NIPPONIA No. 47 December 15, 2008


Special Featuresp_star.gifSushi! Sushi! Sushi!

Later, customers wanted their sushi even sooner, and asked for a more sour taste as well. Sushi makers met these demands by adding koji malted rice or sake to speed up the fermentation process, and to give extra sourness. This type of sushi had its heyday in the early 1600s. There exist today a number of spin-offs from this type, like hatahata-zushi (Akita Prefecture) and kabura-zushi (Ishikawa Prefecture), which are both made with malted rice, and sake-zushi (Kagoshima Prefecture), which is flavored with sake.

Later still, sushi makers began using vinegar. Pioneers of this method had to wait a few days for sufficient fermentation, but their successors sped up the process more and more, so that by around the year 1800 only one day or so was enough. Actually, the sushi hardly fermented at all during such a short time—the ingredients were basically fresh with the tangy taste of vinegar.

These advances gave sushi makers the opportunity to come up with many variations. Let me list a few.

  • Cleaned fish in its original shape with sushi rice stuffed inside (sugata-zushi).
  • Filleted fish wrapped around sushi rice (bo-zushi).
  • As the reverse of bo-zushi, sushi rice wrapped around other ingredients to make a roll (maki-zushi).
  • Thin pieces of deep-fried tofu skin stuffed with sushi rice (inari-zushi).
  • Sushi rice pressed in a box mold, with other ingredients as a topping. The mold is removed and the layers are cut into bite-sized pieces (hako-zushi).
  • A further evolution from hako-zushi: Ingredients similar to those used in hako-zushi are served as if they had been scooped out of the box and rearranged haphazardly (chirashi-zushi). This was the first type of sushi made without applying pressure to the sushi rice.

So what about nigiri-zushi, those famous clumps of rice with a topping? This type developed around 1830 in the great city of Edo (present-day Tokyo). It was the last invention in the sushi empire, the one that spread like lightning not long ago around the world.

There are a surprising number of other types of sushi as well, many important in the culinary cultures specific to Japan’s regions. Sushi is the king of Japanese cuisine, and certainly deserves the homage it receives.


Place a layer of sushi rice on a sheet of nori seaweed, line up other ingredients on the rice, then roll the nori to make maki-zushi.


Filleted mackerel (saba) is rolled with rice to make a stick-like sushi called saba no bo-zushi.


Hako-zushi (box sushi) is made by placing vinegared sushi rice in a box-like mold, covering the rice with a layer of different ingredients, then pressing down with the box cover. The photo shows the sushi just after it was removed from the mold. (Collaboration: Baiko)


Mushi-zushi is made by steaming chirashi-zushi (sprinkled sushi).