Sushi is defined as vinegared rice with a topping or filling. Contrary to popular belief, sushi does not mean raw fish. Sushi doesn't even have to contain fish. There are vegetarian varieties of sushi, sushi with cooked fish, sushi with fish marinated until it is effectively cooked, sushi with fish roe, sushi with egg, etc.
Sushi originated in Southeast asia as a method of preserving fish. Raw, cleaned fish would be pressed with layers of rice and salt. After months of fermenting, the layers would be preserved and ready to eat. Narezushi as it is known, has a distinct and strong flavor which does not resemble what we commonly refer to as sushi today.
In the 18th Century, Hanaya Yohei developed what we commonly refer to as sushi today. At the end of the Edo period in what is now known as Tokyo (then Edo), Yohei pressed fish on small pads of seasoned rice and served it as fast food for the masses.
types of sushi
For simplicity's sake I will only cover the most common forms of sushi here. There are myriad types of sushi, ranging from utilitarian to ornate.
- Nigri-sushi, or hand-formed sushi, is the most commonly known sushi. It consists of a small rectangular or oval shaped pad of pressed rice with a neta, or topping. It may or may not have a bit of wasabi between the rice and topping, and may or may not have a band of nori holding the topping to the rice.
- Maki-sushi, or rolled sushi, is a cylindrical rolled sushi formed by wrapping nori (seaweed) around rice and a filling. A bamboo mat is used to roll the seaweed and rice, making the sushi uniform in shape. Maki sushi may contain one filling, making it hosomaki (thin rolled sushi) or many fillings, making it futomaki (fat rolled sushi).
- Gunkan-maki, or battleship sushi, is a piece of rice with nori wrapped around it making a cup to hold semi-liquid ingredients or ingredients that do not lend themselves well to rolled or hand-pressed sushi.
- Temaki-sushi, or hand-rolled sushi, is a cylindrical sushi made with nori, rice, and fillings, rolled by hand. Similar in style to maki-sushi, but usually containing stronger flavored ingredients. Some people refer to maki-sushi as a Japanese burrito, while temaki-sushi would be a Japanese taco.