The Origins of Sushi – With Sakura Sushi Schaumburg All You Can Eat, Schaumburg, IL’s Best Japanese
Updated: Mar 26
Sushi is hugely popular around the world today, and is usually associated with modern fine dining. Yet sushi’s earliest, extremely humble origins might come as a surprise to sushi fans in Schaumburg, IL – as well the fact that sushi did not originate from Japan!
Today, sushi is nearly synonymous with fresh, raw fish today. However, the very first iteration of sushi was actually a salted, fermented and preserved fish. This prototypical sushi (now called narezushi) was made by salting raw fish and packing it inside fermented rice in barrels, which allowed the fish to undergo fermentation and prevented it from spoiling. The rice was discarded and only the fermented fish was eaten – and though described as smelling pretty terrible, this type of preserved fish could be stored for a year or longer without spoiling. Food historians believe this first type of sushi was invented sometime between the 5th-3rd centuries B.C.E. in Southeast Asia, predating refrigeration by over a millennia.
By the 2nd century AD, narezushi had spread into China and made it into a Chinese dictionary as the character sa (鮓), defined as “pickled fish with salt and rice.” By the 8th century AD, it became popular in Japan, and the dish began to evolve and change within the country over the next few centuries. The Japanese developed a way to ferment fish more quickly using vinegar, taking about a month to ferment instead of at least half a year. The dish continued to evolve with the development of ever quicker methods of fermentation, curing the fish in mere weeks, then days, then hours. The Japanese are the first to begin eating narezushi along with the rice it was packed in, because quicker fermentation time meant that the flavor of the rice did not change as drastically. Over time, they began introducing ways to season the rice with vinegar and sugar – which evolved into sushi rice!
The first modern sushi dish was invented by Hanaya Yohei in the 1800s in Edo, today’s Tokyo. Using freshly caught fish, Yohei served slices of fish (either marinated or lightly cooked) over vinegared rice balls. He sold them at the bustling Tokyo Bay markets as an early form of fast food, because these portable pieces of nigiri zushi could be eaten quickly and on-the-go with either chopsticks or fingers. Modern sushi, which today refers to any dish with vinegar-seasoned rice, spread across Japan and in its restaurants at an extraordinarily rapid rate.
Modern sushi was first introduced to the West around the early 1900s, but it did not become popular in the United States until about the 1960s. To help Americans get used to the idea of sushi, restaurants began experimenting with new taste combinations and sushi rolls, such as the now ubiquitous inside-out California Roll. Today, sushi is beloved worldwide, and continues to evolve as Western chefs add their fusion flair to a once quite traditional dish. Sushi bowls (like chirashi, Hawaiian poke, and Korean hwedupbap) and sushi burritos are commonplace. Interestingly, many Western sushi rolls and dishes are actually quite foreign in Japan, where sushi has largely remained more traditional and simple.
From a centuries-old fish preservation method to a modern foodie favorite, sushi has had a long journey - and that journey is nowhere near over! Chefs continue to experiment and innovate, and we continue to see (and eat!) new and delicious iterations of sushi all the time. Join us in enjoying the deliciousness that is sushi, here at Sakura Sushi Schaumburg All You Can Eat in Schaumburg, IL!
Haven’t tried sushi before, or just love sushi?
Try our daily All You Can Eat sushi buffet, and enjoy all the sushi you want – plus a delicious variety of appetizers and sides!
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