Sushi as we know it today is something of a convenience food – the ideal dish to order for takeout, home delivery or to eat on the go. However, what most sushi fans don’t realise is that it didn’t start out as fast food at all – quite the contrary, in fact.
Birth and Rebirth
The very first mention of sushi being produced and eaten dates back to the early 17th century, during which time it was an extremely popular dish…if a little painstaking to make. The basic ingredients for the original sushi were fish, rice and water, though in order to give the sushi its characteristic sour taste, the rice was left to ferment for months on end before being used.
With the dish being so popular, it unsurprisingly made its way into a great many shops and was sold to the public as a means by which to save them time. In any case, the production of this early sushi took several months for each and every batch to be created, which isn’t really what you’d call fast food in the traditional sense.
So this was and is considered the true birth of sushi, but it was a little later in the 1820s that a new type of sushi was created by a man – the man credited with giving birth to sushi as we know it today.
Born in the year 1799 to a working class family, Hanaya Yohei worked as a greengrocer until he turned 18, at which point he decided to seek a new career path. He headed to Tokyo and worked a number of different jobs, during which time he used something of a trial and error process to make a type of sushi that would be more convenient to prepare and eat.
His creation was the nigiri sushi we know today, which he used to make by squeezing the rice together and then selling it out of a box he carried on his back. After turning 30, he went into business selling his new take on sushi at a small stall, though it wasn’t long before word began to travel about his novel creation. His reputation exploded, the new kind of sushi caught on all across Japan and began appearing in all manner of stores and eateries in no time at all.
It’s funny, but if you were to travel back in time just 20 years or so you would be hard-pressed to find a working sushi takeaway in London. When sushi first arrived in the UK, it was a similar story whereby it was far from an affordable and accessible fast food, but was instead a luxurious and rare commodity enjoyed only by elite circles.
Fast forward to 2014 and it’s as common to see a sushi takeaway in London as it is a traditional fish and chip shop. The way the stuff has taken over by being born, reborn and reborn once again is quite phenomenal.
Something to think about next time you’re gobbling down your nigiri!