International Sushi Day on June 18 is the perfect excuse to tuck into the Japanese specialty. Sushi has become a global phenomenon over the past 30 years or so after struggling to find a foothold in the west in the beginning. Raw fish didn’t initially sound appetizing to all cultures but we eventually realized that we were wrong and now we can’t get enough of it. It’s time to sharpen up your chopstick technique and treat yourself for International Sushi Day.
You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy sushi, which is kinda the same thing.
In the last two decades, it’s become a bit of a sensation, the traditional Japanese meal known as sushi. Often considered to be simply raw fish (In Mexico We Have a Word For Sushi: Bait), and thus snubbed by many people, the truth behind what sushi is is more complex, and it can be a delicious repast for those so inclined. International Sushi Day celebrates this potentially delicious meal and seeks to raise awareness about the truths and fictions surrounding it.
History of International Sushi Day
Tracing sushi’s origins leads us on an interesting journey, taking us back to SE Asia and a method of storing and preserving fish for later consumption. Known as Narezushi, fish was stored by being wrapped in salted and fermented rice where it would remain good for months at a time thanks to the fermentation of the rice. Originally the rice was thrown away when it was ready to eat, and only the fish was consumed.
The next stage in the development of sushi would be far more familiar to the modern palate, known as namanare it was made from partly raw fish that was wrapped in fish and consumed before the flavor changed. Sushi had changed from a way to preserve fish to a new form of cuisine. But this wasn’t the last stage in the foods evolution.
It was in the Edo Period, between 1600 and 1800AD in Japan, that the traditional form of sushi we know today came to exist. At this point it was unique to Japanese culture and consisted of fish and vegetables wrapped in rice, the rice was mixed with vinegar. This form of sushi had regional variations, but the basic idea is still one of the most popular forms of sushi today.
How to celebrate International Sushi Day
“But wait!” we hear you say, “You said that not all sushi contains raw fish!” That’s right, not all sushi does! Sushi can contain any number of ingredients, and often includes cooked portions, such as in the case of crab sushi. Sometimes sushi contains no meat proteins at all but instead consists of a purely vegetable mixture. International Sushi Day is your opportunity to explore this cuisine and all it has to offer, and maybe find out that you have a new favorite comfort food!
Here are some super fun ways in which you and your buddies can celebrate this fishy (or not so fishy, in the case of some sushi!) day:
Head to your local sushi restaurant
This is the simplest way to enjoy International Sushi Day. Head to your local specialist sushi restaurant and enjoy the delicacies lovingly prepared by a professional sushi chef. When we tell you that some chefs live and breathe sushi – we mean it. It is more than a simple foodstuff to them. Becoming what is known as an itamea of sushi in Japan requires many years of intense training and apprenticeship. After around five years of working with a master itamae, an apprentice sushi chef is given their first important task: preparing the sushi rice. The entire process can take as long as twenty years, so you are pretty much guaranteed excellent food if you go to a sushi bar. How many other professions train for that long?
Introduce a friend to the delicacy
Many people turn their nose up and screech ‘ewwwww’ at the thought of eating what they (wrongly!) perceive as a slimy raw fish dish, but as we have tried to debunk that particular myth above, why not try taking your bestie along to a restaurant and see if you can sway their thinking a little? You might want to persuade them to try a simple miso soup (umami, soy-based soup) or the beginner-friendly Philadaphia roll, made up of Salmon, avocado, and cream cheese. It is probably a good idea to leave the more acquired taste of the uni (sea urchin) or the complex and rare Wasabi tobiko (wasabi tobiko with quail egg has the raw egg yolk sitting in a bed of caviar, which is wrapped in a sheet of seaweed) until they have got their taste buds and preconceptions sorted.
Make your own sushi
Ok, so it is not going to taste anywhere near the standard of a proper sushi chef, but it is always fun to have a go, right? There are plenty of easy-to-follow recipes online for some of the more basic sushi dishes, and the ingredients and the equipment that you will need to create that oh-so-perfect roll are readily available these days. Why not throw a sushi-making competition with your friends? You never know, one of you might be a super chef in the making!
Why should you celebrate International Sushi Day?
The fact that it celebrates one of the most unique cuisines in the world should be enough of a reason, but if you need more, here are some:
Taste: The possibilities are endless. Create your own combos of seafood, veggies, seasoning, and sauces to have a mind-blowing dish.
Healthiness: You would be hard-pressed to find a dish healthier than fish and vegetables. Protein and vitamins right there and chuck in some rice for a carb hit, and you have a healthy winner.
Coolness: When it comes to cool food, sushi is the king of cool. It epitomizes a combination of tradition and modern, making it the hippest fishy dish around.
History of International Sushi Day
To find the origins of sushi we must look at a dish called narezushi. Narezushi is salted fish stored in fermented rice for months at a time. Southeast Asia and Japan both had their own version of the dish, the rice was discarded and the fish was eaten. This was the first iteration of sushi and was seen by the Japanese as an important source of protein.
In the Edo Period, between 1600 and 1800 in Japan, sushi as we know it was established. Fish and vegetables were wrapped in rice and mixed with vinegar. Much like with Narezushi, each region had its own variations to it, but this is close to the version most people in today’s world are familiar with. In the early 1800s, the style of nigirizushi began to emerge. This consisted of a mound of rice with a slice of fish draped over it.
The Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 disrupted the Japanese economy and it displaced many people from Edo Japan. Japanese people were forced to restart their lives in new places and this consequently took sushi all over the world.
In the U.S, sushi was emerging from communities in Little Tokyo by the mid-twentieth century. It became popular among Hollywood celebrities which led to it gaining the public’s attention. What was once foreign to Americans became Americanized with the California roll that used crab and avocado instead of raw fish. In 2009, International Sushi Day was proclaimed for June 18. The idea came from Facebook and it took on a life of its own.