How to categorize various types of sushi

a photo of sushiThere are many things that fall under the term “sushi”.

Within Japan, every prefecture has at least one type of local sushi. In order to understand these different types more deeply, we have separated them into categories and will introduce the typical types.

First of all, there should be rules when categorizing things.

However, there are loads of things in this world that seem to have been categorized without any rhyme or reason. The same thing applies to the words used to express sushi categories and types of sushi. This stems from a complete lack of understanding of the history of sushi and how it is made. However, in the end, sushi is food, so there is no academic dissertation on it. Please consider this to be just one point of view when reading the following.

We will first categorize the sushi with clear rules and then introduce individual sushi.

There are various theories regarding the etymology of the word sushi, but the word stems from “su” which is the kanji for “acid” and means “sour”. Initially, “sushi” was used in Japan to refer to Narezushi*, which is eaten with the natural acidity from fermenting salted fish and white rice together. One of the theories is that it started as Sumeshi (‘su’ means vinegar and ‘meshi’ means rice in Japanese) and the “me” was omitted leaving just “Sushi”. Rice is clearly the main attraction in the word and it is thought this word was used to refer to “Namanarezushi**”, which appeared in a time after Narezushi. Although these are only theories, it can only be called Sushi if sour rice is involved. I don’t believe there is anyone who would dispute this fact.

*Narezushi: Mainly made from seafood, rice and salt, allowed to ferment for three months to one year until the rice no longer maintains its shape. Only the fermented seafood is consumed with this type of sushi. Funazushi from Shiga is a famous example of Narezushi.

**Namanarezushi: It is not allowed to completely ferment (fermentation period of two weeks to one month) so both the fish and rice maintain their shapes. This is when sushi evolved from Narezushi, a dish in which the rice was not eaten, to one where the fish and rice were consumed together. Akita’s Hatahatazushi and Ishikawa’s Kaburazushi are famous Namanarezushi dishes.

The historical turning point of sushi was the emergence of what is called Sumeshi (also called Hayazushi because it can be made quickly), in which the sour taste comes from sprinkling vinegar on the rice (acetic acid), rather than the sour flavor from fermenting (lactic acid) at the beginning of the Edo period. It was Sumeshi that really made variations of sushi catch on. At the time there were only Sugatazushi*** and Kokerazushi**** (the original forms of Hakozushi), but after the middle of the Edo period Makizushi, Inarizushi, Chirashizushi and other types started to appear.

***Sugatazushi: Sushi in which Sumeshi is wrapped into a fish that still has its head intact. Tokushima’s Bouze, Wakayama’s Sairazushi, Kumamoto’s Konoshirozushi and Oita’s Aji-no-maruzushi are examples of this.

****Kokerazushi: Kokera refers to thinly sliced seafood and this sushi is made by stacking Sumeshi and ingredients in a container. This can be found today in Osaka and Kyoto in the form of Hakozushi. Examples include Sabazushi and Hamozushi in Kyoto, Battera in Osaka, Oomurazushi in Nagasaki and Iwakunizushi in Yamaguchi.

Let’s dig a bit deeper and divide these into broad categories.

First of all, Sugatazushi and Kokerazushi are still made today as they were long ago. As one characteristic is that Sumeshi is pressed to fix it in place, it can be categorized as a type of Oshizushi.

Chirashizushi was invented in the late Edo period. When eating something like Kokerazushi in which Ingredients are cut and mixed in with Sumeshi, which is then pressed into a box and held down with a weight, it is cumbersome to scoop it out with a spatula. Chirashizushi is made in the same way but omitting the step of pressing with weights. There are various versions of Chirashizushi all throughout Japan.

There was a customer who complained that Sugatazushi always wrapped around the Sumeshi was dull and suggested wrapping the Sumeshi around the fish instead, which led to the idea of Makizushi. However, as the rice was on the outside, it would stick to fingers, so places located near the ocean started to use things like Nori, Kombu and Wakame to wrap it, while places near the mountains used things like pickled leaf mustard. The core also changed from only fish to include things like Tamagoyaki, Kampyo and carrots. These innovations all took place during the middle of the Edo period.

Inarizushi, in which Sumeshi is stuffed inside of sweet, stewed abura-age is a version of Sugatazushi. When rice crops were bad, Okara (soy pulp) was used for the filling instead. When enjoying plays, a favorite pastime of the Edo period, it became a normal occurrence for commoners to take it as a bento. It is said that it infiltrated the masses because Nigiri sushi was outlawed, but the truth is that no one really knows when it was first invented. It’s now spread throughout the world and has evolved into something that looks entirely different and has different fillings.

It is also important to mention that the method of pressing Sumeshi in Kokerazushi was improved to start with rice made into a bite-sized ball, then sticking the fish on top before placing in a box and pressing, which eventually led to the invention of Nigiri sushi.

Looking back on this information, we can see that most of the types of sushi that exist today were invented during the Edo period. Narezushi and similar dishes prior to that seem to be more like methods to make the meat of fish last a long time, rather than sushi in which rice was part of the meal. And Namanarezushi, where the rice was also consumed but ready-made vinegar wasn’t used, is categorized as “Others” when categorizing present-day sushi.

Another difficult one to categorize is the Uramaki version of Sushi rolls. Uramaki is differentiated from Hosomaki, which is a type of Makizushi. However, it has already far outperformed Hosomaki. The reason is that the ingredients used in Uramaki are mostly things that were never used in Hosomaki, and Uramaki allows for a lot of freedom in method. Now there are also versions that don’t use Sumeshi (although they can be left out of sushi categories altogether). In these versions of Uramaki, the ingredients are clearly the main attraction, rather than the Sumeshi. Therefore, they are considered to be evolved from Hosomaki and should be made into one category. Although Makizushi is generally translated as “Sushi roll”, we will consider them separate categories for our purposes.

There is a debate in Japan as to whether Gunkanmaki is categorized as Nigiri sushi or not. The reason is that Nigiri sushi is made by squeezing (nigiri) Sumeshi in the palm of the hand, while this same squeezing process is not as apparent in Gunkanmaki. Makizushi is made by wrapping Sumeshi around ingredients using a Makisu (Bamboo mat), but Gunkanmaki uses no such thing. Even whether or not the process of adding Nori around the Sumeshi for Gunkanmaki is actually wrapping or not is a bit ambiguous, so it’s not clear if it should be categorized as Makizushi or not. However, the issue is only which category it should be added to and it should not be made into its own category. We will consider it a type of Nigiri sushi as the process does include some light squeezing of the Sumeshi.

While we’re on the subject, it is incorrect to call Sashimi and Seafood bowls types of sushi. There is no Sumeshi involved in Sashimi. Seafood bowls also use normal white rice, not Sumeshi. Hopefully you have a better understanding now.

In conclusion, the biggest point in categorizing is whether it is Sushi that uses Sumeshi made with ready-made vinegar (Hayazushi), or Sushi where the sourness comes from fermentation (Narezushi, etc.). Next, in order to further categorize Hayazushi, it is important to distinguish whether similar methods are used to make it and if the Sushi evolved from another, earlier form of Sushi.

Our results are that seven categories are appropriate for understanding sushi better.

1.Nigiri zushi (Nigiri sushi)

2.Makizushi (Maki sushi)

3.Sushi roll

4.Chirashizushi (Chirashi sushi)

5.Inarizushi (Inari sushi)

6.Oshizushi

7.Others


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: April 15, 2022

What is Funazushi?

Narezushi (mainly a preserved food in which fish undergoes lactic fermentation with salt and rice), in which Sushi finds its roots, can still be found even today throughout Japan. The most famous is Funazushi in Shiga prefecture.

Although it has “sushi” in the name, according to common knowledge of the day, it would be called crucian carp. The sweet and sour smell tickles your nose and it’s almost like pickled crucian carp. When you actually put it in your mouth it fills with an intense sourness and it can only be described as a really sour pickled food. However, the more you eat it, the more you somehow get used to it and in the end it becomes a favorite food that you will even crave. This effect is so mysterious that people even wonder, “Could this have been synchronized at some point with the tastes of our Japanese ancestors?”

Making Funazushi sushi is surprisingly simple. The only ingredients are crucian carp caught in Lake Biwa, rice and salt. First the internal organs are removed from the crucian carp, next it is salted and then it is shade-dried. This crucian carp is packed tightly into freshly steamed rice in a large cask. “Sushizume” refers to this precise situation, and the ingredients are packed in so there is no air inside. If air is let in, the oxygen will cause microbiota to grow. In other words, it will rot. This is the most important thing in making funazushi.

While this cask is left for eight months to two years, special microorganisms will cultivate even without oxygen. These are lactic bacteria and acetic bacteria, which work to change the entire contents into a sour flavor.

After that, the mushy rice is removed from the finished Funazushi, and only the crucian carp is consumed. However, let me reiterate, this sour flavor is intense and complicated. Comparing it to bleu cheese or camembert cheese might make it easier to understand. The taste is so intense that it makes some people sick.

Incidentally, there are records from when Hideyoshi Toyotomi advanced his army to the Korean peninsula (around 1592), that Funazushi from Oumi was presented to soldiers on the front line as a comfort food. This episode illustrates the fact that Funazushi was a dish of pride for the people of the town of Nagahama (where Toyotomi’s castle was located, now part of Shiga prefecture).


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: July 26, 2021

What is sushi connoisseur?!

The other day I had a very interesting guest at Sushi University from America. We’d like to introduce them to you. It was their first time in Japan and they stayed in Tokyo for a week. They planned to see Asakusa, the Shibuya scramble crossing, Meiji Shrine, the robot restaurant and all the other usual tourist sites. However, the conversation all seemed to be focused on food.

I asked what they planned to eat. They answered that they would be going to restaurants like Tsunahachi (Tempura), Japanese Soba Noodles Tsuta (the first ramen restaurant in the world to be awarded a Michelin star), and Steakhouse Sato. They had already lined up early in the morning at the Sugamo ramen restaurant, Tsuta, to collect a numbered ticket apparently.

The thing that surprised us most is that they were going to Sukiyabashi Jiro the day after their Sushi University experience.

If you are visiting Japan, I hope that you too will come to Sushi University before going to an expensive Michelin Star restaurant, so you can learn a bit about Edo style sushi. The reason is that sushi masters are just humans who want to provide something delicious to customers who will understand their sushi. For example, just slightly different parts of tuna have a totally different tastes. In order to understand these kinds of details for your chef, you need to have some knowledge of sushi toppings and Edomae-style sushi.

If you like sushi, you can’t continue to only judge the toppings on freshness and the fat content. Even if you don’t speak Japanese, with repetition, I hope you will reach a level that you can meet the challenges set forth by the sushi chef (understanding the Edomae-style techniques that have gone into each piece).

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with a special trip to visit a restaurant with a Michelin star as part of your vacation so you can boast about it with your friends. We have also visited Paris’s Guy Savoy and Florence’s Enoteca Pinchiorri, and treasure those memories myself.

Returning the conversation to the American guest, they did already have impressive knowledge about sushi. Even their sushi chef was impressed at their knowledge. They had also done their own research and were talking about Ginza’s Sawada (two Michelin stars) and SUSHI BAR YASUDA. On top of that, they had come to Sushi University to test their skills and took that knowledge to Sukiyabashi Jiro. In the major American cities, there are a wide range of omakase sushi courses that cost over $500, at which they had eaten many times and had negative comments.

They didn’t want California Rolls, they had an interest in traditional Edomae sushi.

Perhaps they were sushi connoisseurs.

If so, that’s perfectly fine. You can find sushi delicious even if you don’t have the knowledge. But with each learning experience you will enjoy the sushi even more. I hope it helps in improving your experience, even if it’s just a little bit.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: July 19, 2022

Why do we use the counter “kan (貫)” for sushi?

When you sit at the counter and order nigiri a la carte, they will come out in pairs.* There is nothing wrong with counting these in the regular Japanese way “ikko,” “niko.”

*It is said that nigiri-sushi in the Edo period was bigger than it is today, and too big to eat in one bite. In the Meiji period, the custom emerged of splitting this one big portion into two to make more easily consumed portions, and this is why it is common to get sushi in sets of two. However, nowadays making one piece of nigiri-sushi at a time is not very efficient. We think it’s actually easier for the sushi restaurant to make them in sets of two. Of course, you can order them one by one.

But the sushi restaurant won’t count them like that. Formally, sushi is counted in this way: Ikkan (one), Nikan (two).

We have absolutely no idea where the custom of using the “kan” counter came from. It’s also not clear when use of that counter for sushi started.

Of course, there are theories. For example, there is a theory that back at a time when a single unit of money was called “kan.” The price for one piece of sushi was around 1 ‘kan’, and the counting method gained popularity. There is another theory that one sushi roll was counted with the counter for roll “巻” (also pronounced “kan”), then a different kanji was used for it later. However, these are just theories that were created after the fact and the mystery remains unsolved.

Even if you ask the owner of a sushi restaurant, they’ll probably cock their head to one side, think for a moment, and tell you that the “kan” mystery may never be solved.

Sushi rolls wrapped in seaweed rolls are counted in units of 本 (hon/bon/pon) in the wrapped state, and when cut with a knife, the units change to 切れ (kire). While these units are fairly straight-forward for Japanese language speakers and easy to understand, only the enigmatic 貫 (kan) remains a mystery.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: April 29, 2020

  •  

What is the difference between “鮨,” “鮓” and “寿司” (all ready “Sushi”).

As far as I know, there are three ways “sushi” is written on sushi restaurant curtains in Japanese kanji characters: 鮨, 鮓 and 寿司.

Do you know the difference? Most Japanese people don’t know the answer to this question.

Broadly, in the Kanto area 鮨 is generally used while 鮓 is more common in Kansai. 寿司 is used commonly everywhere in Japan.

However, of the three, only 鮨 and 鮓 are seen in ancient Chinese literature. 鮨 was seen as a dictionary entry as early as the 5th to 3rd centuries B.C., and it’s origin is described as combining “fish” and “shiokara” (briny flavor) resulting in the term 鮨.

On the other hand, in A.D. 1st to 2nd century dictionaries, “鮓” appeared, and is explained to depict “a storage container for fish.” Toward the end of the second century 鮓 was used for the term “narezushi”.

But around the third century, the briny meaning of 鮨 and the term “narezushi*” written as 鮓 started to be used interchangeably. That is how the words were imported to Japan.

In Japan, the character “鮓” was often used in literature from the end of the Heian era to the end of the Edo era. Eventually the use of “鮨” was revived during the Meiji era (for unknown reasons). It was a natural transition that Kanto came to use “鮨” and Kansai came to use “鮓”.

Incidentally, the kanji “寿司” was created from the phonetics. Its use for celebratory occasions became commonplace throughout Japan.

*”Narezushi” is the primitive version of Japanese sushi. It means covering seafood with salt and then soaking in rice for a few years as a form of lactic acid fermentation, which brings out the acidity.


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: April 29, 2020

Kohada (Gizzard shad) flavor is refined by exquisite salt seasoning!

According to most sushi masters, salt is the defining factor in the taste of gizzard shad (kohada).

Before seasoning gizzard shad with vinegar, the process starts with salting the spread open shad. It is the length the fish is salted that makes or breaks the fish. The reason for salting the gizzard shad is not just for flavoring, but also to draw out the umami of the fish. Salting for too long results in a briny taste; too short and the umami won’t come to the fore. The timing must be perfect in order to achieve that emotional “umami” moment.

This timing can be compared to boiling eggs: 3 minutes gets you soft-boiled eggs but five minutes gets you hard-boiled eggs. With eggs you can follow this rule of thumb, but no such rule exists for the spotted shad. The conditions for the salting time differ depending on the temperature, humidity, size of the fish and the degree of fat.

For example, a more slender fish in the middle of summer may be salted for 30 minutes, but a fatty fish in the winter needs to be salted for four hours. Just a few minutes longer or shorter than the perfect salting time completely changes the taste of the final dish.

Skilled chefs adjust the time on a daily basis according to the weather and the quality of the fish. Shops that can provide precisely the same spotted shad taste every day of the year are truly the best of the best.

TYPES OF EDO-STYLE PREPARATIONS


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: May 29, 2017

Surprisingly, there are sushi restaurants established from over 100 years ago in Tokyo.

 

About 200 years ago (around 1810-1830), Yohei Hanaya opened up the oldest nigiri sushi restaurant in Japan. It is said that this was the beginning of edomaesushi. As expected, none of the restaurants remain to this day, no matter how popular they were in those days. However, if relating to those lasting more than a century, as many as 10 still exist in Tokyo. It is such a surprise and many respect that they’ve managed to survive, still keeping their business running now. We will introduce those old restaurants in the order of its establishment.


KUDANSHITA SUSHIMASA

First started as a stall in 1861 at Nihonbashi area, relocated to Kudanbashi and then opened the restaurant in 1923. The beauty of wooden architect managed to survive the war and it has a 100-year history. They carefully prepare sushi ingredients with appropriate amount of vinegar and salt. Take Kohada for instance, they adjust the amount of salt depending on the thickness of fish fillet, fat content, temperature and humidity of the air. Check the glossiness of the vinegared kohada fish, and decide the best timing to serve. Enjoy superb sushi prepared with the traditional recipe passed on for generations.


JANOMEZUSHI HONTEN Established in 1865


BENTENMIYAKOZUSHI Established in 1866


YAHATAZUSHI Established in 1868

During the end of Edo period, many of samurai lords who had served for Tokugawa government lost their jobs. Many of them disguised themselves as dango rice dumpling seller. The first owner of Yahata-zushi was one of them, started the business as dango rice dumpling stall and then the second generation owner began serving sushi. The fourth and fifth chef now run the kitchen behind the counter. The fourth chef has a 62-year experience and he is the respected patriarch chef in Tokyo and serves traditional Edomae-style sushi with careful preparation. The fifth chef adheres to basic principle of sushi making while embarking on new-style. He uses sun-dried salt produced in the French Basque Country for well-matured akami red fish such as tuna, and sea urchin from Hokkaido. Other must-eat ingredients are, the highest quality tuna from long-time partner vendor at Tsukiji market and rare tuna caught at the sea near Miyakejima island and matured for good five days.


OTUNASUSHI Established in 1875


YOSHINOSUSHI HONTEN

Opened in 1879, Yoshino sushi has served excellent Edomae-style sushi. Now the fifth-generation owner runs the restaurant. The second-generation owner first started using Toro, fatty tuna meat while most of the chef discarded it. That was because food freezing was not in widespread use at that time and fatty content of fish went bad quickly. Soon Toro was quickly raved by their regular customers as delicious treat. First it was called “abu” as it came from “abura” meaning fat in Japanese, but it didn’t sound as good as it tastes, so they changed it to “toro” meaning mild and tasty. They will feed you interesting stories to go along with sushi dish. One of them is that they had never considered Gunkan roll of ikura and uni sea urchin as sushi since Gunkan never requires hand rolling techniques as other hand roll sushi does. They use only salt and vinegar to make sushi rice not a slight use of sugar and mirin. And then they carefully prepare fish ingredients to go with vinegared rice. Enjoy delicious sushi dish however you like in a casual atmosphere.


JANOICHI HONTEN Established in 1889


ASAKUSA SUSHISEI Established in 1891


KIBUNZUSHI Established in 1903


We hope this information will be helpful.

Revision date: April 11, 2017