by Bryce Marley-Jarrett
When talking about food and Japan, sushi is the first food that will come to most peoples minds, and in the last decade, sushi has taken off internationally and now can be purchased almost anywhere. However when coming to Japan, you are in Sushi’s home, so get ready to taste the finest sushi you will ever taste, from some of the most unexpected places.
Sushi, as we know it today, actually has its origin being in south-east Asia, and it’s name literally means “sour-tasting” which goes back to its first form in Japan, Narezushi, which this particular type of sushi was made by fermenting fish by wrapping it in soured fermented rice. In the Muromachi period (which dates back to 1336-1573), vinegar was added to the sushi mixture to give it a more palatable taste and help it be preserved. As the centuries moved on the fermentation process in sushi was abandoned, where in Osaka it was evolved into oshi-zushi. In this process, seafood and rice was pressed using bamboo molds.
The current forms of sushi that we all know and love was created by Hanaya Yohei at the end of the Edo period. It was created as a early type of fast food in Edo, and had a new process of fermentation used which meant it was created quickly. This form of sushi was know as Edomae zushi, as the fish was caught in Edo bay, or what we know today as Tokyo Bay.
So now we know our favourite sushi’s origin story, well there is more to sushi than sushi trains and hand rolls. In fact in Japan the sushi train is quite different to the bright colourful train at home, many associate with Sushi. It's a restaurant of convenience for the Japanese, with many stopping for a meal, huddled on stools around the conveyer belt, with the sushi chefs in the middle making fresh pieces of Sushi which are all similar in construction, and simplicity, however this will taste better than any you have ever had at home.
So how well do you know your sushi? When you are in Japan you are certain to see many kinds, even many you wouldn’t even have though were Sushi. Don’t fret, Japlanning are here to help with a rundown of the variations of Sushi, and where you might find them.
Nigirizushi - Hand pressed sushi, Now this you may have had at home, and is generally sushi rice moulded by the chefs hand with a little wasabi than the topping (neta) placed on top, this is most commonly salmon, tuna or yellowfin. Other common toppings are used in Nigirizushi and bound to the rice with a piece of nori (seaweed) such as eel, octopus etc. This is the most common kind of sushi found in conveyer belt sushi restaurants in Japan, Sushi restaurants, like the kind you will find at theTsukiji Fish market and even the most famous Sushi Restaurant in the world Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza, Tokyo.
Temaki - Similar to the western Handroll sushi, Temaki, is made in a cone shaped piece of nori, with the ingredients spilling out the wide end of the nori. Its eaten with your hands as it is too messy for chopsticks. You would usually find this pre packaged fresh each day in convenience stores all over Japan, (and from experience convenience store sushi in Japan, better than any sushi back home!)
Makizushi - Again another sushi you might find familiar. Similar to a hand roll at home, its a sushi wrapped in nori and cut into six or eight pieces. with sushi rice, seafood, vegetable, even egg inside. Throughout Japan you will find this sold at train stations and convenience stores fresh each day. The bright colours of each piece will grab your attention fast.
Inarizushi - This sushi, most wouldn’t even know was sushi! It resembles a pouch and is usually made of tofu, or omelette and is fried and filled with sushi rice. These can be found in convenience stores and also are a common component of a bento box. The taste can vary as you can get a quite sweet variation sometimes too.
Oshizushi - This sushi originates from the Osaka, and is also known as ‘box sushi’. It is a block shape that is made with a wooden mold. The chef puts their toppings on the base, then add sushi rice and use the mold to make a block out of it. The pressed nature of this kind of sushi can create especially beautiful pieces, and can come wrapped like a gift.
Chirashizushi - Translating to “Scattered sushi” this is like a sushi bowl. It comes with sushi rice and raw fish varieties on top as well as vegetables. Visually it is usually quite stunning with the bright colours of the various fish and vegetables almost looking like a floral arrangement. You will find this in many restaurants, less common from a convenience store.
Now there are other variations available throughout Japan, especially regional specialties, however these are the most common Japanese originating sushi variations you will come across while visiting Japan.
If visiting Tokyo, the easiest way to taste fresh sushi, that is created in front of you is to take a visit to Tsukiji Fish market where you can, if you're up earlier enough, visit the dozen sushi restaurants on the perimeter that use the freshest seafood known to man, straight from the market.
The most popular by far is Sushi Dai, which always seems to have a line over two hours long from the crack of dawn, however the Sushi is masterful and delicate, made with such intricate detail and care, you will watch them create one of the greatest meals you will ever have -- surely worth the wait! Other notable restaurants in the outer market are Dawa-zushi and Sushizanmai, the latter may be a little more convenient for the late riser, as its branch here is conveniently 24 hours, and has a much shorter wait in the afternoons and evenings.
All restaurants are open from around 6am and lines start forming then, the Outer market is open to the public at all hours. For more information see our Tsukiji Fish Market article here.
If you consider yourself quite the foodie, or just simply want to experience what is regarded as the greatest Sushi in the world then there is only one place to visit, Sukiyabashi Jiro, the three Michelin star restaurant nestled into the Ginza Station complex.
Jiro, the head chef and owner has been running the restaurant himself for decades, with a small dedicated staff. Now in his 90's, Jiro doesn't seem to be slowing down, and still works and makes sushi daily for guests. This isn't a cheap place to eat: A regular meal course will set you back quite a lot. The chef's recommended course is 30,000¥ (about $350AUD) per person, however you will get to sample around 20 pieces of the best sushi you will ever eat.
This restaurant only seats about 30 people, so getting a seat can be difficult. There are no walk-ins, and you must book in advance, by calling, which can be difficult to get through. As of writing this, they are fully booked for lunch and dinner for all of July, and August 2014 bookings opened on July 1st.
Sukiyabashi Jiro is open for lunch and dinner and closed Sundays, public holidays, Saturday evenings and mid-August.
To find out how to book and more information, visit their official website here.