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History of Sushi


Sushi is a popular Japanese dish made with rice prepared with vinegar, sugar, and salt and other ingredients, such as seafood and vegetables. There are many different types of sushi, such as “raw, sashimi-style, flash-fried,” sushi rolls, and Poke-style sushi bowls. Many tend to enjoy sushi with a glass or sake or wine (April). This dish has become such a well-known Japanese cuisine that there are over 4,000 restaurants all over the United States now. Originally, sushi was “invented as a means of preservation, when fermented rice was used to store fish for anything up to a year” (Kazato).


People usually assume sushi comes from Japan, however the origin of sushi is said to be from China. The Chinese dish was named narezushi, which means food preservation. It was created with fermented rice and salted fish as a way to preserve the food, instead of a refrigerator which was not invented at the time. The heavy amount of salt prevents the growth of bacteria and microorganisms, which keeps the food fresh. Knowledge of the dish spread from China to Japan in the 8th century (April). The Japanese soon adapted the dish and made it their own.


The Japanese dish evolved over the course of multiple centuries. The Japanese started incorporating rice vinegar as a way to ferment the rice more quickly. A faster fermentation process meant it would take less time to create the dish. The popularity of sushi continued to spread all around Japan, most notably Edo city in the middle of the 18th century. Edo city started the rise of sushi restaurants as three famous restaurants originated from there: Matsunozushi, Kenukizushi, and Yoheizushi. Afterward in the late 18th century, many followed suit as thousands of sushi restaurants opened in Edo.


“Rice vinegar processing came over from China to Japan around the 4th or 5th centuries together with wine-making” (Kazato). Mizkan Rice Vinegar first spread to the Izumi region. It became known as Izemi vinegar which was created until the Edo period. During the Heian period, the Japanese experimented with vinegar and made it with wine and fruit. In the Edo period, the Japanese people started making vinegar from the lees of sake. They would mix it with rice which popularized the use of sprinkles of vinegar to make nigirizushi.


In the 1800s, sushi was not made the same way as we recognize today. It used to be served in larger pieces and more often cooked, until “a chef by the name of Hanaya Yohei changed the world of sushi forever” (April). He discovered that the rice could be tossed with a small amount of vinegar. He started placing a small slice of fish on top of the rice. It created “a flavorful, bite-sized treat that was delicious, portable, and affordable for the masses” (April). This was how the nigirizushi was created, which are the sushi that people in the West are familiar with. It was also popularized and spread throughout the world. The difference is that the size of the nigirizushi was as large as a rice ball.


The Japanese dish continued to evolve as it spread west to the United States. Although Japanese restaurants’ popularity in America did not rise until after World War II, New York had several Japanese restaurants in the 1930s. They served a menu with simple dishes like sukiyaki, teriyaki, and tempura. What is well known now as sushi bars did not appear in the U.S. until 1957, when Moto Saito opened the Saito restaurant in Manhattan. Saito gave Americans a peak of her Japanese culture through her restaurant. She dressed up in traditional Japanese garb and instructed her customers on how to eat raw fish, since it would be foreign to many Americans. Like the Chinese, several Japanese restaurants invented dishes for their American audience. In New York, they introduced negikami, “rolls of beef wrapped around scallions in soy sauce” (Olver). In California, they created the “‘California roll,’ Japanese pidgin English for a morsel of sushi made with vinegared rice, avocados, and cucumbers.” It was loved by many Americans and is very common to find today.

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