There are roughly three kinds of sushi: nare-zushi, namanari-zushi and haya-zushi. Considering these will provide an overview of the history of sushi.

While sushi is considered to be one of the most representative foods of Japan today, it actually originated in China at the end of 2nd century A.D. It began as salted fish meat fermented in unpolished or polished rice. At that time, only the fish was eaten and the rice was discarded. This type of sushi is called nare-zushi in Japan. Its fermenting time could be as long as 1 to 3 years.

During the 15th centry, namanari-zushi was developed. It was not fermented as long as nare-zushi. After one month's fermentation, the fish was still more or less raw. However, as well as being preserved, its flavour was mellowed as a result of the fermentation. And for the first time, the rice was eaten along with the fish.

In the 16th centry, sake-zushi, bara-zushi and saba-zushi was developed. These are still namanari-zushi. Sake-zushi was made for those who wanted to view the cherry blossoms in spring. It used sweet rice wine and some pink colouring mixed into the rice. Bara-zushi was made for the Spring Festival. Both sake-zushi and bara-zushi resemble today's chirashi-zushi. Fish, shellfish and vegetables were layered with rice alternately. Saba-zushi is mackerel marinated in vinegar. Then, rolled with rice in a cloth by hand. This would much later lead to different types of sushi -- those rolled into maki in bamboo mats or hand formed (nigiri-zushi).

In the middle of 17th centry, su or rice vinegar was first used in sushi making in order to shorten the fermentation time and enrich the flavour of sushi. This is the beginning of the Haya-zushi or box sushi. This is also called Osaka-zushi, because it was developed in this period of time in Osaka city. "Hako" means box in Japanese. Hako-zushi is sliced and salted fish packed with vinegared rice in a wooden box with a stone weight placed on it. After one night's fermentation, it is sliced into rectangles and eaten that same day. Hako-zushi is still very popular in Japan today but is very well not known elsewhere. Which is very very sad for everyone elsewhere. Oh well.

In the early 19th century, in Edo, now called Tokyo, nigiri-zushi was developed. Nigiri-zushi was also the most important innovation in haya-zushi since the 17th century. It completely changed the traditional image of sushi. Nigiri-zushi is the popular hand-formed sushi seen in restuarants outside of Japan. It is simply a delicately sliced piece of the best quality and freshest fish, moulded atop lightly vinegared rice, with a dab of wasabi to hold it in place.

Before Nigiri-zushi was developed, norimaki-zushi appeared in the end of 18th centry. These are the maki or rolls (such as kappa-maki) which are common in restaurants. This method uses a bamboo mat to press the fish and rice together within a sheet of nori rather than a stone weight to press the ingredients together.

Here's a glossary that might be useful.

aji -- horse mackerel
akagai -- ark shell
ama-ebi -- raw shrimp
anago -- conger eel
aoyagi -- round clam
awabi -- abalone
ayu -- sweetfish
buri -- adult yellowtail
chutoro -- marbled (with fat) tuna belly
ebi -- boiled shrimp
hamachi -- young yellowtail
hamaguri -- clam
hamo -- pike conger; sea eel
hatahata -- sandfish
hikari-mono -- various kinds of "shiny" ("oily") fish, such as mackerel
himo -- the "fringe" around an ark shell
hirame -- flounder
hokkigai -- surf clam
hotategai -- scallop
ika -- squid
ikura -- salmon roe
inada -- very young yellowtail
kaibashira -- eye of scallop or shellfish valve muscles
kaiware -- daikon-radish sprouts
kajiki -- swordfish
kani -- crab
kanpachi -- very young yellowtail
karei -- flatfish
katsuo -- bonito
kazunoko -- herring roe
kohada -- gizzard shad
kuruma-ebi -- prawn
maguro -- tuna
makajiki -- blue marlin
masu -- trout
meji (maguro) -- young tuna
mekajiki -- swordfish
mirugai -- surf clam
negi-toro -- tuna belly with chopped scallions
ni-ika -- squid simmered in a shoyu-flavored stock
nori-tama -- sweetened egg wrapped in dried seaweed
Otoro -- fatty portion of tuna belly
saba -- mackerel
sake -- salmon
sawara -- Spanish mackerel
sayori -- (springtime) halfbeak
seigo -- young sea bass
shako -- mantis shrimp
shima-aji -- another kind of aji
shime-saba -- marinated mackerel
shiromi -- seasonal "white meat" fish
suzuki -- sea bass
tai -- sea bream
tairagai -- razor-shell clam
tako -- octopus
tamago -- sweet egg custard or an omelette wrapped in dried seaweed
torigai -- cockle
toro -- choice cut of tuna belly
tsubugai -- Japanese "tsubugai" shellfish
uni -- sea urchin roe

Maki-zushi (sushi rolls)
maki-mono -- vinegared rice and fish (or other ingredients) rolled in nori seaweed
tekka-maki -- tuna-filled maki-zushi
kappa-maki -- cucumber-filled maki-zushi
tekkappa-maki -- selection of both tuna and cucumber rolls
oshinko-maki -- -pickled-daikon (radish) rolls
kaiware-maki -- daikon-sprout roll
umejiso-maki -- Japanese ume plum (really more like an apricot, but the convention is to call it a plum)and shiso-leaf roll
negitoro-maki -- scallion-and-tuna roll
chutoro-maki (the "u" is long) -- marbled-tuna roll
otoro-maki (the first "o" is long) -- fatty-tuna roll
kanpyo-maki -- pickled-gourd rolls
futo-maki -- a big fat roll filled with rice, sweetened cooked egg, pickled gourd, and bits of vegetables
nori-maki -- same as kanpyo-maki; in Osaka, same as futo-maki
natto-maki -- sticky, strongly flavoured (and uh... aromatic) fermented-soybean rolls
ana-kyu-maki (the "u" in "kyu" is long)-- conger eel-and-cucumber rolls
temaki -- hand-rolled cones made from dried seaweed
maguro-temaki -- tuna temaki

Some Other sushi terms
nigiri(-zushi) -- pieces of raw fish over vinegared rice balls
Edomae-zushi -- same as nigiri-zushi; "Edo" style
chirashi(-zushi) -- assorted raw fish and vegetables scattered over vinegared rice
tekka-don -- pieces of raw tuna over rice
sashimi -- slivers of raw fish (without rice)
chakin-zushi -- vinegared rice wrapped in a thin egg crepe
inari-zushi -- vinegared rice and vegetables wrapped in a bag of deep-fried tofu
oshi-zushi -- Osaka-style sushi: squares of rice pressed in a mold topped with vinegared and/or cooked fish
battera(-zushi) -- oshi-zushi topped just with mackerel
-tataki -- pounded, almost raw fish
odori-ebi -- live ("dancing") shrimp Ack!
oshinko -- Japanese pickles
neta -- whatever is on top of sushi
wasabi -- Japanese horseradish
gari -- pickled ginger
shoyu -- soya sauce

There are a vast number of other modern maki (rolls). California Roll, even a Texas Roll. But I don't know anything about them. I am informed by Magenta that some places from Hong Kong to the U.S.A. also serve unagi-maki, a nori roll with grilled eel. But I have never encountered these either.

Sushi is fun and easy to make, and yet is still a fine art at the same time. I'm going to limit this recipe to maki (rolled), since the others are a bit more complicated and not as fun to eat IMO.

  1. Prepare sushi rice. One cup uncooked seems to be enough for five Maki rolls or so.
  2. Let the rice cool. This is very important. You may use a fan.
  3. Take a square of nori. Flatten it out, preferrably on a bamboo mat, piece of wax paper, or other rollable surface.
  4. Put a layer of rice on the lower half of it. (Figure out the thickness based on experience.)
  5. Put some filling (such as raw or smoked salmon or tuna, cooked eel or crab, or some vegetable) on the rice.
  6. Roll the nori until you have a nice tube. You may need to put some of the rice's starch on the uncovered part of the nori in order to make it stick. This is normal. As you roll it, be sure to get it as tight as you can (without tearing the nori, of course).
  7. Cut the resulting maki into pieces using a sharp, preferrably non-serrated, knife (it helps if it's slightly wet). Optionally, dip the ends of the pieces into a thin bed of toasted white sesame seeds (this is particularly nice with maki filled with salmon, carrot, or cucumber).
  8. Serve with soy sauce and wasabi.
  9. Enjoy.

Advanced technique:

After you get good at using a full square of nori, practice using only a half-square (i.e. 2:1-aspect rectangle) - the rice will be in a thinner layer, covering the entire sheet except for a little bit at top. You get a much more balanced taste (less seaweed, more stuff), and it's easier to cut and such and looks more professional.

Advanced technique #2: to make inverted rolls (like how california rolls are typically), after you spread the rice and put on the filling (and optionally the toasted sesame seeds), put a piece of saran wrap on top, flip the whole thing over, and roll the maki up with the saran wrap holding it together. Cut the roll normally and peel off the saran wrap.

Some typical fillings

A very common misconception among the inhabitants of western countries is that sushi equals raw fish, while the true defining element is in fact the sushi rice.
Raw fish (which by itself is called sashimi) is definitely the most popular ingredient, but there are also sushi dishes with cooked fish, shellfish, no fish and so on.
I made sushi three times recently using Magenta's instructions. I used rather boring fillings of cucumber and avocado with some gomasio thrown in, but it was nonetheless endlessly tasty. I'd like to share a few reflections on the preparation:

water is useful

Keep a bowl or cup of water nearby.

While putting the rice on the bed of nori, occasionally dip your hands in the water to mildly moisten them. This will keep the rice from sticking to your hands as you manipulate it. Be careful not to let water drip on the nori, as that may cause it to deform.

When you near finishing rolling your delicious sushi, wet your fingertip and run it along the edge of the nori, then finish rolling. This will make the seaweed stick to itself and help keep the maki together.

And when you cut the roll, dip your knife in the water. This will keep the rice from sticking to the knife, and make the whole action much easier.

thoughts on knives

Get a sharp one. Longish. Make sure it's clean. Don't use the knife from a Leatherman, like I did. Way too short. Hold the maki very gently as you make a swift motion with the knife along the handle-blade axis. Don't apply very much pressure with the knife at first, as you will squash the roll without cutting through the seaweed. Once you are through the first bit of nori, you can use more pressure.

making rice

You can use a pot. You'll have some burnt rice at the bottom. You can make Fan Nung if you like, or you can even just pick it up and munch on it.

I also used a steamer to make rice. It recommended more water than rice, but I just used equal amounts. Cooks for fifty minutes, and it's done. Very convenient and simple, if slow. No burnt rice, which can be good or bad depending on what all you want to prepare.

You need a unicode-enabled browser with japanese fonts installed to see the Japanese in this write-up.
Japanese is romanised as Hepburn, Chinese is romanised as pinyin. Kanji entry would be impossible without tongpoo's Unicode converter. Sadly, Mozilla 1.7 does not properly render Unicode and glyphs may display incorrectly.

The Japanese word transliterated into English as 'sushi' may be written in hiragana as すし, but there are a plethora of kanji that are or have been used. Here follows an incomplete list, but all are read as 'sushi すし' in Japanese.

寿司 shòusī is a pair of words chosed for their sound rather than their meaning ('longevity-manage'). There exists a list of less frequently used combinations of kanji which follow similar lines: 寿志, etc. Please see ateji for an explanation of this practice.

鮨 zhī is a Classical Chinese word meaning 'fish sauce'. The Ěr yǎ gives the following definition 《爾雅 • 釋器》: 「肉謂之羹、魚謂之鮨。」 ròu wèi zhī gēng, yú wèi zhī zhī. "(That made from) meat is called 羹, (that made from) fish is called 鮨".
鮨 yì is a modern word which is written identically and refers to any perch-like fish.

鮓 zhǎ is another Classical Chinese word, but it means 'preserved fish'. This kanji is more frequently seen in writings from the Edo period, but is not now in current use. The original Chinese refers to fish pickled with salt and rice: 「鮓滓也以鹽米釀之加葅、熟而食之也。」 zhǎ zǐ yě yǐ yán mǐ niàng zhī jiā jū, shú ér shí zhī yě. which translates as, "鮓滓 is fish pickled with salt and rice; when fully fermented, it may be used as food". This dish has disappeared from Chinese cuisine but is preserved in Japan as narezushi なれ寿司.
鮓 zhà is a modern Chinese word referring to a type of bony fish.

鮺 and 䱹* are merely different ways of writing the character 鮓. 鮺草灘 Zhǎcǎotān is the name of a place in Sichuan 四川 and is really the only reason that this variant character exists in modern dictionaries.

䰼* xín is minced fish cured in salt (also written 𩷒*).

As an aside, modern Chinese calls salted fish 鹹魚 xiányú, while sushi is written 壽司 shòusī, like the Japanese ateji.

* Internet Explorer 6 unfortunately does not have glyphs for some of the Chinese characters in this write-up, even with the densely populated Arial Unicode font installed. Please refer to code points 4C79 zhǎ, 4C3C xín and 29DD2 xín at to see what the question marks, dots and boxes refer to. There should be no problems with Mac OS X except for the final 32-bit extended unicode character (thanks generic-man).

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