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THE IDIOT’S GUIDE: Sushi Pt. 1

In this day and age sushi is everywhere—Boston alone has hundreds of restaurants that feature this edible art on their menus in one form or another. What exactly is this foreign treat that sprang up out of nowhere in this country a few decades ago, and who is doing it right? In this article I will explore the origins of sushi, what it has become, and the top places to get it locally around Tufts. For the hardcore sushi fans out there, I will conclude with a list of the nation’s best and most expensive—the temples of gastronomy, so to speak.

- Gabriel Spieler

HISTORICALLY SPEAKING

Sushi was first introduced to Japan from China and Southeast Asia as a form of preserving fish with salt and fermenting rice. Originally, the rice was not eaten; instead it was allowed to ferment into vinegar, an ingredient instrumental in the preservation process. To this day, the word sushi means “sour tasting,” and vinegared rice remains a key ingredient. Over time, this primitive technique that was adopted out of necessity turned into rice pressed into box form and covered with seafood. Originating in Osaka, this method (called oshizushi) spread to Edo (present-day Tokyo). It was here, in the early 1800’s, that sushi evolved to its present-day form, and has since grown in variety to include all sorts of variations.

Maki, which you are probably most familiar with, consists of sushi rice pressed against nori (seaweed) or other flat food, and rolled into a cylinder around one or more additional ingredients, usually seafood or vegetables. Some maki is sliced into bite-sized pieces, while others are left intact to be eaten with the hands (i.e. temaki AKA “hand rolls”). Another popular type of sushi is ngiri, which are mounds of rice with some other ingredient, usually fish or shellfish, on top. Lastly, inarizushi is sweet fried tofu wrapped around a central ball of rice. [This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but hopefully you get the idea.]

Then, in the late 20th century, sushi was popularized in America and elsewhere, starting with the invention of the California roll—a creation that combined traditional Japanese style with ingredients tailored to the western palate. In only a few years, it went from being a fringe food to an American staple, and with this change sushi evolved once again. Rainbow roll, spider roll, caterpillar roll, dynamite roll, dragon roll, Philadelphia roll—this is the sushi you are probably most familiar with. Keep in mind, however, that you wouldn’t find any of these in Japan, and while purists renounce these new American innovations, I believe that they too have a place in modern cuisine. Most recently, pioneering chefs, such as Matsuhisa Nobu, took this a step further. By not only using new ingredients, but also state-of-the-art techniques, Japanese fusion was born. In my opinion, no kind of sushi is better than the other, and traditional, Western, and fusion varieties all occupy distinct but equally wonderful culinary realms.

To Be Continued…

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