Sushi is a symbol of Japan and is one of the most popular Japanese dishes around the world.
But what is sushi?
For starters, sushi consists of vinegared rice combined with different toppings, usually seafood, and comes in different forms such as Nigirizushi, Makizushi, Gunkanzushi, Oshizushi, Temakizushi, Chirashizushi and Inarizushi.
Sushi can be enjoyed at a wide range of establishments.
From high-end restaurants where one sushi can cost more than 1000 yen a piece, to cheap on-the-go kaitenzushi restaurants that serve sushi for 50 yen a piece on a conveyor belt.
Before we go into more details about this delicacy, let's take a quick glance at the history of sushi.
In ancient times, raw fish was prepared for nobility, and in order to preserve it, it was fermented with rice.
After the fermentation process, the rice was discarded and only the fish was eaten.
This traditional version of sushi can actually be found, and is still eaten in Shiga Prefecture, and is called Funazushi.
In the 15th Century, people started to eat the rice used in the fermentation of the fish before it would turn into a paste.
Two centuries later, the biggest shift in sushi history happened when rice was replaced by vinegar as the fermentation agent.
This way it wasn't necessary to wait several months for the process to end and the fish could be consumed sooner.
The second big shift in sushi history happened during the Edo Period.
At the time sushi was still expensive, and mostly made for special occasions, until an employee at a famous sushi shop in Edo - now Tokyo - decided to make cheap, delicious, and quickly-prepared sushi for everyone.
During the Edo Period, street-food stands known as yatai were the number one choice when it came to grabbing a quick lunch on the go.
Sushi were sold there and earned the nickname of Haya Sushi or "quick sushi" because of how fast they were made.
This marked the birth of nigirizushi.
At that time, sushi pieces were considerably bigger: almost three times the size of modern sushi.
However, things changed after World War II, when Japan suffered from a shortage of food.
A union of sushi chefs decided to create a service that would allow people to supply their own rice and pay a small fee for a chef to make a set of 10 sushi which were smaller than pre-war sushi.
This became the standard size for modern sushi.
Because of the scarcity of ingredients during the post-war years, sushi using vegetables, such as cucumbers, called kappa-zushi, were invented.
Finally, in 1950, the first conveyor belt sushi restaurant opened in Osaka.
The birth of kaitenzushi restaurants helped make sushi a more accessible and on the go dish like it use to be back in the Edo Period.
Although kaitenzushi continues to be popular today, gourmet restaurant options are still widely available.
How to eat sushi.
A piece of sushi consists of vinegared rice called Shari and a topping called Neta.
Some popular Neta include: tuna, salmon, shrimp, eel, scallops, sea urchin, and many more.
When you are facing a spread of sushi which features many different neta, there is no specific order in which you ought to eat the different sushi pieces.
However, some people recommend starting with a lighter Neta, for example seabream, and making your way to the stronger ones like Anago, which is already coated in a thick sauce, and ending the meal with the lightly sweetened egg.
But, really any order is fine!
Sushi can be eaten using either your hands or chopsticks.
First, dip it in the soy sauce.
The proper way to do so is to dip the neta rather than the rice.
For that, flip the sushi to the side and only dip a small portion of it, or otherwise the sauce would overpower the delicate taste of the fish.
When you are eating Gunkan, use the Ginger, called Gari in Japanese, to dip in the soy sauce and dribble it on top of the gunkan.
Pieces already marinated or seasoned do not need to be dipped in soy sauce.
Ginger is also eaten in between pieces to help cleanse your palate and appreciate the next piece better.
It's good manners to eat the sushi in one bite.
But do NOT bite half of the sushi or try to split it into multiple pieces then put it back on your plate, since this is considered bad manners.
Also it's important not to separate the fish from the rice.
Although many people do it, we do not recommend adding wasabi into your soy sauce.
In Japan wasabi is directly put inside appropriate pieces of sushi by the chef, in between the Shari and the Neta.
Although we recommend trying it with the wasabi, you can ask for Wasabi-nuki which means without wasabi.
Another reason to not add wasabi into your soy sauce is that some pieces of sushi are better enjoyed with seasonings other than wasabi, such as grated ginger.
If you are eating at a counter, the sushi chef will display the sushi one by one in front of you on a serving board called a geta.
The name geta actually comes from its resemblance to a wooden Japanese shoe of the same name.
Don't move the geta from its original position; instead take the sushi with your hand or chopsticks and eat it directly.
When eating at a kaiten-zushi restaurant, sushi is prepared and served on plates, not geta, that go around the restaurant on a conveyor belt and there are usually more than one piece per plate.
At places like this, you just grab the sushi you want from the belt, keep the plate on your table, and at the end of the meal the waiter will count your plates to determine the bill.
The price for each plate varies depending on its color, and a detailed board not far away will show the prices clearly.
Some kaitenzushi also allow you to order via an interactive, multi-language touch-screen, and receive your food via automatic delivery.
Finally, if you are dining at a high-end restaurant, it's good manners to avoid wearing strong fragrances, as it might interfere with the taste of the sushi for the people around you as well as yourself.
Now that you know a little bit more about how to eat sushi, let's talk about budget.
The cost of sushi can vary wildly depending on where you go.
Most restaurants will offer sets or sushi by the piece with prices ranging from 50 yen a piece at cheaper places to more than 1000 yen at high-end restaurants.
In some local restaurants, the price for each sushi is not set but is decided by the chef day to day depending on the quality of the fish being used.
If you have a limited budget, we recommend trying a kaitenzushi restaurant.
Although sushi is a dish with a long history, it has continued to evolve throughout the years, with new sushi inventions such as the California roll, which keep pushing the boundaries of sushi creativity further and further.
Who knows what type of sushi will be invented years from now?
In the meantime, we hope this video will allow you to appreciate and enjoy your own sushi experiences even more.
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