Hokubei Hochi Foundation and The Japan Foundation Presents “History and Culture of Edomae Sushi ” (photos provided by NA Post) September 23, 2012 Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.
Hokubei Hochi Foundation and The Japan Foundation Presents“History and Culture of Edomae Sushi”(photos provided by NA Post)September 23, 2012Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience
History of Edomae SushiWhile there are many types of sushi, Edomae Sushi is represented by Nigiri and Seaweed Wrapped Rolls. Rolls became popular sometime between 1830 and 1843, from the Kansai region and settling in Edo (Tokyo). It was named Edomae, because in the beginning, the seafood was caught in Edo Bay right in front of Edo Castle where the Shogun was residing. (Some historians believe Edomae Sushi had its birth as early as the late Edo period around 1820.) The typical seafoods from Edo Bay were sea bream, perch, mullet, sole, horse mackerel, sardine, sand borer, eel, gizzard shad, conger eel, clam, and shrimp. As residents became more established, demand for seafood continued to grow. The development of shipping vessels also made it possible to transport fresh and seasonal fish from outer regions, and sushi soon became elegant, more expensive food. It is about this time when pelagic tuna became a regular ingredient for sushi. The selling approach evolved as well - from street vendor carrying ready-made sushi in their basket to pulling a cart, to placing a cart in the store. Today’s sushi counter-style service traces back to the pulling cart, a style established from the end of Meiji to Taisho period (1912-1926). This same period gave a birth to the modern sushi restaurant using tables and chairs.It was from the Taisho to early Showa period when Edomae Sushi spread to all of Japan and many sushi chefs left Edo (called Tokyo by then) because of the Great Kanto Earthquake. They eventually opened businesses in their new settlements.The kanji used to express sushi today “寿司” was generalized in Tokyo in Meiji period. Until the end of the Edo period, people used the combination of kanji "寿” that represents longevity and “し” in hiragana. Another popular kanji for the word sushi in Kansai (Osaka) region is “鮓,” and in Kanto (Tokyo) region is “鮨.”Until the end of WWII, sushi chefs made sushi sitting on a tatami-matted bench, and customers ate while standing up. The traditioin of drinking sake with sushi began after customers started sitting down to eat. Before that time, the only drink served was green tea.Wasabi, rice vinegar, and soy sauce are essential for sushi. Preserved seafood was used because refrigeration was not available. “ZUKE” is a type of marinade in soy sauce. Today’s direct use of soy sauce was introduced when they started serving raw fish. A little soy sauce enhances the ingredient’s natural flavor, and wasabi is used to eat raw fish safely. It is proven today that both rice vinegar and wasabi have bactericidal benefits. This represents wisdom of the ancient ages. The perfect taste of sushi is created by the combination of rice, rice vinegar, soy sauce, wasabi and fish.Rice vinegar has a bactericidal effect and it is why it is safe for the sushi chef to use his/her bare hands in sushi making. Their hands are always soaked in rice vinegar and they even dip their hands in vinegar each time before making nigiri or roll.Wasabi eliminates the “fishy” smell, enhances the flavor of fish, and also is rich with Vitamin C. It increases the appetite and promotes digestion absorption. It also kills germs and inhibits bacterial growth. Powdered wasabi generally used today and was first marketed in the Taisho period (1912-1926) and is a blend of Japanese wasabi and horseradish. It is hotter than real wasabi and lacks the mellowness. Dipping soy sauce became essential in the mid-Meiji period when they started serving raw fish, owing to the invention of the refrigerator. Up until then, the use of extra soy sauce was unnecessary since all fish was already seasoned during the preserving process. When fish preservation became non-essential for sushi making, sushi masters saved much time in preparation. However, it also meant that they must prepare and make fresh sushi upon a customer’s order. This is the true birth of today’s Edomae-style sushi. To experience the freshest and appreciate the best taste of sushi involves synchronization: Chef makes it, serves it, and you eat it right away.Gari is another essential for sushi besides rice vinegar, soy sauce and wasabi. It is ginger, marinated in plum and rice vinegar. It is not only aromatic but also gets rid of the fishy flavor and oil left on your palate and erases the trace of the fish you just ate and prepares your palate for the next piece. Ginger also is a powerful bactericidal and prevents food poisoning. Gendai Sushigaku, Sushiology, By Tomohiko Okawa