In Japanese folklore, an old woman decided to protect her pots of rice from thieves by hiding them in osprey nests. After some time, she found that not only had the rice begun to ferment, there were scraps of fish from the osprey’s meals that mingled with it. Upon tasting it, she discovered that not only was the mixture tasty, the fish was well-preserved. This shrewd old lady had unintentionally found a way to preserve the shelf life of fish, and thus the concept of sushi was born. While this tale is endearing, the true origins of sushi are more mysterious.
The first known iteration of fermented rice and fish combined is found in a fourth-century Chinese dictionary, although the practice has been found in ancient histories across several Southeast Asian countries. As rice ferments, lactic acid bacilli forms. This acid and the salt combine to help deter bacterial growth in fish. So not only is sushi an ancient and practical art, it is delicious. This guide explores the many variations of sushi as it has become a global delight.