast” in Japanese). It became very popular in the city of Edo. After the Great Kanto Earthquake in 1923, many sushi chefs had to return to their hometowns. As a result, sushi was introduced in other parts of Japan and then became a typical Japanese dish, or washoku. 

The Best Market to Try This Typical Japanese Dish 

You can’t miss the visit to the Tsukiji market in your trip to Japan. This place is the largest fish market in the world, and the best one to get fresh fish to prepare your own sushi.  Another option is to try this typical Japanese dish right there in the market. You can also try other Japanese dishes that will make your first approach to washoku an exquisite experience.

Other Typical Japanese Dishes

Apart from sushi,  you can order other Japanese dishes. We recommend you order miso soup, which is made with fish broth known as dashi. It also has miso, a flavored soybean pasta, and other ingredients such as tofu and seaweeds. You can also choose a chawanmushi, an egg-based custard that can be mixed with chicken or clams. These two dishes are some of our washoku favourites. They’re also an excellent option to accompany this typical Japanese dish since, unlike sushi, they´re served hot.

Miso Soup
Chawanmushi
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Sushi Trivia

  • Did you know that wasabi is called namida, which meeans “tear” in Japanese? Since it’s very spicy, they say wasabi makes you cry; hence the name.
  • Soy sauce is called murasaki (purple) in Japanese because of its dark color.
  • Agari!  Japanese people use this word when they reach a goal or win a game. In a sushi restaurant it refers to green tea. This tea helps cleanse the palate of the taste of sushi. Therefore, it’s the last thing you should drink after your meal.
  • Do you know what the pink slices of  food they serve with your sushi are? It’s sweet vinegary ginger known as gari. When sushi chefs cut ginger they make a “gari gari” sound. Also, when diners eat it, they make a similar chewing sound. Gari is served with sushi and it must be licked after every mouthful to cleanse the palate.
  • While in Japan sushi is only slightly dipped in soy sauce, in countries like Mexico diners submerge the whole  sushi roll in the soy sauce. Another difference is that the sauce is prepared with lemon, which is the version that western countries have made so popular.
  • The order in which sushi is served and eaten matters. It should be eaten from that with the mildest flavor to the that with the strongest one.
  • Did you know that sushi can be eaten with chopsticks or with hands?

Try Authentic Sushi 

Nowadays sushi is so popular that it can be found all over the world. However, it is often very different from the original one. That is because each country has adopted the recipe and added their local products to create new and tasty combinations of this typical Japanese dish. So if you want to try authentic sushi, travel to Japan and be prepared to discover unique flavors.