Sushi originates from a south-east Asian dish called ‘narezushi’ (馴れ寿司, 熟寿司 – "salted fish") in the second century, when the Chinese were expanding down the Yangtze River and adopting cuisines of the non-Han people. ‘Narezushi’ is a form of fish preservation; raw fish is salted and stored within fermented rice, then the rice is discarded when the fish is to be eaten. 


Anyone that has made ‘sumeshi’ (sushi rice) before will know that vinegar is involved in the creation process. However, it wasn’t until the Muromachi period (1336–1573) that vinegar was added in the making of ‘sumeshi’. For the early form of sushi, using vinegar significantly increased the longevity of the dish, eventually rendering the fermentation process useless. 


Vinegar was also the reason that sushi got its name; 酸い, ‘sui’, meaning “to be sour” depicts how the original was sour and savoury in taste. Indeed, today sushi still tastes vaguely sour because of the vinegar rice used.


Furthermore, in Osaka, the early sushi would be further developed to become ‘oshi-zushi’, also known as ‘hako-zushi’ made by pressing the fish and rice into more oblong shapes using bamboo moulds.


Finally, in the Edo Period (1603–1868) sushi started being served with raw fish. This style of ‘nigirizushi’ was only popularised in Japan during the 1830s. A common origin story of sushi is that chef Hanaya Yohei, invented the technique in 1824. However, his sushi was very different from the sushi we know today, in that the rice balls were much larger and the fish was marinated in vinegar in order to preserve it. Since the invention of fridges, dishes like fatty tuna have become popular, but weren’t favoured in Yohei’s time due to the fact that the tuna would decompose rapidly.


Initially, sushi was sold from small stands called ‘yatai’ (やたい; 屋台) but these were soon outlawed because of the questionable quality of the fish. Eventually, sushi restaurants—‘ryoutei’ (りょうてい; 料亭)—were popularised, leading to the various kind of sushi restaurant we know today. In the west, sushi restaurants like Yo! Sushi are best known for their conveyor belt sushi called ‘kaiten-zushi’ (かいてんずし; 回転寿司), popular for the quirkiness of design and novelty of choosing your meal off a moving belt.