Sushi is Not Raw Fish

Daven Hiskey 18
Today I found out sushi is not raw fish, that’s sashimi.

Sashimi is just sliced raw fish, sometimes dipped in sauces and sometimes served with sushi.  Sushi is any food dish consisting of vinegared rice, usually served with some other toppings, but not always. It happens to often be served with various types of sea food, either cooked or raw, and perhaps even a mix of the two; but that tradition simply comes from the primary food staples of the locations where sushi originated (not Japan, by the way). Sushi can be served with just about any toppings or none at all.

The variety of sushi served with raw sea food has given rise to the notion that sushi is any dish served with raw fish. In fact though, sushi is more often than not served in the western world with fully cooked sea food, including: cooked imitation crab (California roll); smoked salmon (Seattle roll); grilled squid or octopus; fully cooked shrimp; and fully cooked clam. It is also often served with fried and battered sea food of varying types. There are also a variety of vegetarian sushi dishes, including the very popular maki (cucumber rolls).

Perhaps the reason sushi is so strongly thought of as “raw fish” in the western world is that, whatever the toppings, it is commonly served cold. Also, the general idea of raw fish isn’t exactly to the liking of most westerners conceptually, so that form of sushi stood out more when it was first introduced; giving rise to the notion that sushi was any dish that included raw fish.

The term sushi, literally means “it’s sour”, and comes from an ancient grammatical form that is no longer used in other contexts. The “sour” description comes from the ancient way of preparing sushi by fermentation of meat, generally sea food, packed in rice with salt used as a preservative. The vinegar produced from the fermenting rice ends up breaking down the fish meat into amino acids. This, in turn, results in a strong umami flavor, which is one of the five basic tastes the human tongue can detect. Once the meat was properly fermented, thus preserved, the rice would then be discarded and only the meat itself would be eaten. Basically, it was just a handy way to preserve meat before ice boxes and refrigerators.

Modern forms of sushi are not typically prepared in this way and the rice is now the main part of the meal. Around the Muromachi period (1336-1573 AD), they began adding vinegar, which aided in preserving the food and in improving the flavor. Eventually, this lead to the fermentation process being shortened and ultimately abandoned in favor of just eating it right away with the rice.

A few centuries later, osaka and sushi combined to form oshi-zushi. In this type of sushi, various types of sea food and rice are pressed using molds. This eventually led to the version of sushi created by Hanaya Yohei, in the 19th century, which most of the world thinks of as “sushi” today. In this form, the sushi can be prepared extremely quickly and eaten with one hand, making it one of the earliest forms of fast food.

Bonus Facts:

  • Sashimi is considered a Japanese delicacy and is made from fresh, raw seafood that is sliced into thin, small pieces, which are then to be dipped in various sauces, such as soy sauce with wasabi paste. Each piece is typically about one inch wide by one and a half inches long and one fifth of an inch thick.
  • The word sashimi means “pierced body”. The word is thought to have derived from the fact that, traditionally, sashimi would have the fish tails or fins stuck to the meat itself, so you could identify what meat the fish came from. Alternatively, from the fact that as soon as the fish used for sashimi are caught, the brains are pierced to kill the fish without damaging the meat; this also minimizes lactic acid in the meat by killing the fish instantly, which allows the fish to store longer (as many as 10 days) without degrading in quality. Once the brain is pierced, the fish are immediately put in ice.
  • Sushi served rolled in dried sheets of seaweed is called makizushi.
  • In bowl form, sushi rice, with toppings scattered over it, is called chirashi-zushi.
  • Sushi comes from Southeast Asia, not Japan; it is still very popular in both Southeast Asia and Japan today. It is thought that it was introduced to Japan in the 7th century from China.
  • The name of the modern form of sushi called Edomae nigirizushi comes from the fact that it was originally made with freshly caught marine life from Edo Bay (Tokyo Bay).

Expand for References

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18 Comments »

  1. Kyo Takako September 15, 2013 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    I am Japanese and I can tell you this article is not entirely correct. Sushi is raw …PERIOD… unless it’s tempura.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey September 15, 2013 at 11:46 pm - Reply

      @Kya Takako: Being Japanese has nothing to do with expertise on sushi. A simple Google search will show you that Sushi is not “raw… PERIOD”.

  2. KYO's right September 25, 2013 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    @daven hiskey : Kyo is correct all true “traditional” sushi in japan was raw. You’re both right

  3. Scott October 4, 2013 at 5:51 am - Reply

    Bzzzt.

    A few examples:

    Shime-saba Traditional, and the mackerel is “cooked” in vinegar first.

    Ebi (shrimp), and Tako (octopus) are normally boiled before their use in sushi, at least in modern Japan.

    The vast majority of nigiri-sushi uses raw ingredients, but it isn’t exclusively so.

  4. Patrick Schaefer October 4, 2013 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    “Sushi is Not Raw Fish” with my primary source as a Google Search. Dude, you’re an idiot. Okay yeah the term ‘sushi’ refers to any dish with the vinegar-rice but I don’t understand your assertion that it is not raw fish. It definitely can CONTAIN raw fish, which by itself is sashimi, and can also contain shrimp tempura, avocado, basically anything else. It’s misleading and stupid to call the entire article something that is basically not true.

    • Daven Hiskey
      Daven Hiskey October 4, 2013 at 7:12 pm - Reply

      @Patrick Shaefer: “It’s misleading and stupid to call the entire article something that is basically not true.” No, it really is true. Do a little more research if you’re not satisfied. Or, you know, read the whole article where I expound on the topic at hand. Had you done that, you would have noticed that, like other articles on this site, “References” are at the bottom and none of them are Google Search. My suggestion of “Google Search” was just for individuals who don’t like my sources and are still skeptical after reading the article.
      .
      I appreciate skepticism. I tell people all the time here to “question everything”, because nobody bats a thousand. Every reputable source and expert out there gets things wrong sometimes, even in the field of their expertise. There are no exceptions. However, just essentially saying “You’re wrong and I’m right because I know I am…” including often not bothering to research the topic at all, as so many don’t, that’s not the route to go. Back up your assertions with actual sources or data. To do that, Google is a good place to start, hence the suggestion above.
      .
      “Dude, you’re an idiot.” It’s not the first time I’ve been called that- it’s the internet after all where many who leave comments seem to throw all civility out the window for some odd reason- but it never helps the person’s argument. Whether I’m an idiot or the smartest person on the planet has nothing to do with the topic at hand. Smart people sometimes get things wrong, just as dumb people sometimes get things right.

  5. Rick December 20, 2013 at 12:29 pm - Reply

    Daven, I like your style. Civil, smart, and classy.

  6. ograstamon January 8, 2014 at 5:37 pm - Reply

    This is a prime example of a useless fact. Useless because sharing it with the sort of people who believe things without evidence changes nothing.

  7. Miguel February 4, 2014 at 10:37 am - Reply

    A comment and a bonus fact…

    Comment:
    Of course sushi has no raw fish… the simple fact of being involved in acidic mixture of rice with vinegar cooks the fish. Acidic sources like vinegar, citrus juices or even herbs with acidic/sour juices, act over raw food as a pre-cooking… that’s a culinary staple!

    Bonus fact:

    The non japanese origin of sushi brings us to another fact, afterall the most iconic japanese dishes aren’t japanese at all… like TEMPURA!

    The portuguese were the first western people arriving in Japan in the XV century…

    The portuguese navigations, were not just scientific and trading missions. Every expedition was acompanied by jesuit priests who were in charge of evangelizing the people of the lands where they arrived, but also keep a short leash on the crews, in regard to compliance with religious rules…

    Fish, seafood or vegetables dipped in a batter and deep fried… is a very old and popular portuguese cooking technique – still in use – called “albardar” which can be roughly translated as “coating”.

    The original recipe is about fish, most commonly sardines dipped in batter and deep fried – called “sardinhas albardadas” or “coated sardines” or more widely “peixe albardado” or “coated fish”…

    Vegetables cooked the very same way, under the name of “Peixinhos da horta” or “little fish from the garden”, were a substitute to the fish version, during those fastening periods of the christian religion liturgical calendar, where people should abstain from eating any kind of meat (flesh or fish).

    Those periods take place four times a year and were called, in latin “jejunia quattuor temporum” or “four seasons fastening”, each one shortly known in those times as… “TEMPORA”.

    The portuguese culináry influence in actual Japan desn’t end on Tempura. Kasutera, a Nagasaki widely known cake is no other than the japanese version of the traditional portuguese cake “Pão-de- Ló” also known (at that time) as “Pão Castelo” (Castle Bread/Cake) hence Kasutera.
    The first portuguese in Japan arrived exactly at Nagasaqui in their ships called “Caravelas”

    But also in the japanese language, mainly in the names of western utensils which were unknow to japanese in those days and still in use today like (Jap/Port/Eng) – “Kopu/Copo/Cup”,
    “Boro/Bolo/Cake”, “Shabon/Sabão/Soap” and also “Arigato/Obrigado/Obliged” – as in “much obliged/thank you”…

    Sources can be easily and widely found in the internet…

  8. Derek February 6, 2014 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    I love everyone who doubts you. After saying, “you’re an idiot”. They then prove what you said to be true. The people that need to go back to school is awesome!

  9. Jamie March 8, 2014 at 9:37 am - Reply

    I don’t exactly care what sushi is, really. I was put off for years about the raw fish thing – until I actually tried it. It’s actually pretty good, regardless of what’s in it.

  10. Byung March 25, 2014 at 7:19 am - Reply

    “Smart people sometimes get things wrong, just as dumb people sometimes get things right.” This is such a nice quote, I’m gonna turn this into a meme and quote it.

    Also, I was told that Wasabi was used in ancient days because sanitation was poor back then and wasabi kill’s bacteria/virus, i.e. Ecolie, etc. Have you heard any of this?

  11. Brian Davidson May 23, 2014 at 6:07 am - Reply

    @Daven Hiskey: Have you ever thought that maybe stuff on the internet mightn’t always be correct. On sushi, not all sushi ‘products’ are traditional, just like so many other ‘claimed’ products aren’t truthful to their traditional heritage.

  12. Geoffrey Lannister June 8, 2014 at 7:06 am - Reply

    Those roll thingies with the rice are not sushi, they are called California rolls. Sushi is slices of raw fish, but very special fresh and high quality fish, otherwise you’ll get sick.

  13. Anunnymous June 24, 2014 at 9:14 pm - Reply

    @Geoffrey Lannister Not true. “Those roll thingies with the rice” is in fact sushi. What you put in them changes what they are called; ie.. imitation crab makes them “california rolls.” But, they are still a form of sushi. Slices of raw fish is called sashimi but that’s not entirely true either. Sashimi can also be raw beef, chicken, pork etc. it is just raw “meat.” Sushi is JUST vinegar cured rice, nothing more.

  14. Anunnymous June 24, 2014 at 9:21 pm - Reply

    Oh, I forgot to add a fun fact! Sushi (balls of vinegar cured (cooked) rice) with sashimi (raw meat or fish) on top is called nigiri!

    Now you know! :o)

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