1. Sushi is a food preparation originating in Japan, consisting of cooked vinegared rice combined with other ingredients such as raw seafood, vegetables and sometimes tropical fruits.
2. Ingredients and forms of sushi presentation vary widely, but the ingredient which all sushi have in common is rice or sumeshi.
3. Sushi can be prepared with either brown or white rice.
4. It is often prepared with raw seafood, but some common varieties of sushi use cooked ingredients or are vegetarian.
5. Raw fish (or occasionally other meat) sliced and served without rice is called “sashimi”.
6. Sushi is often served with pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce.
7. Popular garnishes are often made using daikon.
8. The original type of sushi, known today as nare-zushi was first made in Southeast Asia, maybe along what is also known as the Mekong River (reference required).
9. The term sushi comes from an antiquated grammatical form no longer used in other contexts, and literally means “sour-tasting”, a reflection of its historic origin as a fermented food.
10. The oldest form of sushi in Japan, narezushi, is still made by wrapping fish in soured fermenting rice, which causes the fish proteins to break down into their constituent amino acids. The fermenting rice and fish have both a sour and an umami taste.
11. The common ingredient across all kinds of sushi is vinegared sushi rice. Variety arises from fillings, toppings, condiments, and preparation. Traditional versus contemporary methods of assembly may create very different results from very similar ingredients.
12. In spelling sushi, its first letter s is replaced with z when a prefix is attached, as in nigirizushi, due to consonant mutation called rendaku in Japanese.
13. Some of the ingredients in sushi can present health risks. Large marine apex predators such as tuna (especially bluefin) can harbor high levels of methylmercury, which can lead to mercury poisoning when consumed in large quantity or when consumed by certain higher-risk groups, including women who might get pregnant, pregnant women, nursing mothers and young children.
14. The main ingredients of traditional Japanese sushi, raw fish and rice, are naturally low in fat, high in protein, carbohydrates (the rice only), vitamins, and minerals, as are gari and nori. Other vegetables wrapped within the sushi also offer various vitamins and minerals. Many of the seafood ingredients also contain omega-3 fatty acids, which have a variety of health benefits.
15. Sustainable sushi is sushi made from fished or farmed sources that can be maintained or whose future production does not significantly jeopardize the ecosystems from which it is acquired. Concerns over the sustainability of sushi ingredients arise from greater concerns over environmental, economic and social stability and human health.
16. Traditionally, sushi is served on minimalist Japanese-style, geometric, mono- or duo-tone wood or lacquer plates, in keeping with the aesthetic qualities of this cuisine.
17. Unlike sashimi, which is almost always eaten with chopsticks, nigirizushi is traditionally eaten with the fingers, even in formal settings. Although it is commonly served on a small platter with a side dish for dipping, sushi can also be served in a bento, a box with small compartments that hold the various dishes of the meal.
18. Sushi caught on originally as a cheap, quick snack to eat with the hands while enjoying a theater performance.
19. Sushi has always been cosmopolitan. The image of a sushi chef at the top of a secluded mountaintop is a false one. Sushi has always been most strongly associated with Tokyo, so much so that the term for the most commonly adopted style of sushi (edomai) derives from the old name for Tokyo (Edo).
20. Maki rolls are a work of art. Forget the standard ‘Californian roll’ found at any cheap sushi outlet in the West. The ingredients for maki-zushi — sushi rolls — are chosen by masters so that taste, texture, and even colors complement each other. Rolls are served already sliced into disks so that customers can see the artistic work inside.
21. Plastic grass in takeout sushi had a historical purpose. Actual leaves were once used instead of the now-ubiquitous plastic grass. The leaves were used for decoration and dividing food, but also offered antibacterial properties to help fish stay fresh longer.
22. The earthquake of 1923 brought sushi off the streets. Previously, sushi was exclusively a street food, but the devastation from the quake destroyed so much of Tokyo that real estate prices dropped, allowing sushi chefs to afford brick-and-mortar restaurants.
23. Live scallops aren’t actually alive. That’s just the natural resiliency of the fibers in the scallop that cause it to contract and expand, making it look like it’s moving.
24. The oldest type of sushi in Japan tastes like cheese. Near Lake Biwa in Southern Japan, they still follow old-school, pre-refrigeration sushi techniques of filleting carp, packing those fillets in vinegar rice, and leaving them to age for up to three years. The result is a fermented local delicacy called funazushi that our expert said tastes similar to a pungent cheese.
25. Japanese knives are sharpened differently. Unlike the sharp objects that cut food in the West, most Japanese knives are sharpened only on one side. They cut on the pull stroke rather than the push stroke, allowing chefs to keep their elbows close to their side.
26. Salmon is technically a white fish. It gets that orange color from a diet of crustaceans.
27. Sashimi’s translation makes perfect sense. “Sashi” means cut, “mi” means body.
28. Your wasabi is probably not real wasabi. Real wasabi comes from the root of the wasabia japonica plant, not horseradish. The powerful burn of wasabi comes from naturally antimicrobial chemicals in the plant, the perfect compliment for consuming raw seafood which may contain parasites. Authentic wasabi is pricey. The stuff typically provided in sushi restaurants is made from horseradish and mustard powder, then dyed green with artificial dyes to resemble real wasabi.
29. Pickled ginger is dyed pink. Young ginger plants do have a slightly pink color, but most of what you’ll see commercially is naturally a pale yellow before it’s dyed with either artificial colors or beet juice.
30. Even fresh sushi is frozen first. Food safety regulations in the US and Europe require that raw fish be frozen for a certain amount of time to kill parasites. In Europe, raw fish must have been frozen at -20 degrees Celsius for at least 24 hours. Even the freshest raw fish served in Western sushi restaurants has been frozen, which damages the original taste and texture. Japanese sushi masters are trained to recognize potential problems such as flukes and parasites in fish and avoid serving them.