"Washoku" (和食) refers to traditional Japanese food that has been loved in Japan for a long time. This washoku has been registered as an intangible cultural heritage by UNESCO.
Sushi is one of the most famous examples of washoku in both Japan and around the world.
The word "sushi" comes from the word "sumeshi" (酢飯, lit. "vinegar rice") and uses the kanji characters "寿" (Su) and "司" (shi) which are considered lucky.
The word "sushi" is sometimes written as "鮨" or "鮓" as well.
Sushi is believed to have originated in the 4th century B.C., when a Southeast Asian tribe used fermented rice to preserve fish for long periods of time.
The technique was introduced to Japan in the Nara period (710-784), and fish were topped with vinegared rice and allowed to sit overnight before being eaten as a preserved food.
Later, during the Edo period, "nigiri sushi" with fresh fish and shellfish became popular in Edo (today's Tokyo), and it was called "Edomae sushi" because it used fish and shellfish from Edo-mae (Tokyo Bay).
This Edomae sushi is the origin of nigiri sushi, which is popular all over the world today.
In those days, sushi was sold at food carts, and the rice used to be the size of onigiri, unlike today's sushi, so that ordinary people could fill their stomachs.
Customers wiped their hands on the curtain that hung on the cart after finishing their sushi, and the dirtiness of the curtain is said to have been a measurement of how popular a particular stall was.
Today, most sushi bars have a counter. This is to replicate the same environment of the food carts back in the day.
Edomae sushi was first made by sushi chefs in Tokyo who returned to their hometowns after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and spread throughout Japan as nigiri sushi.
Various types of sushi were then created using local and seasonal ingredients from all over Japan.
The most famous sushi destinations in Japan are those where fresh fish is readily available, such as Tsukiji in Tokyo, Ginza, Toyama Prefecture, Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture, and Fukuoka.
There are many different types of sushi, including Temaki sushi, Inari Sushi, Chirashizushi, Gomokuzushi and Bara Sushi, Oshizushi, Chakinzushi, Temari Sushi, Sosaku Sushi, Narezushi, Date Maki Sushi, Futomaki Matsuri Sushi, Shima Sushi, Sasazushi, Funazushi, Kakinoha Sushi, Mehari Sushi, Saba Sushi, Matsumae Sushi, Osaka Sushi, Battera, Kizushi, Nukuzushi, Domese, Inakazushi, Sakezushi, and more!
Many people may associate sushi restaurants with high-class, long-established establishments, but in recent years, relatively inexpensive kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) has become popular.
There are various types of restaurants, ranging from those where you can enjoy eating with friends and family, to those where you can eat authentic, fresh, high-quality sushi where you can get a lot of bang for your buck.
Popular kaitenzushi chain restaurants include Kappasushi, Hamazushi, Sushiro, Kura Sushi, and Sushi Zanmai.
When eating sushi, there are certain manners that are unique to sushi.
Japanese food is generally eaten with chopsticks, but nigirizushi can be eaten by hand or with chopsticks, and it is sometimes said that eating with your hands is more common.
There are two ways to order sushi: You can tell the sushi chef your preferences and he will prepare something based on that, or there's the "omakase" course where you let the chef choose what he thinks you will like.
If you go with the first option, the price may not be listed on the menu as often it will be sold at current market price and fluctuating daily.
There is also a long list of sushi-specific terminology to know as well:
Shari (シャリ): Sushi rice
Gari (ガリ): Ginger
Agari (アガリ): Tea
Murasaki (ムラサキ): Soy Sauce
Namida (ナミダ): Wasabi
Gyoku (ギョク): Egg
and many more! If you're learning Japanese these will make you look like you know your stuff!
The most popular items on the menu at sushi restaurants are chutoro, salmon, negitoro, salmon roe, eel, ootoro, conger eel, sweet shrimp, tuna, and squid.
In recent years, Japanese sushi culture has been introduced to other countries, and a new type of sushi roll that uses chicken tenders, canned tuna, and avocado for toppings in foreign countries where people are less comfortable with raw fish has been born (California rolls).