Sushi - everything about the pure Japanese pleasure
Sushi - seemingly a quick snack on every street corner, in almost every city in the world by now, and at the same time an expression of the highest Japanese culinary art and aesthetics.
In our Restaurant sansaro in Munich since 2007 (and before that already in the SUSHIYA BENTO STORE since 2006) we have been preoccupied in a depth and intensity with sushi & Japanese cuisine that is rare outside of Japan.
Here you will find all the information you need about the Japanese superfood, the development and different types of sushi and insights into our experiences with German sushi restaurants.
Sushi: origin and development
Sushi comes, you guessed it, from Japan.
The people of this fascinating island kingdom are known for their Crafts over generations to perfect. Culinary delights here are culture, art and craft, philosophy and perhaps even medicine at the same time.
Sushi is a branch of the classic Japanese cuisine, called Washoku, which is recognized as a world heritage.
And also the Depth, in which one deals with the preparation of Sushi in Japan, is often unimaginable for the western world. Yet sushi, just like many other "typically Japanese" dishes today, has (think ramen, udon or tempura). influences from abroad are also taken up again and again. However, in Japan, the restaurants are very specialized in only one dish, such as sushi.
Where sushi began before it was sushi
The historical origin of sushi is not exactly scientifically proven. It is said that sushi originated as raw fish in leavened rice. Probably the development began in the fourth century BC in the Mekong Delta their beginning. This form of preparation came to Japan over the centuries via China. From the 8th century AD we know sushi in Japan. In its present form, however, sushi has only been known since the middle of the 19th century. Sushi, as we know it today around the world, has in turn essentially also taken influences from abroad.
Where the name sushi came from
So why is it called sushi? Presumably, the name is derived from the ancient Japanese term Su-Meshi off. It means something like "sour" or "acidic". We still know the two words in Su-Meshi today: Su (酢) is the name for the rice vinegar used to sour the rice, Meshi (飯) is another word for Gohan, for "rice" or "meal". In the formula "meshi agare", spoken by chef or cook when serving the meal, we find the word again. The rice specially prepared for sushi is still called su-meshi (酢飯), vinegar rice.
So that means: Sushi is always a mixture of mildly soured rice with other ingredients. These other ingredients can be meat or fish, but also egg. In terms of shapes and the size of portions and bite-sized morsels, everything is possible.
More about the history of sushi, its origins and development over the past centuries we have in a comprehensive article about the historical origin of sushi summarized for you. In addition, there are then also interesting historical-culinary side aspects of sushi.
Different forms and types of sushi
While sushi in Europe is mainly known as small rolls (Japanese: makimono), in Japan these are more a part of home cooking.
Maki, as the rolls are called in Japanese, are divided into the classic forms Hosomaki, Chūmaki and Futomaki. There are also uramaki, which are particularly popular abroad - outside Japan.
In restaurants and on special occasions, people in Japan tend to enjoy the Nigiri and Gunkan forms of sushi. Nigiri are more or less the classic Japanese sushi, they are also called Edo Mae sushi.
Gunkan are sometimes referred to as gunkan maki. But in fact they belong to the nigirizushi. This is because the shape, like the name, is derived from the shape of the Japanese battleship. True, the nori is placed around the outside of the rice ball. But it is not rolled.
More modern are special forms such as the uramaki, the so-called inside-out rolls, which according to legend come from California.
In addition, there are various special forms that are rather rare abroad, such as bosushi, oshizushi and so on.
By the way, the small, practical snack on the hand is called temaki (hand roll). And it is now also known in the West.
Is sushi without fish sushi?
Yes, sushi can also be prepared without fish. Because essential to the definition of sushi is the Mildly leavened ricefrom which the name "Sushi derived. Also in Japan one is sushi rolls gladly and often with vegetables as insert, without fish.
Does sushi always have to be raw?
Sushi does not always have to contain raw fish.
Today it is assumed that nigiri, the most common form of sushi in Japan today, was prepared mainly with cooked and marinated fish around 200 years ago. Because at that time there was no possibility to transport the freshly caught fish sufficiently cooled.
Sushi developed historically from the attempts to make the fish last longer. Because that is exactly what the leavened rice achieves.
Even today, many types of sushi are served with cooked fish and sea creatures rather than raw. This is the case, for example, with anago (eel), Unagi (freshwater eel), Ebi (shrimp) and Tako (octopus) the case.
Sashimi: Not sushi, but close!
Sashimi is close to sushi, but is not sushi. This is because sashimi does not contain rice. Sashimi is part of many dishes of Japanese cuisine that have nothing to do with sushi (Kaiseki for example).
Now don't think that sashimi is simply "sushi without rice".
For properly prepared sashimi from a knowledgeable hand, different cutting techniques are used than for nigirizushi - although the same type of fish may be processed and the same knife used.
So sashimi is not simply pieces cut from the fillet of fish. The preparation requires a lot of special knowledge and craftsmanship. Because only with the right cutting technique the raw material unfolds its inimitable, unique taste.
You can find more on the topic in our extensive article about sashimi.
Sushi from a health point of view
Japanese cuisine is considered one of the healthiest in the world. Of course, there are reasons why the Japanese have one of the highest life expectancies in the world. Is it because people in Japan eat sushi every day? No, because that is not the case. Sushi is also something special in Japan and not an everyday snack.
The diet in Japan is on the whole much more focused on fresh and high-quality food. People here spend a lot of money on good food and enjoy seasonal and regional specialties very much. The cuisine emphasizes the balance between ingredients. There tends not to be "too much".
In Japan, people eat sushi differently than in Germany, and they eat different sushi.
The nigiri and gunkan that are so common in Japan only make it onto the plates of aficionados here in Germany. Instead, a lot of sushi rolls are eaten, which are extremely high in calories with quite adventurous combinations of mayonnaise, tuna and salmon. There is often not much left of the healthy Japanese diet.
Please take it! Can everyone just eat sushi?
Sushi, prepared correctly and expertly, is healthy. But there are a few restrictions that you should know, of course.
Anyone suffering from the autoimmune disease celiac disease should avoid soy sauce. Soy sauce contains wheat. Instead, you can season your sushi with tamari, a wheat-free and therefore gluten-free soy sauce. You don't have to give up sushi completely!
In Germany, pregnant women are advised to avoid raw fish. This has nothing to do with the fish itself, but with any pathogens it may contain and the sometimes quite high levels of heavy metals.
In Japan, pregnant women eat sashimi as a matter of course. The quality controls ensure that the fish is safe.
Graves' disease and Hashimoto's disease are only two diseases associated with the thyroid gland. Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are widespread in Germany. Anyone suffering from such a condition should consume little nori. Nori contains an extremely high amount of iodine, which can upset the metabolism. However, there is nothing to say against enjoying nigirizushi without nori!
Basically, of course, you should only enjoy sushi and especially sashimi where there is no doubt about the freshness and quality of the ingredients. Pro Tip: A high price is no guarantee of high quality. Conversely, high quality always has its price.
However, if the sushi is very inexpensive, convience products and mass farmed fish are likely to be used in its preparation.
Basically, if the restaurant attaches importance to high-quality fish, to the artisanal production and Organic qualitythen sushi can be very healthy. Because such carefully selected and prepared ingredients have a higher nutritional value and less exposure to harmful substances, less additives are used.
In our experience, however, the use of organic quality ingredients in German restaurants is a rare exception when you talk about some persuaders and star gastronomy.
Here you will find more about sushi & health.
Sushi preparation: how do you actually do it?
Training to become a sushi chef takes many years, because the standards in Japan are very high. Literally, many years will pass before a chef in Japan is actually allowed to make sushi for guests.
A sushi roll is included seemingly made very quickly, for laymen it looks quite simple. In many cheap restaurants in Japan, and to our knowledge also in expensive restaurants in Munich, they even use robots and machines for a few steps.
But rolling the rolls or forming the nigiri are actually only the very last steps of preparation. Even before that, many things need to be prepared that are complex, require knowledge and skill.
A good sushi restaurant will have a Hangiri. This is a large wooden vat in which the rice is seasoned. Indeed, it is not enough to pour a little vinegar over it. As the central ingredient, the rice must of course taste perfect every day.
The Preparation of sushi is an art that the sushi chef perfects throughout his life. There is always something new to learn. The deep understanding, knowledge and skill you do not get from books and cooking classes. It requires an intensive, long and always new occupation with the matter.
Many restaurants outside of Japan use intense tasting sauces, lots of salmon and avocado, or even lots of deep-fried ingredients. There is a simple reason for this: such flavor-intensive creations can be used to mask the taste of the rice. This is possibly where the lack of training is concealed.
Is sushi expensive? How much does sushi cost?
Sushi is not a quick, cheap meal - and it shouldn't be!
The reason is simple: the most famous ingredients for sushi are not cheap. Fish suitable for raw consumption is costly to procure. Even a good japonica rice has its price. But what primarily drives the cost of sushi, in addition to good rice and fresh fish, is the elaborate and expert preparation by experienced professionals.
Sushi chefs always start with the whole fish. It is scraped and gutted, filleted and then processed into so-called saku. Only the best pieces of fish are used, and they must be prepared in many individual steps.
Curious about what exactly that looks like? We have an example:
For the seemingly simple shrimp sushi (ebi), the shrimp must be placed individually on bamboo skewers. They are cooked this way and then allowed to cool. Now the shell is removed. Subsequently, the shrimp can be cut into the appropriate shape.
Only then can the chef prepare the prepared rice with the shrimp and other ingredients, if necessary, to make an ebi nigiri or other type of sushi for you.
Of course, such shrimp are also available from the plastic package as far as possible prepared - but you will find this in good japanese Sushi restaurants rarely find.
A few tips on how to recognize good Japanese restaurants outside Japan, we have summarized for you in an article.
Sushi needs elaborate preparation work
Japanese chefs like Master Yagawa say that the preparation of sushi to 90% consists of preparation (jap: shikomi).
Before the first roll can be rolled or the first nigiri can be formed, a lot more work is needed. Every single piece of sushi is a handcrafted product. One notices the quality of the basic ingredients and the qualifications of the chef in these individual delicacies.
In terms of taste, it doesn't have much to do with supermarket sushi, which is mostly machine-made. Externally, it might look like sushi, but it's just the pale reflection of sushi that can't convey the true flavors at all.
Making sushi requires a lot of manual labor
So sushi involves a much higher material input than other culinary traditions.
The manual work, the long training and the high craftsmanship are in the foreground, both in preparation and final preparation.
Due to the high time commitment, a sushi chef can only serve a few guests at a time. The personnel requirement is therefore also much higher than, for example, when preparing pizza or steak, pasta or gyros, ramen or udon.
Even fine dining gets by with less effort - so that really well-made sushi with high-quality ingredients is actually more comparable with the effort and cost structure of star gastronomy.
Not everywhere you can get the ingredients for the best sushi
So it is clear: good sushi must be costly.
How expensive such a culinary and cultural indulgence program becomes, however, depends on other factors: In some cities, the ingredients are easier to procure than in others, which has to do with transport routes and supply chains.
Sushi cost depends on sushi shape and variety
And how much sushi do you need to get full anyway? Do you concentrate on maki, or do you enjoy nigiri? The composition of the sushi, vegetarian or with fish, also plays a role.
As a rough guide, vegetarian sushi can fill you up for about 30 euros, with fish and other ingredients it will be at least 40 euros or more. A lot of fish, nigiri and very high quality drive the costs, there can also be 100 euros per person (as of the end of 2021).
You'd better avoid inexpensive sushi! For 16 euros you will only get full if the quality of the raw materials remains at a low level. And with sushi, that usually means almost toxically farmed salmon and convenience products that serve as stomach fillers. 20 euros for "all you can eat" are, in our opinion, a waste of money in the area of sushi. Because sushi is so cheap only when extremely cheap ingredients are purchased and savings are made on staff.
Recognize good quality!
Sushi seems to be available on every corner these days. But only chefs trained extensively in Japanese cuisine know what sushi should actually taste like (really true - we have been experiencing this for 20 years in Munich over and over again).
Good sushi quality is by far not only a question of hygiene
The rice is crucial as a basic ingredient. It must be handled properly and, above all, selected correctly. Hygienic quality is usually not a problem in Germany these days - culinary quality is a completely different matter, which laymen (and even professionals) often do not see through so easily.
The fish used and its treatment is also important for the quality of the sushi. Fish is an expensive raw material. For use in sushi, each step of preparation to the actual preparation requires a lot of work. And this can be done in the required quality only by hand. Craft has its price!
That's why sushi with excellent quality ingredients, prepared by an experienced chef, can easily cost 50-100 euros per person in a casual restaurant, and 200 to 300 euros in particularly exclusive restaurants.
Good sushi makes the intensive occupation with the raw ingredients, the long expertise and the meditative concentration on the essentials in the preparation of the ingredients tangible. Especially the latter is also a typical characteristic of Japanese culture.
The more deep-fried sushi is offered, mayonnaise and intense-tasting sauces are used, the more likely the quality of the basic ingredients is not right.
Anything that masks the taste of rice, excessive use of strong tasting fish such as salmon and tuna, and also avocado indicate deficiencies elsewhere.
So if the menu focuses almost exclusively on salmon, tuna, avocado and brags about great sauces, then suspicion is in order.
Small Pro Tip: Try a simple cucumber roll, the professional will immediately know if it tastes good - without fancy sauces and wild fish combinations.
Another point is the appearance: especially the shape of nigiri immediately betrays good craftsmanship and quality work. (More on all this in detail soon).
How is sushi seasoned?
The basis for good sushi is correctly seasoned rice.
Mild rice vinegar, fish and rice combine to form a harmonious whole. Wasabi, when needed, is already included in the sushi. Soy sauce is basically only a small accent, so should be used very carefully and moderately. Consider the soy sauce as the icing on the cake, even in terms of quantity.
In very good sushi restaurants (for example, Japanese omakase restaurants), sushi comes to the guest fully seasoned. You should not re-season it with wasabi or drown it in even more soy sauce. This would clearly tell the chef or cook that the kitchen's efforts were in vain.
In Germany, on the other hand, it is often common to have a bowl for soy sauce on the table and some wasabi available. Use these sparingly. Soy sauce, wasabi and ginger taste intense and mask the taste of good sushi. Good sushi is never dry or boring per se, even without a special sauce.
Sushi etiquette: what is the best way to eat sushi?
Sushi can and may be eaten with the fingers. Japanese people, especially sushi masters, like to eat sushi specifically with their hands. This is because the perfect experience is felt very directly on the palate.
If you don't want to eat with your fingers, use chopsticks. The Japanese bamboo chopsticks are tasteless and are ideal for this purpose! It is better to do without Western cutlery, which does not belong to Japanese cuisine and incidentally it also damages the Japanese dishes. By the way, if the sushi pieces are too big for a bite, this usually indicates little knowledge and skill on the part of the cooks. The fact that the individual bites are bite-sized for the guest is already an absolutely fundamental characteristic of sushi. Moritsuke, the Japanese art of dressing.
The only exceptions are futomaki and temaki. They can be too big to fit in the mouth at once.
If you ask Japanese people how to eat sushi better, the answer usually doesn't help: "Eat it the way you want and it tastes best!"
However, there are some customs in Japan, in the seriousness somewhere between experience value and rule.
Do not rub your chopsticks together loudly before eating. This signals: The chopsticks are not good enough and especially not free of splinters. But in a good restaurant you can get splinter-free bamboo chopsticks.
Gari, the intense tasting ginger, should never be placed on top of the finely prepared sushi pieces! The order of the different types of sushi, the handling of wasabi and soy sauce and the like is also more or less regulated in Japan (regionally different).
More about the Etiquette to sushi and how best to eat sushi.
Where to eat sushi? Restaurant, delivery service and location in Japan
Sushi is often understood as fast food. Let's take the term literally (fast = fast), then it comes off somehow - the small rice bites can be eaten quite quickly. Just in terms of freshness and enjoyment, sushi should even be eaten quickly.
If, on the other hand, fast food is understood to be of low quality and prepared quickly, sushi is certainly not fast food. In Japan, too, sushi is not seen as fast food. Here, there are numerous other forms of fast food (preferably the well-known noodle soups), but that's another topic.
The classic way to eat sushi in Japan is often in a sushi bar. The guest sits opposite the chef. Sushi is considered something very special and is celebrated accordingly. In addition, there are, as in this country, all kinds of forms of supermarket sushi to the delivery service. One thing sushi is certainly not in Japan is a simple, inexpensive everyday snack. Even the cheaper kaiten-zushis (restaurants where sushi is delivered to the table via a conveyor belt) are more expensive than a teishoku (restaurant where you order from the menu) or the Japanese fast food restaurants serving ramen, yakitori or soba.
Classic Japanese sushi bars are rarely found in Germany. This is because awareness of the culinary arts is less pronounced in this country.
In Germany, the budget for food is rather low anyway, even compared to other European countries. Therefore, sushi is often mixed with other Asian cuisine in restaurants in Germany. This can be good, it can be bad - in any case, especially with sushi, you should pay very close attention to the philosophy with which the restaurant works. We have written a separate article about it, where to find good sushi in munich and also an article, How to recognize good Japanese restaurants abroad.
When you try sushi for the first time, you should go to the highest quality Japanese restaurant possible. This will guarantee that you get the right impression of the taste right away.
What do you eat with sushi?
You don't eat anything with sushi. Sushi is not a side dish or a main course that needs to be combined with side dishes - sushi is enough by itself.
In Japan, sushi is served in restaurants that specialize in sushi. The preparation of sushi already employs a complete kitchen crew. In Japan, you sit at the sushi counter, get one sushi after the other and clear your place after about 30 minutes.
In Germany, people sit longer, meet with friends, chat and enjoy sushi, which is served collected on a plate. So it makes sense to pass the waiting time for the sushi platter to be prepared with a few Starters to shorten.
In between, it lends itself to, Edamame to nibble on (salted soybean pods), maybe a bowl of Miso soup (which in Japan is usually served with the meal, not as an appetizer).
And if you want to dine especially feudally, you might treat yourself to a fine Sashimi.
Maybe you also treat yourself to a Dessert, if you are lucky enough to be in a Restaurant with really homemade desserts to sit.
But one thing is also important in Germany: Gari (ginger) is not a side salad! The ginger serves to neutralize the taste between each sushi, comparable to the piece of white bread that comes with a wine tasting.
For all those who want to delve deeper into the matter: here you will find a historical insight on various side dishes and ingredients of sushi.
What to drink with sushi?
People in Japan like to drink beer, sake or green tea with sushi. However, there is no fixed rule for this.
Depending on the restaurant can be a fine sake However, a suitable German wine (Riesling, for example) can also go well with sushi. Beer is extremely popular in Japan. However, the restaurants at the upper end of the scale in Japan only serve a bowl of green tea after the meal is finished.
A little guide on what to drink with sushi, you can find here.
Conclusion: Sushi is a very special treat
Sushi is always a special treat.
For many in the West, it's a kind of sylish fun food these days, as the little rolls are easy to consume. But this is not sushi. Also important to know: The restaurants that rely on superficial show effects (eg. Sushi presentation with dry ice), are often just no qualified sushi restaurants.
Sushi is not a show, but artful & painstaking craft.
Really good sushi to produce is a real challenge - and not only in the short term, but also in the medium and long term. This cannot be done without precision, discipline and elaborate preparation.
For a chef, sushi is an incredibly exciting subject because it presents a lifetime of challenges - at least if the diner gets involved and follows the chef in his or her experiences and search for seasonal, high-quality material. In the preparation, the Sideboards, the different combinations and serving the delicate ingredients, you always learn something new and deepen your knowledge, perfecting the craft continuously.
Above all, good sushi stands in the comprehensive tradition and world of Washoku, the Japanese cuisine. It is often copied abroad, but it is rarely done well. When you taste really good Japanese cuisine, it usually (at least for Japan connoisseurs, we don't know now if other people always feel the same way) creates a kind of happiness, joy, inner warmth.
That's how it should be: good food should make you happy, not just full. That's why it's always worth getting involved with authentic Japanese cuisine.
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