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In Appreciation of International Sushi Day

17/06/2016 16:50

Saturday 18 June, is International Sushi Day as created by Facebook in 2009, but for many people around the world, every day is sushi day.

Sushi has rapidly become one of the most popular lunch and dinner choices around, especially in the UK where it has become a perfect choice for the health conscious and those who simply don't fancy a dull old sandwich. This is, in some ways, fairly surprising as raw fish and cold rice isn't traditionally the sort of thing that you'd expect British people to eat - The Guardian newspaper reported in 2006 that as late as the 1960s, a guide book to Japan described the habit of eating raw fish as "stomach-turning"!

But take over it has and now there's a sushi store on pretty much every main street in London and is spreading out across the UK. The health benefits of the Japanese diet are well documented. Japan's obesity statistics are some of the lowest in the world and this is, in part, due to their consumption of low calorie, low saturated fat, nutrient-rich sushi and miso over and above burgers and fries and a fizzy drink.

Moreover, in terms of nutrients, sushi is hard to beat when it comes to lunch options with salmon, in particular, packed with omega-3 fats, protein, vitamin D and iodine.

The sushi with which we're most familiar today - sashimi, or slices of raw fish, served with rice and often with nori seaweed - originated in the 1820s in the street market of Edo, the city which is now Tokyo.

The story goes that the customers who wanted to grab lunch at the stall of Yohei Hanaya were too busy to wait for him to press the vinegared rice into a box in the traditional style and so he decided to shape the rice with his hands and place a slice of raw fish on top.

The working people of Edo loved the new convenient style of "nigiri" sushi and a craze was born. (Interestingly, the word 'itsu' means 'when', because customers up and down the UK can easily takeaway our food whenever they want it!) Other stall-holders started to emulate Hanaya's style - soon most of the city was eating this new type of lunch.

It took a while for sushi to spread far from Japan; almost a century and a half, in fact. Finally, in the early 1970s, a Japanese chef in Los Angeles decided to see what happened if you put a bit of cooked crab, a bit of avocado and some mayo inside a roll of sushi rice and wrapped it in seaweed. The California roll was born and the USA was ready for its own sushi revolution.

It wasn't until the 90s that British chefs began to try sushi in America and ponder whether it would work for tender Brit palates, unused to the taste and texture of raw fish. Finally, at the end of the last century, with a bit of help from the worlds of fashion and showbiz, sushi went mainstream and now there's somewhere to grab and go (or stay) all across London and in an increasing number of towns and cities across the UK.

What was originally - at least in recognisable form - a street food for working class people in 1820s Edo is now a multi-billion pound, global industry. But at the heart of every successful business selling sushi is always good nutrition and, in most cases, sustainability.

So enjoy International Sushi Day, and maybe at some point raise a glass or a salute to Yohei and his impatient customers in 19th century Japan, without whom your healthy lunch options might be limited.

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