The History of Sushi

Sushi may hail from Japan, but in recent years it’s experienced a boom in popularity around the globe.

It’s more popular here in Britain than ever before. Having shaken its reputation as a delicacy reserved for the discerning diner it’s now a favourite amongst the masses. You’ll find sushi in the supermarket, available to pick up and pop in your bag for lunch, and in whole restaurants dedicated entirely to this delicious Japanese cuisine. Sushi’s certainly on a roll and we’re well and truly spoilt for choice, yippee!

But, for the sushi novices amongst you, you may find that you get lost in the sushi sea – never sure what to choose, or what’s what exactly. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Here at Mai Taiko our mission has always been to bring the most authentic sushi experience to Britain, so we know a thing of two about sushi and all its goodness. We’ll guide you through everything you need to know to turn from sushi novice to sushi pro.

history of sushi - mai taiko family platter

Sushi – where it all began

What is it about sushi that appeals to us so much? Perhaps it’s the fact that it’s a dish that’s equally delicious and nutritious, perhaps it’s the burst of complimentary flavours that one small mouthful contains? Or maybe it’s because it’s super fresh. At the end of the day no-one ever feels great after gorging on a huge portion of greasy fish and chips, do they? Sushi leaves us feeling satisfied and good.

The History of Sushi

Well, you might be surprised to learn that sushi actually originates from a method of fish preservation used over 2000 years ago. Back then, people would salt and ferment the fish and encase it in rice to counter fish shortages. We think you’ll agree, this is certainly a far cry from the sushi we know and love today!

This was common practice until the end of the Edo Era (1603 – 1868.) It was then that sushi evolved into something a lot closer to what we’re familiar with today. We can thank Hanaya Yahoei for that. He developed sushi into something made with fresh fish, prepared quickly, intended to be eaten with the hands. This was quick food for busy people. So, that was sushi then, but what about now?

Today, sushi has transcended borders, becoming an ever-increasing favourite in many countries across the globe. This is no longer something enjoyed exclusively by the Japanese, thank goodness! But, as more people in more areas than ever before have started to produce and eat sushi, you may question whether it’s kept its authenticity? After all, Japanese sushi chefs can spend up to 10 years learning to master sushi making. So, have we nailed the art of sushi preparation?

Authenticity – the real taste of Japan

Who doesn’t want to enjoy sushi that captures real Japanese flavours? That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Japanese cuisine isn’t part of UNESCO’s intangible heritage list for no reason, it’s certainly something special. So, you want sushi that’s as close to authentic as possible.

Sushi making takes time and practice to perfect, so if it’s authentic you know it’s going to be good. But, what is that makes sushi authentic exactly?
Ingredients wise, Japanese diets traditionally favour seafood and fish over meat. Being an island there’s no shortage of fresh fish to source. Although plenty of vegetarian sushi options have popped up in recent years, in its most authentic sense sushi contains fish.

history of sushi-fresh fish

Fish in not only in abundance in Japan, luckily, it’s a rather healthy staple to any diet. Talking about healthy, another traditional ingredient is rice. This means that nutritionally, sushi contains relatively few calories, is rich in protein, unsaturated fats and packed full of vitamins. Finally, you’ll often find seaweed in your sushi, which is also great for you – rich in protein, vitamins and minerals. Those are your authentic ingredients, but there’s more to it than what’s inside.

There’s also the important matter of how it’s prepared. It can take years of learning and studying to master the art of sushi making. Authenticity comes with a real, profound knowledge of how to prepare this delicacy. Although gone in a bite or two, sushi is a complex and refined cuisine. Japanese sushi chefs are in pursuit of perfection when it comes to sushi making. It’s all about getting the right balance of flavours and textures, and that can be a tricky task indeed.

There are strict practices, and Japanese sushi chefs will take time the time and energy to learn every single detail – it can even take a couple of years to perfect the preparation of the sushi rice!
Some question the authenticity of sushi not prepared in Japan. Do sushi chefs in Europe and America really take the time and put in the precision that the Japanese do?
Well, we can’t vouch for everyone, but here at Mai Taiko we do sushi right. We create sushi for those I’m-craving-proper-sushi moments. You’ll know when you’ve had properly authentic sushi, because you’ll never go back.

history of sushi, hand rolled sushi

The Language of Sushi

So, you know your authentic from your fake. Now there’s just the small matter of language.
Think you know your sushi from your sashimi? There’s a whole web of language when it comes to sushi. We wouldn’t blame you for getting a little confused. There’s no need to feel overwhelmed though, we’ve got your backs. So, next time you’re gracing your local sushi bar, or perusing the supermarket shelf, you’ll know exactly what you’re talking about. Ready to impress your friends?

Let’s start with the most common sauces and sides you’re likely to come across. For example, the light pink, slightly sweet pickled ginger that’s often served up with sushi intended to be eaten between the various courses, that’s Gari. Sabi is, you guessed it, wasabi! But, if you’re not a fan you’ll want to look out for sabi-nuki – no wasabi, please! Fan of soy? Ask for Murasaki – Shoyu which is Japanese soy sauce. Finally, Nami no hana is salt.

Know your Maki from your Murasaki

Now on to the actual sushi itself. Ready to tell your maki from your nigiri? It’s really quite simple once you know what to look for.
Maki, for example, simply means roll. If we told you to think of sushi – most people imagine raw fish and sushi rice encased in a seaweed roll, right? Well that’s Maki!
There are a few different types of Maki to look out for. Futo Maki is the largest of the rolls, containing several fillings, which you’ll recognise for its size. On the other end of the scale, Hoso Maki are the smaller, more refined rolls.

And then there’s everything in between. From Kappa Maki, which is your cucumber roll (kappa meaning cucumber), traditionally served as a palette cleanser between courses, to Kanpyo Maki which contains gourd, a fleshy fruit, the flavours of which are likened to sweet soy sauce.

Some rolls are easier to identify than others. Temaki is especially distinguishable because of its cone shape which means is fillings are prone to spilling out the end.

Urmaki has been coined the inside out roll because it’s just that – inside out! This type of sushi is actually a western creation, specifically catered towards the American palate. Otherwise known as the Californian roll, it typically contains cucumber, crab meat and avocado encased by an outer layer of rice. It may not be the most authentic, but hey, who doesn’t like crab and avocado?

So, that’s Maki, but the fun doesn’t stop there. Enter Nigiri. One of the more traditional forms of sushi, nigiri consists of a topping placed upon a compact, pressed oblong of rice. Toppings typically consist of raw fish such as salmon, tuna and prawns, coated with a small dash of wasabi for that extra burst of flavour. It’s not all about the meat, though. As with most sushi, nigiri is easily made vegetarian, simply replacing the fish with vegetable, egg or tofu alternatives.

Those are your main types of sushi. Now you’ll need to know what’s in it!

Fish fans! Look out for the following common types of fish you’re likely to find. Odori Ebi is shrimp with a sweet flavour, Geso is octopus leg, Tako is cooked octopus, Neta is the piece of fish placed on top of sushi rice for Nigiri, Ika is squid, whilst Ikura is salmon roe. Kani means crab meat, Sake is salmon, Shiromi is a general term for white fish, and Uni is a sea urchin. At Mai Taiko we use only the freshest Salmon, Prawn and MSC Tuna.

Bringing authentic sushi into the present

Although not strictly authentic, sushi has been adapted to our modern dietary needs and these days there are plenty of vegetarian alternatives available, so no one misses out.

Veggies – fear not, you no longer have to worry about accidentally chewing down on a piece of fish again. Green is for Go when it comes to finding the veggie foods at Mai Taiko, and with 5 new dishes on the menu you’ll be spoilt for choice!

Here’s what to look out for to ensure a meat-free sushi experience out and about.

Aburage is a delicious fried tofu pouch used in Inari sushi which is great for veggies. Nasu is aubergine, Negi is a scallion, Tama-Negi is a round onion, Gyoku is a rolled egg omelette, Edamame are soy beans before they’re ripened, Kusa is seaweed, and Takenoko means bamboo shoots.

The person making your sushi is a Itamae-san and you’ll want to pick up using your Otemoto to eat it with!

There’s the low down on the language – now you’ll never order the wrong thing again!

Mai Sushi

Here at Mai Taiko we found our feet on the streets of Tokyo and vouched to bring the immersive experience of Tokyo’s street markets to the UK. Our mission has always been to bring the most authentic sushi experience to Britain. The tastes, the aromas, every single detail matters to us. Seeped in history, we follow traditional preparation methods and achieve authentic flavours. Our sushi’s made for sushi lovers, for those wanting real Japanese flavours.

Our sushi is famous for being light and flavoursome, freshly prepared in store by our skilled sushi chefs. We’ve got sushi for everyone, with an irresistible range of fish and vegetarian options made to authentic Japanese recipes. When you’ve tasted authentic Japanese flavours you won’t settle for anything less. So, when you’ve got mad sushi cravings come find us! We’ve opened authentic, fresh sushi counters in partnership with Waitrose, so we do the real thing. Always delicious. Made shinsen (fresh.) Simple.

history of sushi - Mai Taiko authentic sushi

Order online and our expert chefs will prep your sushi for you to pick up from our sushi counters exclusively at Waitrose. Find us in Banbury, Greenwich, Farnham and Portishead.