The Story of Sushi

Sushi 101: The Story of Sushi

Sushi Den

There are approximately 8,000+ sushi bars in the U.S. Among these, there are only a few that directly import fish and only on a limited scale. Sushi Den is thought to be the one of the first sushi bars importing fish on a larger scale. Sushi Den proudly invites everyone to try out our fresh Japanese fish, which is superior in quality from other sushi bars.

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What is Sushi?

Simply stated, sushi is seafood served with seasoned rice. There are two styles of sushi:

  • Nigiri sushi (individual pieces) and
  • Maki sushi (rolls)

Sushi is considered an art form. It is elegantly arranged to enhance its simplicity and natural beauty. The method of preparation, shape and taste differ somewhat depending on the locality. Each sushi holds its tradition and characteristic. Sushi is very attractive because it is prepared quickly before the customer’s eyes by the sushi chef.

What is Sashimi?
Sashimi is sliced seafood beautifully arranged on a bed of shredded Daikon radish. Sometimes the fish is cut up and served on its own bones.

Origins of Sushi
Sushi is a typical Japanese food with over a thousand years of history and tradition.

Sushi actually began as a way of preserving fish. The raw, cleaned fish was pressed between rice and salt by a heavy stone for a few weeks. Then, a lighter cover was used and a few months later it was considered ready to eat. Not until the 18th Century did a chef decide to serve sushi in its present form and forget about the fermentation process altogether.

In the city of Osaka, there is still an elaborate tradition of sushi pressed with rice in wooden boxes. This type of sushi is called Hako-zushi.

The sushi commonly known to Westerners comes from Edo (old name for Tokyo) tradition. This is the hand rolled sushi called Nigiri-zushi.

Japanese have a deep-rooted fondness for nature and this is often carried over to the arrangement of food. The pieces are arranged to enhance their natural beauty. Often using a plate resembling a fish in motion or a quiet river nook, it captures nature and the outdoors or a deep pool. The fish itself evokes an image of the creature swimming through underwater weeds and roots.

How to Eat Sushi
Sushi is finger food (Chopsticks can break the rice.) Pick up sushi with fingers and turn to dip a corner of the fish side into soy sauce. Do not soak rice in the sauce. Bring sushi to mouth so the fish touches the tongue first and eat in just one bite.

  • Eat less oily fish or marinated fish first for the oil in rich fish will form a barrier on the tongue blocking other flavors. Eat sweet ones last.
  • Eat Gari (marinated ginger) between sushi to refresh the mouth.
  • Wasabi is used to subdue fishy taste, and also has an anti-bacterial effect.
  • Green tea is good to refresh the mouth. It is better not to drink the higher quality teas as the sweetness of those teas can prevent one from tasting the delicacy of the fish. Drink the higher quality teas at the end if preferred.
  • Soy sauce enriches the flavor of the fish when used in small amounts. Some oily fish taste better without soy sauce. Halibut and other white fish are topped with Ponzu (lemon flavored light soy sauce) for this reason.
  • The best way to eat sushi is seated at the sushi bar where you can order one at a time and eat as soon as the chef prepares and serves the sushi.

By Chef Ryuichi Yoshii, “Sushi” in the Essential Kitchen Series

2. Origin of Sushi

The earliest sushi-making methods probably came to Japan from Southeast Asia or China, at about the time that the Japanese were learning to grow rice.

As early as 500 B.C., the mountain people in Thailand, Laos and North Borneo used river fish and rice in pickling and fermenting processes that preserved the fish. A similar fermenting process was used in China in early times, but through the reign of Mongolia over China (1368~1644) the process was lost, perhaps Mongolians did not eat seafood.

In Japan, sushi was seen originally as a way of preserving fish. Layers of carp and layers of rice were placed in a jar with a lid on top and left to ferment for up to a year. The fish would be eaten and the rice thrown away. As time went by, methods of fermentation were developed that took only a few days, so the rice, which had a sharp, sweet taste, could be eaten as well as the fish. In Shiga Prefecture of Japan today, the traditional fermentation process for carp and rice, known as “Nare-zushi”, is still used.

Several centuries ago, the people of Tokyo (or Edo as it was then called) were known for their businesslike impatience. In the 1640s, they came up with the idea of adding vinegar to the rice to give it a fermented flavor without the bother of having to wait a few days for fermentation to take place.

In early sushi making, the fish was either marinated, boiled in soy and Mirin (concentrated sweet rice wine), or grilled. In time, the range expanded to include raw fish-sashimi. In the early 1800s, a man called Yohei Hanaya began serving sashimi on sushi rice at his street stall, or it is called “Yattai”, in Tokyo, which marks the beginning of the current style of Nigiri-Zushi. During the winter season, he brought his fish to his stall in an icebox, which he would then open to show his customers the day’s selection.

This Yattai stall was a wagon with a counter, and it had a curtain. Until early last century, the most popular sushi stalls were those that had the dirtiest curtains: A dirty curtain meant a busy shop, and therefore a good one. Customers would eat their sushi, dip their fingers in their tea and then wipe their hands on the curtain to dry them. Sushi Bar tea cups are large, so they double as finger bowls. Since the 1950s, sushi has moved indoors to more western-style, seated establishments. Even though they no longer serve sushi, you can still visit Yattai stalls for cheap, outdoor, informal meals in some parts of Japan.

Oshi-zushi is the style of sushi making that evolved in Osaka. To make Oshi-zushi, fresh seafood or other ingredients are placed in a custom-made wooden box, sushi rice is added, and then a lid is put on to press the sushi together to form a cube. The cube is cut into bite-sized pieces for serving.

As a result of both geography and history, there are many regional differences in Japanese cuisine. Broadly speaking, food prepared in the Kanto region, which includes Tokyo and Yokohama, differs from the Kansai style of Osaka, Kyoto and thereabouts. Kansai style cooking is seen as “haute cuisine”, with subtle flavors, whereas Kanto flavors tend to be stronger, using stronger miso and more soy sauce. Chefs will generally have a preference for one or the other style.

By Chef Ryuichi Yoshii, “Sushi” in the Essential Kitchen Series

3. Fresh Fish Flown in Directly from Japanese Fish Market

There are approximately 8000 sushi bars in the U.S. Among these, there are only a few that directly import fish and only on a limited scale. Sushi Den is thought to be the one of the first sushi bars importing fish on a larger scale. Sushi Den proudly invites everyone to try out our fresh Japanese fish, which is superior in quality from other sushi bars.

i) The Difference Between Fish at Sushi Den and Other Sushi Bars

Sushi Den’s Source
Sushi Den goes directly to the source. Chef/owner, Toshi’s, youngest brother, Koichi, makes a daily trip to one of the biggest fish markets, Nagahama Fish Market, in Japan and carefully hand selects the best fish available for that day for both restaurant, Sushi Den and Izakaya Den in Denver. There are currently approximately 100 fish markets in entire Japan.

Transit Time

Our selected fish takes approximately 24 hours to arrive at Sushi Den from the moment Koichi purchases the fish in Japan. By significantly decreasing the transit time, the quality of fish is greatly enhanced.

Quality of Fish
Because Sushi Den is extremely busy, we purchase a large quantity of fish on a regular basis. This allows us to purchase the premium fish available.

Other Sushi Bar’s Source / Transit Time
In order for fish wholesalers to supply fish to the many sushi bars across the U.S., they must purchase a substantial quantity from many different fish markets and suppliers around the world. Logistically it simply takes some time for fish to get to their warehouses and then out to the sushi bars. Normally, for other sushi bars, it can take up to 48 hours~72 hours from fish market to restaurant. There are approximately 10 major Japanese fish wholesalers in the U.S. who supply all sushi bars across the country.

ii) When does this selected fish arrive at Sushi Den? What is the best day to come in for fresh Japanese fish?

Despite the fact that Sushi Den gets fish from many different sources every day, typically speaking Wednesday through Sunday have the most selections of Japanese fish to choose from. Call ahead for Catch of the Day items or check our Catch of the Day Blog.

iii) How many different types of fish do we serve at Sushi Den?

Sushi Den – 40 different selections of fish.
Typical sushi bars in the U.S. – Approximately 25 different selections of fish.
Typical sushi bars in Japan – Approximately 30~40 different selections of fish.

4. Sushi’s health benefits

Fish and Seafood are highly nutritious and low in kilojoules. Just a small portion of fish supplies between one third and half of the protein we require daily. Most fish and seafood are excellent source of vitamin B12, which is essential for building and maintaining cells, and of iodine, which is needed for the thyroid gland to work effectively. Seafood such as crab and oysters lower blood cholesterol.

Oily Fish, such as tuna and salmon, are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, which are highly beneficial in the prevention of heart disease and stroke.

Rice is the main food for more than half the world’s population. It is a good source of protein and carbohydrate and, because it is digested slowly, it releases energy gradually. It has the additional benefit of being gluten-free, so can be eaten by people who are wheat-intolerant.

Rice Vinegar has antibacterial qualities and long been used to preserve food. It also has an extensive history in certain cultures as a tonic. It is used an aid to digestion, prevents fatigue, and lessens the risk of high blood pressure.

Nori Seaweed is rich in vitamins and minerals, notably iodine, and helps to curb the formation of cholesterol deposits in the blood vessels.

Ginger and Wasabi, like rice vinegar, have antibacterial properties. Ginger aids digestion and helps reinforce the body’s defenses against colds and flu. Wasabi is rich in vitamin C.

Soybeans, which are used to make tofu and fermented products such as soy sauce, miso and natto, are high in protein, magnesium, potassium and iron. Soy products also contain phytoestrogens that act in a similar way to estrogen, one of the female hormones. Soybeans have been used successfully in the treatment of premenstrual and menopause problems. Soy sauce is high in salt and can also contain wheat, so should be avoided by people who have problems digesting gluten.

Vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals and fiber. In addition, it has been shown that there is a lower incidence of cancer in populations where a good quality of fruits and vegetables are consumed. Plants contain compounds known as phytochemicals, which help protect the body from disease.

By Chef Ryuichi Yoshii, “Sushi” in the Essential Kitchen Series