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Food and Living  
Chirashi-zushi A Food to Share A Food for the 21st Century
A Specialty of the Seto Inland Sea Region
The History of Sushi
A Food to Share

The History of Sushi

Sushi is said to have been introduced into Japan from China or perhaps Southeast Asia during the Nara period (710—784). The first sushi was fish salted whole and allowed to ferment in a packing of cooked rice. The rice was discarded when the fish was eaten. This method of preservation took several months, however, and eventually sake or rice malt was added to speed up the process. Finally, it was discovered that the rice used to pack the fish was also rather tasty and the two came to be eaten together in the form that is now most widely recognized as sushi.
As culinary skills matured in the Edo period, new varieties of sushi emerged such as pieces of fish mixed with vinegared rice; thinly sliced fish on top of rice; and sliced fish on top of rice wrapped in dried seaweed. Of the many new versions, chirashi-zushi quickly became popular throughout Japan. Unlike nigiri-zushi, which was served one block at a time at open-air stalls, chirashi-zushi could be served to many people at one sitting. It was easy to make, too. All you needed was rice, vinegar, and whatever other ingredients might be close at hand. It could be as simple or as rich as the number of people and available funds dictated. It was not long before chirashi-zushi had become a favorite family dish.
Funazushi, a preserved food prepared by fermenting fish with rice and salt, is said to supply hints to the origins of sushi in general. It was born as a means of keeping fish, an important source of protein, in ages before the refrigerator was known. With its strong fermented odor, this is a flavor that people either like or dislike, with little room in between. Funazushi is cut into thin slices before being eaten. (Photo courtesy of the Shiga Prefecture Public Relations Division)

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