Sushi is a Japanese cuisine that comes with small, bite-sized portions consisting of raw fish or seafood topped on the special, vinegar-mixed moistened Japanese rice. Often served on wooden trays in authentic Japanese restaurants, sushi is now a worldwide phenomenon, a global food trend that spreads throughout all continents with its delicacy and rich flavors adding up to the combination of the most exotic, yet subtle Japanese culinary arts.
It is known that sushi comes in various kinds, consisting of numerous ingredients. However, when one is asked about a favorite sushi, it is most often that Nigiri sushi ( 握り寿司) would be mentioned and not the Maki ones. Nigiri sushi is a kind of sushi composed of raw fish or seafood topped over the vinegar, sugar, and salt-mixed dampened Japanese rice and sometimes with Wasabi dabs or Nori strips (seaweed strips) sprinkled on top.
Origin of Nigiri sushi
Nigiri sushi’s origin can be dated back to the early 1800s back in Japan, specifically in the Kanto region. It was first referred to as the ‘Edomae sushi’ instead of the term ‘Nigiri’ as ‘Edo’ meant Tokyo in those early years, while ‘Mae’ means ‘in front of’. The fact that the dish itself is called ‘Edomae sushi’ was because it is believed that the seafood that were used as ingredients were actually harvested from the areas close to the Tokyo bay. In those early years, there were no innovations or technology like refrigerators to keep raw fish, seafood, meat, or even vegetables cool. Therefore, the first generations of Nigiri sushi consisted of marinated fish, seafood, and meat – all preserved to remain fresh and edible. The main ingredients that helped in the preservation of raw fish, seafood, and meat were vinegar, salt, and sugar – which is still in use up until today. The Nigiri sushi of today, though, is completely different as it features raw fish and seafood – no longer in requirement of preservation methods.
During ceremonies, celebrations, and special gatherings, Nigiri sushi is often consumed along with Sake, a Japanese-style, traditional alcoholic beverage made out of fermented rice. However, the latter often applies with the authentic, fine quality Nigiri sushi served in authentic Japanese restaurants. The common Nigiri sushi can also be found in convenient stores, food stalls, and supermarkets as a form of fast food or convenient meals for to-go. And of course, the quality of the ingredients used to make Nigiri sushi will result in the variations in pricing. Most people believed sashimi and Nigiri sushi is similar, however – they’re not exactly twins. Sashimi sushi is often served with or without rice, but most times, they’re served without rice – only raw fish is served. Nigiri sushi though, is raw fish or seafood topped on Japanese, vinegar-mixed rice. As the word ‘Nigiri’ means to hold and grasp, the word has been used to refer to a Japanese cuisine where vinegar, sugar, and salt-mixed, moistened Japanese rice is formed and shaped into bite-sized, delicate pieces. The traditional technique of rice grasping must also be learned and practiced to form just the right shape and size of Nigiri sushi.
A Nigiri sushi can be broken down into parts.
- First, the rice – this part of the Nigiri sushi is called ‘Sushi Meshi’ which refers to cooked, Japanese rice mixed with sugar, salt, and vinegar.
- The second part of the sushi topping is referred to as ‘Sushi Neta’ – traditional toppings are often raw fish and seafood; however other meats like chicken breasts or grilled pork may also be applied as toppings in some places.
- Wasabi is another component that completes Nigiri sushi. A slight dab of Wasabi is often applied to Nigiri sushi in order to help bind the toppings to the Japanese rice, acting as glue that also kicks the exotic, spicy flavor into the sushi itself.