Nigiri sushi: slices of fish on pads of rice. Photo by K.C. Wong | IST.
And Japanese Phrases To Use At A Sushi Bar
Sushi began in a very different format—and elsewhere in Southeast Asia, in the areas now known as Laos, Myanmar and Thailand—as far back as the 4th century B.C.E. Cooked rice was packed with salted fish and fermented to preserve the fish. Lactic acid, produced from the fermenting rice, helped with the preservation of the fish; after two months the rice, which had deteriorated too much to eat, was discarded and the fish was consumed.
Over time, this technique spread to China, and around the 8th century C.E., to Japan, where it became more of a dish rather than a preservation technique. Its exact arrival in Japan is not known, but an old law document of referred awabi (abalone) and igai (mussel) in the nare-zushi style.
Over time, the dish went from being a longer-term fermentation to something that was prepared overnight to a dish that was served immediately.
Nigiri-zushi, the most popular form of sushi today, originated at the beginning of the 19th century in Tokyo (which was called Edo at the time). The city was dotted with small, mobile food stalls. While other forms of sushi existed, nigiri was developed by a sushi chef named Yohei Hanaya.
Nigiri was popular among the people of Edo for a century or so. It spread throughout Japan after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which displaced many of the skilled sushi chefs. Seeking work elsewhere in Japan, they took their skills with them. Since the 1960s, Japanese immigration to the United States have resulted in restaurants and sushi bars throughout the United States.
Nigiri sushi with two pieces of gunkan sushi (boat sushi) that hold caviar. Photo courtesy of CaviarRusse.com.
Source: Shinoda, Osamu, Sushi no hon (Book of Sushi), 1970.06.25/1993.03.15,
Here are some basic phrases to get a conversation going with your itamae-san, or sushi chef:
Arigato: Thank you.
Domo/Domo arigato: Thank you/thank you very much.
Gochiso-sama [deshita]: Traditional phrase closing a meal.
Itadakimasu: Traditional phrase opening a meal.
Kanpai: The Japanese equivalent of “cheers,” used when drinking.
Konbanwa: Good evening.
Konichiwa: A basic Japanese greeting, equating to “Hello, how are you?”
Oaiso or Okanjo: The check.
Oyasumi nasai: Good night.
Sabinuki: No wasabi.
Sumimasen: Excuse me.
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