This past Saturday, Yoko Isaji's FoodStory brought food historians and sushi lovers together for "Travel With Sushi" at West L.A.'s Nibei Foundation. Looking over 1,000 years of sushi history, from its origins in Southern China to its rise as a popular Japanese street food in the 1800's, Isaji used slides, artwork, and stories to convey the evolution of one of L.A.'s favorite delicacies. Even better, in partnership with a local sushi chef, Isaji served rare examples of raw fish that are next-to-impossible to find in the states, and nearly as tough in Japan, from rice-fermented nare sushi to Kansai-period pressed sushi that paved the way to the Edo-mae nigiri we recognize today. Come take a quick tour through FoodStory's "Travel with Sushi," scheduled again on October 8th.
Nare Sushi, 800 B.C. Through 13th Century A.D.
The origins of sushi can be traced back to regions in Southern China where thinly sliced whole fish (typically freshwater carp) was being eaten as far back as 823 B.C. In time, whole and sliced fish were treated with salt, then eventually fermented from a few months to many years packed in rice (which can be traced to the paddies of Southeast Asia). Koji mold, the same mold used to ferment sake, helped preserve the food while imparting a pronounced umami. In time, as rice began to be used inside of the fish, people started eating the rice. From 1279-1368, Northern invaders crushed or pushed out Chinese cultures that rallied around sushi. Isaji tells that the Japanese people are descended from a Southern Chinese "minority" (still 7.65 million strong) called The Miao, who fled from invaders to Japan.
This dish was fermented only five days in rice, producing a sweet, porridge-y surrounding for the raw fish.
Kaki no ha sushi, 14th Century
This style of pressed sushi rose to popularity due to a shorter fermentation process of three to four weeks. Bound inside of a persimmon leaf, the fish was eaten along with the fermenting rice (which used to be thrown away), leading to a rise in people eating this combination, which has a pleasant, naturally sour taste.
Kaki no ha sushi
Sugata Sushi, 14th century
As people started enjoying fish with rice, sugata sushi emerged, which would typically find the whole fish (head and all) placed on top of rice or stuffed with rice for consumption.
Simmered Eggplant in Dashi
These egg-wrapped vegetables are still a common pleasure in the Japanese home, though this version is more stylized than your typical at-home omelet sushi.
Kansai Sushi, 14th to 18th Century
With the advent of vinegar, the sushi fermentation process became much shorter, leading to the rise of pressed sushi on rice, above, which became very popular due to its improved taste and easier availability. Kansai sushi was typically made to order for special occasions, at restaurants, or for home delivery. Due to the vinegar and the sugar in rice, it could last up to a week. Soon, as Japan's capital shifted to Edo (Tokyo), with its great population, the sushi we recognize today started popping up in front of Kansai sushi restaurants, being sold as cheap street food to workers with less or no use of sugar. This 18th century sushi was often 3-4 times bigger than what we see today. The reduction in size came about as restaurants tried to distinguish their product as more refined and delicate than the street food, leading to today's daintier nigiri sushi.
Kobujime Sushi, 18th Century
Another form of Edo-era sushi popular in the Kansai region involves the use of kombu (seaweed) for fermentation. The seawed withdraws water from the fish, and increases the salt and umami flavors. Today, we see kombu still a popular technique used in modern sushi.
Kombu Cured Snapper
Due to the Kanto earthquake of 1923, many Edo-based sushi chefs returned to their hometowns, spreading Edo-mae sushi to other parts of Japan.
Maguro no Zuke, a popular style of Edo-mae sushi using marinated maguro
During World War II, Japan banned all restaurants. Clever sushi chefs fooled the system by declaring themselves "commission businesses," which caught on with other sushi restaurants in the nation. Customers would bring in a cup of rice in exchange for ten pieces of nigiri, ensuring sushi's survival over many strenuous years.
Most Viewed Stories
Here Are the 2015 Michelin Stars for New York City
Here’s an 8,000-Calorie Breakfast That Requires a Signed Waiver to Eat
New York’s Best New Bakery Is Located in an Office-Building Lobby
Trouble on East 65th Street: Why Does Daniel Keep Losing Stars?
The 11 Strangest Starbucks Locations on the Planet
Momofuku Milk Bar Soho Opens TomorrowAll openings »
Looks Like Krescendo Has Served Its Last PizzaAll closings »
Search by name
Or, search by
Latest News on Grub StreetTrouble on East 65th Street: Why Does Daniel Keep Losing Stars?
The chef needs to figure out how to please critics, inspectors, and list-voters whose tastes practically demand forward-thinking cuisine while simultaneously pleasing his regular clientele.Joël Robuchon Will Open His Comeback Restaurant in Lower Manhattan
This time he's got a whopping 11,000 square feet.PepsiCo Wants to Patent Granola Bars Stuffed With Pop Rocks
Plus doughnuts and "other three dimensional shapes," too.Here Are the 2015 Michelin Stars for New York City
Daniel lost a star, Blanca gained one, and Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare remains on top.Rage Against the Machine Is Now Just Raging Against a Neighborhood Café
"Rock stars don't get special treatment at The 5 Point. We couldn't give less of a shit."New York’s Best New Bakery Is Located in an Office-Building Lobby
How did a talented bread man end up opening a fantastic new bakery in the lobby of 40 Worth Street?McDonald’s Japan Rolls Out Its Own Black Cheeseburger
There is also a white chicken sandwich.The Not-So-New Guy: Chef Jamie Bissonnette’s Big Year in New York
"New York started off by punching me in the face, but now it's giving me a hug."The 11 Strangest Starbucks Locations on the Planet
You can get the chain's frappuccinos at a funeral home, at the Louvre, and also at Guantánamo Bay.Here’s an 8,000-Calorie Breakfast That Requires a Signed Waiver to Eat
Customers "see it come out on the big platter all heaped high and start to cry."
"Our focus will be on our individual brands," they write.Enrique Olvera’s Anticipated Restaurant Cosme Now Accepts Reservations
Service begins the last week in October, apparently.Hong Kong McDonald’s Rolls Out a Mysterious ‘Batman’ Burger
Nothing says vigilante justice like Squeezy Cheesy Fries with a Sparkling Green Apple Tea on the side.Grand Banks Will Close Out the Season With Hot Toddies, Clam Chowder, and $1 Oysters
Also, there's an oyster happy hour.This Restaurant Gives a Gun Discount to Customers Who Prove They’re Armed
"As long as everybody has a gun we're all the same size," the owner says.How Nobu’s Most Famous Dish Helped Launch a Global Restaurant Empire
Black cod with miso was effectively the Momofuku pork bun of its day.Here’s Where to Get Free (or Very Cheap) Coffee Today
Free samples, $1 cups, and buy-one-get-one deals galore.The Amy’s Baking Company Couple Is Back, Threatening to Stab Someone
"You're going to go to jail for the rest of your life," an onlooker said.Restaurant Review: At elan, Downtown-Dining Pioneer David Waltuck Dates Himself
Shouldn't this eagerly awaited new Flatiron venture feel slightly more contemporary?Some Brave Soul Vowed to Spend 49 Days Eating Nothing But Olive Garden Pasta
This guy is like the Charles Lindbergh of rigatoni.
The now-famous pizza spot paid employees as little as $5.69 an hour.You Can Buy the Post Office’s Famous-Chef Stamps Today
One for James Beard, Julia Child, Edna Lewis, Joyce Chen, and Felipe Rojas-Lombardi.Grub Street’s Restaurant Power Rankings: Estela’s VIPs, Excellent New Pizza, and More
Find out where to eat in Grub Street's weekly ranking of the city's most-buzzed-about restaurants.World’s Most Awesome Woman Celebrates 102nd Birthday With White Castle Blowout
"One of these days I'll ask them how they make that hamburger."Hillary Clinton Fund-raises at ACME; Leonardo DiCaprio Parties at Space Ibiza
This week's Celebrity Settings.City’s ‘First Bar for Pregnant Women’ Is, Thankfully, Just a Publicity Stunt
Their marketing concepts should have gestated a little longer.Closed Doughnut Shop Mysteriously Promises to Reopen Without ‘the Skunk’
At least one former customer is pretty sure they're talking about a manager.Norah O’Donnell Loves Bacon and Baklava
"More bacon for me!"Marilyn Hagerty’s Long-Awaited Applebee’s Review Is Finally Here
"Menu is extensive and takes study if you are not a regular here."A Belgian Town Is Building an Underground Beer Pipeline — What Could Go Wrong?
Townspeople have no doubt already devised ways to tap it.
Founding motto: "Hooters just wasn't racy enough."The Neo-Dives: 9 Bars That Keep New York’s Downscale Drinking Tradition Alive
A proper dive takes decades of stasis and neglect, but these bars are all spots to go if you just want a watering hole that's adverse to anything too fancy.Smorgasburg Will Move to Crown Heights for the Winter
The colossal group of vendors will be indoors from November 8 until March.Wendy’s New Business Plan: Just Put Pulled Pork on Everything
"From their point of view, they think they can oven roast a bunch of pork, slather it in sauce, and idiots will come."12 New Places to Try for Your Next Great Pizza Experience
Marta, GG's, B-Side, and more.Saveur’s New Editor-in-Chief on His Plans for the Storied Magazine
"To me, it seems like the most exciting opportunity in food media right now."The Obamas Ate Burrata and Croquettes at Estela Last Night
The president also had some fluke carpaccio and endive salad.Marta Chef Nick Anderer Explains His Surf-and-Turf Take on Saltimbocca
Herby, salty, and faintly smoky.Chinese Restaurant Tests Innovative New Menu Item: Drug-Laced Noodles
An owner dosed his food with the same ingredient used to make opium.Maison Premiere Team Opening Second Restaurant in Williamsburg
The project will open next year.
"I'm just saying ... the government should stay out of things."Popeyes’ New ‘Beer Can’ Chicken Is a Travesty
Except it's fried, and it has zero beer.10 Excellent Places to Get Apple-Cider Doughnuts in NYC, Without the Drive Upstate
The Cinnamon Snail, Babycakes, Doughnuttery, and lots more.Obama’s ‘Latte’ Salute Managed to Offend a Lot of People Who Probably Disliked Him Already
Starbucks seems to win this round, no matter what.August to Reopen on the Upper East Side
At Lexington and 62nd.What Is Danny Meyer Planning at 7 Bryant Park?
It sure doesn't look like a Shake Shack.People Are Waiting 9 Hours to Eat at Hot Doug’s Before It Closes for Good
It's the final countdown for Chicago's famed encased meats emporium.Momofuku Milk Bar Soho Opens Tomorrow
With salty pistachio soft-serve, apple pie cake truffles, and grasshopper pie.Adam Platt Calls Singapore ‘Asia’s Great Food Bazaar’
New York's restaurant critic discovers there's a lot more than street food in Singapore these days.Milk & Honey Will Close October 25, But Will Relocate (Again)
Petraske says he's headed back downtown, and downsizing.