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Published on 04.27.2016
It will come across as a surprising fact to most people that the sushi consumed today is much different from the sushi consumed centuries ago. Since its origin, sushi has travelled around the world and faced many transformations before becoming one of the most loved foods across the globe.
Beginning its history in Southeast Asia around 2 A.D., and making its way to Japan by around 7 A.D., sushi was originally used as a method of keeping fresh fish at a time when refrigerators still didn’t exist. The method involved preserving fish wrapped around rice and fermented for many months. After a long time of waiting, when it would be consumed, the rice would be removed and only the fish would be eaten.
During the Muromachi Period fermentation was abandoned in favour of vinegarisation, and this was when the most primitive sushi evolved into “oshizushi”. Meaning pressed sushi, this is a rectangular-shaped sushi that has been made by pressing the ingredients inside a wooden box called oshibako.
An oshibako is made of three parts: the walls, the bottom and the top. First the fish is placed at the bottom of the box and then the rice. The top of the oshibako is used to press the ingredients together and therefore making a nicely clear-cut rectangular-shaped sushi. Afterwards, the oshizuhi would be taken out of the box, cut into block-shaped pieces and served in that fashion.
The 17th century saw another transformation of sushi when a doctor named Matsumoto Yoshichi discovered that mixing rice with vinegar would not only improve the taste, but also speed-up the fermentation process. However, it was not until 1820s that along the Sumida River, a person named Hanaya Yohei used fresh fish to make sushi. This method did not require preserving the fish and became what we recognise as sushi in the 21st century.
Today oshizushi is regarded as a specialty from Osaka. This is as during the 18th century, a few imaginative chefs began using expensive fish, such as eels and sea bream, in making oshizushi. They also added some complexity to its layers by adding more ingredients and thereby making it more elaborate. At the time, Osakan oshizushi was very expensive and was served on special occasions. For those who had left their hometown to find work in Osaka, bringing back oshizushi was a sign of being successful. However, today, oshizushi is an affordable treat and is a must-try on the trip to one of Japan’s must-see places.