The traditional form of sushi is fermented fish and rice, preserved with salt in a process that has been traced to Southeast Asia. The term sushi comes from an archaic grammatical form no longer used in other contexts, and means, literally, “it’s sour.” Beginning in the Muromachi Period (AD 1336–1573) of Japan, vinegar was added to the mixture for better taste and preservation. The vinegar accentuated the rice’s sourness, and was known to increase its life span, allowing the fermentation process to be shortened and eventually abandoned. By the mid 18th century, the seafood-and-rice form of sushi had reached what is now known as Tokyo. The contemporary version, internationally known as “sushi,” was invented by Hanaya Yohei (1799–1858) at the end of Edo period. The sushi invented by Hanaya was an early form of fast food that was not fermented (therefore prepared quickly) and could be eaten with one’s hands roadside or in a theatre. Originally, this sushi was known as Edomae zushi, because it used freshly caught fish in the Edo-mae (Edo Bay, or Tokyo Bay). Though the fish used in modern sushi no longer usually comes from Tokyo Bay, it is still formally known as Edomae nigirizushi.

Sushi has to be one of those foods that causes one to contemplate who decided, all those years ago, that it was food.

You know, like artichokes. Here we have fibrous, thorny cacti, but hey they’re green and we’re really hungry, OUCH. But hey, maybe if we clip off the thorns, steam the daylights out of them, peel away 35% of their mass, and then scrape the pulp off with our teeth. . .what’s that? lemon butter? Sure, can’t see a reason why not. . .

So, some Japanese people are sitting around noonish ca. 1335, hungry, but nobody really feels like cooking . . . but hey, there’s some rice leftover in that urn over there (phew! Did you smell that? Quick! Put the lid back on!) and [insert Japanese-sounding name here] caught some tuna this morning, and there’s that lump of seaweed that washed up on the beach that no-one’s raked up yet — why don’t we roll it all together using this bamboo mat we’re sitting on? And just in case that rice has REALLY crossed over to the dark side, we can pair it with some of that radish [other Japanese name] found in the woods last week that’s so hot nobody knows what to do with it, to take care of any lurking microorganisms.

He likes it! Hey Mikey!

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