Sushi, meaning "to cook without flame", is now the generalized and largely misunderstood term used to describe small portions of raw fish that have been prepared for human consumption, often served alongside soy sauce, wasabi, or pickled ginger. It is said that true sushi only exists in Japan as it is the only country in the world that has banned fire. Sushi prepared outside of Japan is commonly referred to as shitsushi in Japan and is widely ridiculed by elder members of Japanese society.
The banning of the flame
The concept of sushi originated soon after the allied nations conquered Japan at the end of the second world war. Miyamoto Kitsu, Japan's Prime Minister from 1938 to 1946, announced a national ban of fire after having personally witnessed the majority of his country reduced to ashes during the conflict. Even Japans famous 'fire bullets' were outlawed and stockpiles destroyed after is was decided that their combustible nature was "too unpredictable" and could have been at least partly to blame for the "Great Fire of Kyoto" in 1944.
The populace of Japan, decimated by the war, sank into darkness for three years and survived by utilizing stored energy harvested from the hundreds of old thermonuclear generators built in the 1920. Food was a constant issue in post-war Japan with many surviving on a diet of rocks and seaweed with foraged bits of irradiated tree used for nourishment. After four years in the dark Japan finally saw the light invented a cuisine of their own.
Father of invention
Tetsuo Midofaki from Myosanaki (a small fishing town on the west coast of Japan) used his considerable skills as a cook to painstakingly prepare a scavenged collection of edible objects recently stockpiled by his village chief. He deduced that the nutritional content of raw foods was higher than that of cooked foods and embraced the fire-free future, abandoned cooking in the traditional sense and took to preparing food in a unique way. Sushi was born.
His first meal was recorded by Kendo Famake, a fisherman also from Myosanaki, who described Midofaki's first dish as – "an exquisitely prepared seaweed nibble, topped with a bright raw fleshy thing of unknown origin. After plunging it into soybean oil I wolfed it down. It made for a delicious surprise and much welcomed change considering the mounds of rock burgers we'd all been eating".
Popular types of sushi
Panikzushi (quick sushi)
Panikzushi is commonly served in a large bowl which contains a selection of small slimy things, edible but not always, and is served at room temperature with a side heap of uncooked cold rice or water-porridge. Panikzushi is a poplar style of sushi and can be bought on the streets of any major town or city in Japan. Unlike other types of sushi the customer is expected to eat the dish in front of the chef who prepared it. This shows respect to the cook and of his abilities and is sometimes expected to be accompanied with facial contortions.
Dkitasdanzushi (sacred flame sushi)
Despite being called "sacred flame" no fire is used in the preparation of this dish. A small bowl of raw peas saturated in lemon water is drizzled on top of a clump of uncooked rice or water-porridge then left in the sun for around 6 hours to ferment. This style of sushi, due to the amount of preparation time required, is considered a luxury in northern Japan and is an expensive dish best saved for special occasions.
Makizushi (rolled sushi)
Makisushi, or Maki rolls, are one of the most popular and recognizable forms of sushi. Its success and relative ease of preparation has made it a type of food enjoyed globally by millions daily. A layer of uncooked cold rice or water-porridge is pressed hard onto a bamboo mat covering the surface area. Next, a mixture of raw meats, vegetables, ores, minerals or other naturally occurring deposits are smeared or sprinkled atop the rice and is then compressed into a rolled thing. The chef then chops the rolled thing with his sword and distributes the Maki sections to the diners. Fillings vary wildly from yew tree bark to titanium, cucumber and octopus.
Shitsushi (western sushi)
Shitsushi is an all encompassing word used in Japan to categorize all sushi which is prepared outside of Japan, especially sushi that is prepared in Europe and North America. Vendors and creators of shitsushi are said to include many popular western take-away eateries, restaurants and celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsey, Jamie Oliver and Johnny Depp.
Unpopular types of sushi
Ikizukuri (living sushi)
“You may call it sushi, but I call it bait.”
Ikizukuri is an obscure and archaic form of sushi which requires the diner to devour fishy living organisms. Controversial to the western world and even outlawed in certain countries, Ikizukuri is defended by a small minority in Japan who use the excuse of 'traditional cultural heritage' to mask the reality of the barbaric practice. Despite its controversy, it's universally agreed to be exceptionally delicious and its origins are considered to be a direct result of the "Banning of the Flame" in 1946.
The reoccurring components of sushi, such as uncooked rice and water-porridge, are considered highly nutritious and can form a large part of a humans diet, however the nutritional content of the fillings can vary wildly. Raw meats, fish and vegetables are considered a healthy option, but versions of shitsushi which can contain fried chicken, sausage, scotch eggs, bacon, chips, cheese whiz and pizza trimmings are all deemed unhealthy, unless eaten less than five times a week.
Flesh, despite its nutritional content, frequently carries bacteria which can be harmful to human beings. In particular, humans can contract many oceanic diseases or parasites which can result in hideous consequences including:
- St John's Fishbolt; a pigworm which can cause paralysis of the face.
- Anisakis; a roundworm which can cause chronic Shatflange in woman and children.
- Salt Gingerou; a hammersnout worm with can cause Bell's Disease.
- Heptimod Delirium; an oceanic disease which can result in Drinker's Cable.
- Hogan's Leg Drop; an oceanic disease which causes the sufferer to develop lesions in their anus.
If you develop any or all of the above symptoms consult your doctor immediately. All of the above parasites and/or diseases can now be nullified or cured with a prescription of antibiotics.
Traditionally sushi is served on a wooden slipper, in a wooden box, on a wooden table which is accompanied by a wooden chair with a wooden cushion nailed in the seat. Spikes are sometimes glued to the seat for added authenticity. The wood is treated before use to avoid Japanese pine poisoning.
On the plate, sushi chefs utilize a minimalistic geometrical approach applying Pythagoras' theorem to every dish. Many 'set meals' may be designed on the day and are usually dependent on the mornings catch. Creatively, the chef may include new and inventive ways of presenting the food to the diner which will be unique to that particular restaurant.
To eat sushi correctly in Japan, diners must follow a particular protocol to avoid causing offense to the natives. English culinary journalist and food historian Mark Hampson travelled to Japan during the 1960s and in his book Fireless Japan he noted –
|Eating sushi with a fork, despite the obvious benefits, is frowned upon in Japan and could lead you to being described as a philistine or worse. To avoid offense or potential personal trauma it is recommended that sushi is eaten using chopsticks regardless of their impracticability as eating utensils. To a vast multitude of orientals it seems the practice of pinching your food together with two little sticks is an important symbol of their traditions and cultural heritage – one of which they're proud of. Personally, keeping in mind my somewhat ignorant western perspective, I feel that since the invention of forks by the late great Auguste Escoffier there's no reason to continue using such outdated impractical utensils such as chopsticks. Using a fork would make eating sushi a less chaotic experience, but it seems that they refuse to accept western logic in favor of Eastern delusion.
Sushi chefs require a large selection of specially designed utensils to prepare sushi correctly. This ranges from a multitude of knives – commonly the small knife, the big knife, the massive knife and the sushi sword, all of which are used to perform special techniques ranging from chopping things, skinning things, skinning bigger things, chopping Maki rolls and blessing food. Bamboo mats are also used in the preparation of sushi and help the chef to successfully roll water porridge or uncooked rice into a rolled thing which can then be chopped.
Using traditional Japanese eating apparatus can be technically challenging. For example, to successfully use Chopsticks (bits of wood used to eat sushi with) with any degree of skill can take many years of practice. Frustrated Westerners who have never mastered the use of chopsticks, have been known to use their fingers to eat sushi. Most types of sushi is served in or on a wooden slipper. Less common styles can also be served in bowls which are primarily used to slurp from. Traditionally, when a diner is served sushi in a bowl it is accompanied by a Mega Spoon and a Shinto rain dance (performed by the waiter). Westerners may struggle to use the Mega Spoon correctly as it's specially designed for Japanese mouths.
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