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June 24, 2024

The evolution of sushi as a mainstream snack

Jade Crasto
Japan or the Land of the Rising Sun, has graced the world with its exquisite cuisine. Dishes like tamagoyaki, okonomiyaki, shabu-shabu, onigiri, udon, ramen and much more. But there is one certain food that really stands out from the entire lot and that is Sushi. Fluffy steamed sticky rice, wrapped in seaweed with fish, vegetables and dipped in soy sauce with wasabi and ginger. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. Sushi, which has a worldwide fan base is loved by many and disliked by a few simply because they feel put off by the idea of eating raw fish.  But one must understand that “sushi” does not equate to “raw fish.” It actually refers to a rice meal that has been served with a variety of toppings and contents, including raw fish. So for those who have not yet formed a love for one of the most loved foods, let us help you change your mind!  
Sushi’s Origins 
Photo Courtesy: National Diet Library
Folklore and many stories surround the origins of sushi. According to an old wives’ tale from Japan, an elderly woman started storing her rice pots in osprey nests out of concern that robbers would take them. She eventually gathered her pots and discovered the rice had started to ferment. She also found that the rice had been mixed with leftover fish from the osprey’s meal. The combination was excellent and also worked as a fish preserver thanks to the rice. Although this sounds like a very realistic tale, the true origins of sushi are actually quite mysterious. A Chinese lexicon from the fourth century describes cooking rice with salted fish and allowing it to ferment. It’s possible that this was the first time the idea of sushi was printed. The practice of preserving fish with fermented rice dates back several centuries to Southeast Asia. Now how does this fermented rice help? Well, lactic acid bacilli are formed when the fermentation of rice progresses. The reaction that the acid and salt produce limit the growth of microorganisms in fish. The sushi kitchen, is known as a tsuke-ba, or “pickling station,” because of this pickling procedure.  
Photo Courtesy: National Diet Library
The original sushi, known as narezushi, has been produced in South East Asia for centuries and is still produced there today in some regions. In Japan, narezushi first appeared in the eighth century and is still eaten today in the shape of foods like carp sushi. Each Japanese region created its own variation of narezushi, which was largely used for food preservation. Sushi was a common meal during feast days and festivals back then, and it played a significant role in the festivities. 
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
The practice of sprinkling sake or rice vinegar on sushi dates back a long time, but in the Edo era, people started producing vinegar from sake lees due to the time-consuming nature of manufacturing narezushi. This famous dish, which included rice, extended the practice of sprinkling vinegar on rice to form nigirizushi. 
Photo Courtesy: National Diet Library
Nigirizushi is credited to Yohei Hanaya (1799–1858); even Mizkan, the largest vinegar producer in Japan, refers to him as the “founder” of sushi. Hanaya started his own restaurant called “Yohei’s Sushi,” which specialized in hand-pressed sushi, after selling his sushi at street stalls. 
Sushi in India  
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
Sushi has grown and evolved over the years and has slowly come to be loved by all. And of course, this Japanese fast food has made its way to the Indian palate. Today, many cafes and restaurants all over the country have a separate sushi section included in their menus for all the narezushi lovers. Today, people in India, mainly the youth, have started exploring and experimenting with Japanese food and are growing a fondness towards the cuisine. You can say that we owe it all to sushi for bridging the gap between Japan and the Indian palate.   
Harry Hakuei Kosato; Photo Courtesy: Sushi and More
To further understand sushi’s growing popularity in India, LuxeBook spoke to Harry Hakuei Kosato the Founder of Sushi & More and Brand Ambassador of Kikkoman Soy sauce.  
A confirmed Indophile, Harry Hakuei Kosato, is the country’s foremost sushi curator. He calls Mumbai his new home, loving his experiences in the maximum city as he divides time between Singapore and Mumbai. Harry started out as one of the first importers of fine Japanese ingredients in the country back in 2007, supporting brands including Four Seasons Mumbai in launching its signature restaurant San: Qi with the freshest ingredients. His decade-long stay in Tokyo brings in many memorable visits on Saturday mornings to the iconic Tsukiji Fish Market, having the best sushi while bonding with sushi masters and ingredient suppliers in the world’s most amazing seafood market.  
Photo Courtesy: Sushi and More
 How did you start your journey with sushi in India?  
Like all journeys, it started with a single step. I think people don’t realize how deeply I love India, my home for the last 15 years, and I wanted to be part of this vibrant amazing growing nation and contribute in my own small way by providing authentic quality affordable sushi. So first step was my love of India, followed by my own wish to eat great sushi – a passion and love for sushi – that I wanted to share with a wider audience, not only me. So the first step was coming to India, falling in love with this great country and people, and venturing boldly to open a Japanese-owned business, now India’s largest multi-city sushi business. Now Japanese food is big and will only get bigger. As Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador recently appointed by the Japanese government, my duty is to ensure that the steps for further awareness and appreciation of Japanese food dishes and sushi, grow step by step every single day.  
What made you want to start bringing Japanese ingredients into India?  
I have this tendency to do things other people haven’t done, and since I wanted these ingredients myself which weren’t readily available, I did so!  
Photo Courtesy: Pexels
How did people first react when sushi was first introduced in Indian restaurants? 
 “Ugh, how can you eat raw fish, you must be crazy, we are Indians…!” But those Indians didn’t realize maybe that they are also human beings and that many human beings around the world love eating raw fish! Sushi is a must-have dish now for many many Indians. Those who shy away from sushi, I think are the minority. We do Jain sushi, veg sushi, and non-veg sushi, and people just love sushi in India, now. I think it’s truly amazing and such an honor to be in India now and to see Indians reacting positively to sushi!  
How has the sushi ‘scene’ changed over the years? Is it very different from when it first started out? 
Sushi is “in”. Some Indian restaurants are putting it on their menu in addition to Chinese and pan-Asian dishes!  
Photo Courtesy: Sushi and More
Do you think all Indian- Japanese restaurants serve authentic sushi?  
No, I don’t think so. But do all Indian restaurants around the world serve “authentic”? So thereby lies the answer!  
Do you reckon that Indian sushi consumers’ knowledge of sushi is only limited to a California Roll or a Tempura? 
 Indians are smart innovative and resourceful. Many travels overseas now and experience so many things and expect to eat what they experienced also at home in India. 15 years ago many could not use chopsticks or put too much wasabi with their Kikkoman soy sauce. Now 8 year-olds use chopsticks and ask for a Veg California roll, mum, with extra soy sauce please thank you very much. Many now know what omakase means and others understand the difference between maki sushi and nigiri versus oshi sushi and chirashi sushi. Knowledge also grows and so it will in India. More will demand more options and we restaurateurs must keep up with the latest trends and quality ingredients to continue to make Indian consumers happy.  
Photo Courtesy: Sushi and More
What is your opinion on Indianized Sushi?  
Good question. I’d say, first, what is your opinion of Indian Chinese? Indians love Indian Chinese. And I think also Indians love Indianized Chinese. So give people what they love! In Japan, we have “wafuu pasta” which literally means Japanized pasta – which the Japanese love and many Italian friends love those dishes, too. So, as long as people love them, why not? Of course, we at Sushi and More, shy away from saying “Tandoori Sushi”, but again if someone is enterprising, and someone would love to buy that, why not?  
Will the sushi scene in India continue to grow or will it slowly fade away?  
It is just the beginning. The United States has over 20,000 outlets serving sushi. India has very few a hundred now maybe, this will grow. It’s India’s century, and sushi in India is just beginning. Here we come, India, enjoy the big wave of sushi that will become maybe one day the national food of India?! 
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Jade Crasto

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