Chirasizushi is a kind of sushi. It has unique characteristics that change according to each region. And there are many kinds of chirashizushi.
There are largely two kinds of chirashizushi, which are seen in almost every part of Japan - vinegared rice being topped with various kinds of main ingredients (topping type) and main ingredients being mixed with vinegared rice (mixed type), and a combination of both is seen in some regions, that is, the main ingredients such as sashimi and slices of fish being placed on top of vinegared rice mixed with other ingredients. Although different from region to region, suimono (clear soup) or other types of soup such as miso-soup are often served with this type of sushi.
In eastern Japan, the term 'chirashizushi' tends to mean a type of sushi comprising of vinegared rice topped with sashimi slices, i.e. ingredients for nigirizushi (sushi shaped by hand) which originated in the Edo period, while it generally refers in western Japan to a kind of sushi that is made of vinegared rice either mixed with or topped with finely chopped ingredients of various kinds excluding raw foods.
AHJIKAN Co. Ltd. of Hiroshima City, who sells food ingredients for sushi, explains the appearance of barazushi (scattered sushi), one of specialities in Okayama, went back to an order issued by Mitsumasa IKEDA, the lord of Okayama Domain in Bizen Province, who encouraged people to live a modest and frugal life and often prohibited extravagant lifestyles, that restricted their daily meals to the one rice bowl with one side dish and one soup. The company made an application with the Japan Anniversary Association to designate June 27, the day of Mitsumasa IKEDA's passing, as 'the Day of Chirashizushi', and the Association registered it accordingly on April 1, 2004.
The most representative chirashizushi of this type is the one served in Edo-style sushi restaurants where vinegared rice is topped with sushi ingredients making for a pleasant balance of colors, and additionally there is sakezushi of Kagoshima Prefecture, barazushi of Okayama Prefecture and so on.
Chirashizushi of the Kanto region
It originated in Edo and spread over Tokyo and other parts of eastern Japan.
This type of chirashizushi is decoratively topped with nigirizushi's main ingredients (seafood slices, etc) in the center and various other ingredients on cooked rice flavored with slightly sweetened vinegar. This type of chirashizushi is also called seafood bowl (kaisen-don) when served in a donburi bowl. It is often served in sushi restaurants and donburi-mono (single bowl meals) restaurants.
Ingredients used for toppings are typically seafood used for sushi such as tune, negitoro (fatty tuna and leek onion), scallop, salmon, squid, shrimp, octopus, salmon roe and sea-urchin egg, as well as a soy-flavored omelet and vinegared ginger pickles, and often served with such colorful vegetables as green perillas, cucumber slices and boiled snow peas together with wasabi.
When eating, the topping ingredients are dipped into soy sauce in a small plate called otesho. Sometimes it is eaten with soy sauce poured on the ingredients.
Barazushi of Okayama Prefecture
Originated in the castle town of the Okayama Domain in the Edo period. The ingredients varies according to seasons and areas, but typically vinegared rice is covered with kinshi-tamago egg (a thin omelet cut into narrow strips), and on it chopped ingredients are spread over, such as shiitake mushrooms and gourds (both simmered in soy broth), boiled carrots, lotus roots pickled in vinegar, green peas, chikuwa fish paste, kamaboko (steamed fish paste), dried shredded fish seasoning (denbu), seasoned koyadofu (freeze-dried tofu), boiled octopus, shrimp in shell, grilled conger eel, squid, mogai (sarubo ribbed ark), Japanese Spanish mackerel (sawara) and mamakari (Japanese shad), (but the ingredients such as mogai, shrimp and green peas are served whole). Uncooked foods are basically not used (except in some areas).
Sushi having the same name does exist in Kansai such as Osaka and the whole eastern Japan area (as explained later), but what characterizes Okayama barazushi is that its topping ingredients overwhelmingly exceeds those of the Osaka version in kind, size of each piece, volume and manner in which they are displayed.
It is also called Okayama-zushi, Bizen-zushi and Matsuri-zushi (which are the commercial names of barazushi box lunches).
Chirasizushi mixed with ingredients
Chirashizushi' of western Japan centered on the Kansai area
It is a kind of chirashizushi made by mixing finely chopped ingredients such as seafood and vegetables with rice. It is called gomokuchirasi or gomokuzushi in eastern Japan such as the Kanto area. This type of sushi is also called barazushi (Osaka and its vicinity) and barachirashi (mainly outside the Kanto area).
The basic ingredients that is mixed with vinegared rice include dried shiitake mushrooms and gourd (both simmered in a soy broth), boiled carrots and lotus roots pickled in vinegar, and it is possible to make a chirashizushi dish that reflects the season by adding ingredients such as cherry petals pickled in sweetened vinegar or boiled bamboo shoots, etc. There is a wide range of other additional ingredients, like chikuwa fish paste, kamaboko (steamed fish paste), dried shredded fish seasoning (denbu), cooked deep-fried tofu, seasoned koyadofu (freeze-dried tofu), boiled octopus and shrimps, grilled conger eel and cooked squid. Further, the color green is added through the addition of boiled snow peas and string green beans depending on the area and household. The rice mixed with all the ingredients is topped with kinshi-tamago egg strips, shredded nori, vinegared ginger pickles or red pickled ginger, salmon roe, etc.
A kind of sushi called 'dodomese' of Fukuoka of Bizen Province (Setouchi City) is said to be the very origin of this type of sushi including the above-mentioned Okayama barazushi which started in the castle town of Okayama.
The commercially available 'Chirashizushi-no-moto' (chirashizushi mix) is a basic packeage of ingredients that allows one to make barachirashi easily by mixing them with cooked rice and other ingredients such as snow peas, string green beans, kinshi-tamago egg strips and shredded nori. It is widely distributed as a retort-pouch food item containing seasoned ingredients such as cooked carrots, lotus roots, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and gourd.
With a little imagination concerning ingredients, one can make chirashizushi easily and conveniently at home, and because of this it has become a popular family dish prepared during ordinary times and on special occasions such as Hinamatsuri (Girl's Festival held on March 3) and various other festivals.
Incidentally, among the earlier-mentioned barazushi in Okayama, there is also a type with ingredients mixed in rice in some areas. Also, there is a type where additional ingredients are placed on top of the mixed barazushi.
Other type of barazushi
In addition to those mentioned above, there is a type of chirashizushi, such as tekonezushi of Mie Prefecture, in which rice is mixed with ingredients and topped with sashimi slices.
Further, there are some regions where fruits such as apples, tangerines and cherries are mixed in chirashizushi.