Back when the demand for these services was not so high, it took ten years of training to become a sushi chef. Even though training now takes two years, a chef must eat his own sushi during the final exam which sometimes results in death; so you can begin to fully appreciate the skill of these food artists. And if you have been getting your sushi from supermarket freezers, then you need to visit Japan for the “proper initiation” into sushi eating from the Masters themselves.
Here are some fun facts about this dish which has now taken over the Western world with its mysterious history and unforgettable taste.
Sushi does not owe its origins to Japan
Sushi is thought to have originated in the rice growing regions of Southeast Asia along the Mekong River. Although the Japanese now take full credit, about 2,000 years ago, fermented fish was being wrapped in sour rice in Southeast Asia. This delicacy was known as nare-zushi. It was not until around the 8th century AD that this technique appeared in Japan after it had considerably spread to other parts of the world.
Sushi was the Japanese popcorn
Once upon a time in Japan, sushi was just a cheap, quick snack to enjoy while watching some theatre performance. So instead of passing some popcorn, you’d simply pass some sushi. It was considered a fast food because it was not fermented and was exclusively a street food. So what brought sushi off the streets? You may ask. In 1923, a quake destroyed much of Tokyo’s streets which brought real estate prices down. Sushi chefs could now afford brick-and-mortar restaurants which they occupy to this day. Now you know.
The wasabi you were served is probably not the real deal
This fact holds water if you chose to dine in those mid-range Japanese restaurants. The real wasabi is pricey and is found in top of the range spots and furthermore, it is charged for. The common stuff is made from horseradish and mustard powder which is then colored green with artificial dyes to look like authentic wasabi.
Genuine wasabi comes from the root of a plant in Japan; the wasabia japonica. The plant has natural antimicrobial chemicals which kill potential microbes and parasites in raw food apart from giving wasabi its powerful burn.
Sushi rice was for fermentation purposes and not to be eaten
Today, preparing vinegared rice used for sushi is as important as preparing the sushi fish itself. But it was not always this way. Fermenting, sour rice was used in the process of creating umami; a unique sour taste, by wrapping it around aged fish. Apart from aiding the fermentation process, the rice protected the fish from flies and also preserved it. However, once the fish was properly fermented, the rice was discarded.
Puffer fish is the most dangerous sashimi
Ever heard of a law pertaining to an emperor? Traditionally the law themselves, Japanese emperors are forbidden from eating fugu(puffer fish) or anything made from it. The reason was pretty obvious; puffer fish has lethal amounts of poison in its glands and organs. It produces a dangerous neurotoxin 1,200 times more toxic than cyanide.
Chefs require a special license to prepare fugu and despite its obvious danger, it is a popular choice of sushi. Needless to say, we humans love the forbidden and dangerous stuff in life.
Tipping is not Japanese Culture
If you are used to tipping, please do not try this in Japan. You may end up offending someone. If you have really enjoyed your sushi, offer the chef a drink; a shot of sake which he has the liberty to decline. If he does, then he’s too focused on the knife in hand in which case you should bow politely and leave and not engage in small talk.