The Japanese may have lost World War II, but if their culture and cuisine have any say, they may be winning the battles for minds and stomachs.
Manga cartoons, which exploded onto the international scene with such masterpieces as “Akira , influence not only the animated film genres in Hollywood but have also started to fuse into big blockbusters.
“Kill Bill and “Sin City are perhaps the latest of such endeavors. Then there are all the horror remakes – “Grudge , “Ringu and so on.
But while art and film may be occupying young people’s minds, a roll of rice trapped in seaweed and lavished with a slice of raw salmon or tuna has people around the world salivating.
In a word, sushi.
Mention it to your friends and their eyes are likely to light up, a smile creeps onto their countenance in an otherwise stale day, and stories galore about which type of sushi is best will dominate the rest of the afternoon.
Sushi, as a fast food Japanese delicacy employing the staples of rice and fish, first appeared in Southeastern Asia nearly 1000 years ago. At first, the idea was to preserve fish using various salts and spices and allowing it to ferment in rice for several weeks.
Once this was achieved, the rice was ignored but the fish savored.
The first signs of the sushi which today appears in many restaurants around the world began to form some time in the 17th century when vinegar was added to the rice. The vinegar immediately served two purposes: it kept the sour, raw taste of the fish intact, and it also allowed the fermentation process within days and weeks rather than months.
Economic hardships and unstable weather patters which produced drought and low harvest yield eventually meant that the inhabitants of the Southeast Asian islands could no longer afford to throw away the rice.
By the 19th century, raw fish and rice were being served together in what is today Tokyo. The first form of sushi was called edomaezushi, a reference to the type of fish caught in Edo Bay in Tokyo.
Another type of sushi called nigirizushi eventually emerged in Osaka, Japan and made its way to the market stalls of Tokyo. The concept was simple – a small piece of fish laid upon a roll of vinegared rice, the first version of the sushi meal popular today.
And the rest, as they say, was culinary history. From its marketplace location in the harbors of Japanese cities, sushi migrated to the US with the first wave of immigrants and businessmen interacting with the outside world.
Many Japanese immigrants settled in the Western United States and Canada, particularly in California in the wake of the 1849 Gold Rush.
But sushi did not make it to American diners until the 1960s, when a few Japanese-owned restaurants began to feature a small number of dishes in their menus.
The food was found to be tasty to the palate, had various health benefits and was easy to eat.
The first “sushi bar finally opened in Palo Alto, California in 1978 and birthed the now very famous California Roll sushi.
Twenty years later, sushi would begin to delight diners in Cairo.
Next week, we will examine the health benefits of sushi and the numerous styles and dishes.