The culinary phenomenon that is sushi began life in Japan as far back as the 8th century, with the dish enjoyed in the West by the 1950s. But have these two versions inevitably taken different paths? Cultural factors and taste preferences have both played a role in shaping sushi as we know it in the West today. Here’s your chance to find out what’s remained the same and what has become very, very different.
Roll with it
Japan: Perhaps the biggest difference between Japanese and Americanised sushi lies in the types that are available. In Japan, the most popular forms are what we know as nigiri – which is raw fish on top of vinegared rice – and sashimi – raw fish without the rice.
West: Much like the Chinese or Mexican food sold in the West, many of your favourite types of sushi as you know them don’t even exist in Japan. Every type of inside out roll such as the ever popular California roll originated outside of Japan, supposedly hiding the seaweed under the rice so as not to put Westerners off of eating the unusual food. Avocado often replaces the raw fish for similar reasons.
The health factor
Japan: Sushi is good for you, right? Here’s where things get tricky. Traditional Japanese sushi is super low in both calories and fat because it’s usually simple, with only three of four ingredients. Most of the time, it’s just fish and rice.
West: Western sushi on the other hand is a totally different story. First of all, it tends to be much larger and secondly, it contains a lot more ingredients. Western sushi will often be made up of foods with a much higher fat content, such as tempura, cream cheese, mayonnaise and avocado. So be careful to assume that all sushi is good for you because, really, it depends on what’s inside!
Japan: It’s hardly surprising considering that Japan is an island surrounded by a huge body of water, but sushi in Japan is almost always made using fresh seafood. This is widely available at local markets and is delivered daily to restaurants.
West: In the West however, seafood isn’t as readily accessible and pre-packaged/supermarket style sushi is the norm for that lunch hour indulgence. Of course, you can find good quality seafood in the West too, although you’ll generally have to pay more for the luxury.
Japan: In Japan, an apprentice sushi chef will spend two years learning in acute detail how to cook and season the rice, with another three years then spent learning to prepare fish to perfection. It’s only after this that s/he will be allowed to work behind the sushi bar.
West: By contrast in the West, the ever-increasing popularity of sushi and the resulting high demand for chefs means that in a large number of cases, many wannabe chefs will only have a few months of training before working behind the sushi bar.
Points to remember
The wasabi dilemma: Dousing your sushi in wasabi or soy sauce is not such a good idea in Japan, where it’s often frowned upon. This is because it’s thought to ruin the subtle flavours and textures of your carefully prepared palette. However, in the West where perhaps the flavours are not so artfully created, it’s less of a big deal to add of a bit of wasabi punch.
Chopsticks: In Japan, diners will always use their hands to eat sushi – so don’t worry about struggling with chopsticks. What’s more, sushi should be eaten in one bite or, if you need two, it should be kept in your hand and not put back on the plate.
Miso soup: In the West, we may think slurping on our salty miso soup is a great way to wake up our appetites in preparation for the deliciousness we’re about to face – but that’s not what it’s there for! In Japan, miso soup is always, always eaten at the end of your meal in order to air digestion.