Today, sushi is a popular subset of Japanese cuisine all over the world. It’s rare that one even has to explain to a friend what sushi is, and many of Americans have grown up eating sushi despite living in landlocked parts of the country away from fresh seafood! At Sushi Joa, we are understandably sushi-crazy. Read on for a brief detailing of the lengthy history of our favorite part of Japanese cuisine: sushi!
Despite feeling like a relatively new phenomenon in America, sushi has, in some iteration or another, been served across Japan for centuries. There are records of sushi being served and eaten as far back as the 700s! Earlier variations of sushi include rice that was steamed rather than boiled as well as fish that was preserved or fermented for months before serving. Initially, rice was used in the fish fermentation process, so it wasn’t actually eaten with the fish. When vinegar (specifically rice wine vinegar) came into play, sushi began to be fermented for less time and it became more common to eat rice with the fermented fish. Over time, those variations focused less on fermentation and more on fresh presentation, which became what we recognize as today’s sushi.
East to West
Between the influx of immigrants from Asia during the Gold Rush in the later part of the 1800s and a fascination with Japanese culture in the early 1900s, sushi has been in America for more than a century, at least. Immigrants coming to the West Coast in search of gold ended up working in makeshift restaurants and boarding houses as much as they ended up striking it rich. This brought an influx of Japanese cuisine influences, particularly in seafood rich places like San Francisco.
In addition to the effects of immigration during the Gold Rush, America went Japan-mad in the early 1900s. Politicians, dignitaries, missionaries, and immigrants led to an increased exchange of cultural items such as crafts, fashions, and foods. There are even recorded instances of sushi being served as “sandwiches” during high tea.
Despite the popularity of Japanese cuisine and culture in the early 1900s, that fascination was reserved primarily for the wealthy, who could afford the expense necessary to indulge this unique trend. It took a few more decades, until the 1960s, that Japanese restaurants began popping up across the country. Sushi houses and restaurants offering Japanese cuisine started primarily in Los Angeles and New York, both major cities with large Japanese neighborhoods.
From there, Japanese cuisine spread across the rest of the country as it gained notice and popularity. As technology improved, ideas became easier to transmit and travel became faster, allowing for an easier exchange of ideas. In the 1980s, the California Roll was created in, you guessed it, Los Angeles, swapping out avocado for toro (tuna), and the roll evolved from there.
Sushi, as you can see from its history, has evolved and keeps evolving with exchanges of culture and technology. Come visit Sushi Joa, our sushi house in Kirkland, to experience the joys of delicious Japanese cuisine that is sushi!