Sashimi (刺身)

Sashimi is a Japanese delicacy consisting of raw seafood that is sliced and eaten with seasonings such as soy sauce and vinegared miso (fermented soybean paste) along with condiments such as wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and ginger.

Sashimi is said to best exploit the flavor of fresh ingredients. It is a staple part of Japanese cuisine and is eaten both in Japan and around the world.

Summary

Common side dishes (known as 'tsuma' for sashimi) include vegetables such as daikon (Japanese radish), green shiso (Japanese basil) leaves and Glehnia littoralis, as well as seaweeds such as wakame and Meristotheca papulosa.

In addition to fish, the word sashimi is sometimes used to refer to any meat or plant food that is eaten raw, such as basashi (horsemeat sashimi), torisashi (chicken sashimi), rebasashi (liver sashimi), konnyakusashi (konjac (alimentary yam paste, devil's tongue) sashimi), and takenoko (bamboo shoot) and namayuba (raw tofu skin).

Prehistory

It is safe to say that humans have eaten raw meat and fish throughout their evolution, but the practice was either continued or abandoned by different groups depending on the environments in which they lived. Because Japan consists of several islands, fresh fish has always been readily available, and consequently the practice of eating raw seafood was continued.
This is referred to as 'namasu.'

Namasu is a dish consisting of fresh raw fish or meat that is thinly sliced and seasoned. The origin of the word 'namasu' is unknown, but there are theories that it was derived from 'namashishi' (literally, raw meat) or 'namasuki' (literally, raw sliced). It is generally understood as meaning 'raw vinegar,' but this is an incorrect theory that came about due to the changing use of vinegar solely as a seasoning, whereas in ancient times vinegar was not necessarily used as a seasoning. Sashimi developed from that traditional 'namasu' dishes. The ancient Chinese character 膾 for namasu appeared in documents before another Chinese character 鱠 for namasu, but the term was used to refer to a primitive, simple way of eating. Additionally, the Chinese disliked the sea, as their values at the time considered it to be outside of their realm; therefore, the practice of eating raw meat and vegetables was abandoned early on due to the spread of disease. It is for these reasons that the Japanese 'namasu' is considered to have arisen and developed independently.

The Evolution of Sashimi

An entry in "Suzukake-ki" (Journal of the Suzuka family) for the article of July 21, 1399, 'sashimi, carp, irizake (a mixture of sake and pickled plum used as a sauce), wasabi horse radish' is the first written reference to sashimi. Prior to the widespread use of soy sauce, seasonings used in namasu, such as vinegar with ginger, vinegar with mustard and irizake (made by boiling down dried bonito flakes, pickled plum, sake (rice wine), water and tamari (rich soy sauce)) were used. The reason the dish came to be called 'sashimi' (literally, pierced flesh) as opposed to 'kirimi' (sliced flesh) derives from the culinary practice of sticking the fish's tail to the slices and thereby make it possible to identify the fish being eaten. Another theory claims that the verb 'sasu' (literally, to stab) was to avoid the use of 'kiru' (literally, to cut), which is a taboo word. In either case, it appears that sashimi came to be recognized as a dish in which ingredients were thinly sliced and seasoned directly before being eaten, and "Shijoryu Hochogaki" (cookbook of the Shijo School, compiled in 1489) uses the word to refer to dishes ranging from the slices of jellyfish to the slices of salted green pheasant and salted copper pheasant that have had salt removed using hot water before being thinly sliced. In the Kansai region, from the Edo period, sashimi came to be known by other names including 'tsukurimi' and 'otsukuri,' which both consist of the verb 'tsukuru' (literally, to make), since this verb also has the meaning of 'to prepare food', which caused the expression '-tsukuri' to refer to the way of slicing fish. However, it appears that the term was generally limited to saltwater fish such as tai (a species of reddish-brown Pacific sea bream); moreover, it is recorded in "Morisada Manko"(Kinsei Fuzokushi), dating from the end of the Edo period, that such dishes prepared using freshwater fish were also referred to as 'sashimi' in the Kansai region.

Uchimi and Sashimi

Uchimi' is very similar dish to sashimi. It is sometimes confused with sashimi, but uchimi consisted of ingredients generally cut more thickly than sashimi and served not only with the fins but the skin and the backbone and meat around it as well; thus, there were numerous preparation methods and degrees of complexity. However, because this dish can only be made using tai and carp, the simpler sashimi became more widespread so that by the end of the Muromachi period, uchimi and sashimi had become almost the same thing. By the time of the Edo period, 'uchimi' ceased to be used as a food name.

The Early Modern Period to the Modern Times

The popularity of sashimi grew rapidly in the Edo area of the Edo period. It was originally the case that fresh fish was difficult to obtain in Kyoto (with the exception of freshwater fish such as carp), so it was only natural that food like sashimi, which required fresh seafood, would develop in Edo, where there was an abundant supply of fish known as 'Edomae' (the sea near Edo). At the end of the Edo period, only tai was used in Kyoto and Osaka regardless of the season, but it was criticized as being untidy in both slicing and arrangement ("Morisada Manko"). As distribution networks has been grown, the use of refrigerator has been widespread, and the freezing technology has been developed in modern times, fresh sashimi became available for people throughout Japan. It is now a typical Japanese delicacy that, along with sushi, has been exported to other countries so successfully that the word 'sashimi' is now understood around the world. It is also becoming increasingly common for fish markets and shops in English-speaking countries to use the term 'sashimi quality' in reference to seafood that can be eaten raw.

Types of Sashimi

There are multiple varieties of sashimi, and they differ in terms of preparation methods.

Sugata-zukuri is served with the tail and head attached. It is often served during celebrations.

Hira-zukuri (sashimi prepared by cutting in large rectangular slices)

Usu-zukuri (sashimi prepared by slicing fish thinly)

Hoso-zukuri (making fine slices)

Tataki (chopped fish into small pieces with a kitchen knife)

Segoshi-zukuri (small fine slices of boned fish)

Kawashimo-zukuri (to prepare sashimi with skin)

Arai (slices of fresh raw fish chilled in icy water)

Ike-zukuri (slices of fresh raw fish arranged with the head and tail to look lifelike)

Matsukawa-zukuri (For sea breams and related fish, making skin patterns more noticeable by treatment with hot water to obtain better taste)

Hana-zukuri (flower-shaped sashimi)

Konbujime (making salted fish sandwiched between seaweed to transfer the flavor of seaweed to the fish)

Nakaochi is served with the spine attached. It also refers to a dish in which the surrounding red flesh has been collected together.
It is also called 'Nakauchi.'

Kakimi-zukuri (preparation of raw oysters)

Similar Dishes

Sushi is a Japanese cuisine consisting of vinegared rice and slices of raw fish.

Ika Somen is raw squid that has been sliced to resemble thin noodles.

Ruibe is slices of frozen raw salmon.

Sashimi-Like Dishes Around the World

Many regions and tribes around the world have traditionally eaten raw fish similar to Japanese sashimi.

The Hezhen (Nanai)

The Hezhen (Nanai) people who live along or near the Amur River (Heilong Jiang, flowing through Russia and China) have a tradition of eating fine slices or thin slices of raw fish. They also have a frozen sashimi dish similar to ruibe. Traditionally, no seasonings were added, but recently seasonings such as soy sauce and vinegar have come into use.

The Hakka

The Hakka people living in Qingliu County and Ninghua County of Fujian Province in China have a tradition of eating grass carp sashimi. Seasonings include hot pepper, soy sauce and vinegar. Wasabi paste has recently come into use as well. Many grass carp harbor the Gnathostoma spinigerum nematode, so it is very dangerous to eat its flesh uncooked; however, it is said that only the grass carp that live in the mountain streams of these two counties are parasite-free and can be eaten safely.

Foshan City, Guangdong Province

The area comprising the Shunde and Nanhai districts of Foshan City in China's Guangdong Province is known for a dish called 'yu sang' (literally, raw fish), which consists of freshwater fish such as grass carp as well as saltwater fish topped with condiments such as spring onion, peanuts, garlic, hot pepper and sesame, dressed with soy sauce and vinegar. It is also known as 'chat choi yu sang' (literally, seven-color raw fish) due to the numerous colors used in its presentation. Problems regarding the Clonorchis sinensis liver fluke and Gnathostoma spinigerum nematode have made it necessary for the health authority to advise people against consuming this dish, but many locals continue to do so. Cantonese restaurants in Japan often prepare this dish using fish (such as tai) that are free of parasites. The recent popularity of seafood and nouvelle chinois cuisine in Hong Kong has seen an increase in the number of restaurants in China offering this dish prepared using saltwater fish; most of such restaurants use sauces in the style of salad dressings instead of traditional seasonings. In Guangzhou and Hong Kong, yu sang, slices of raw fish, are added to hot congee (yu sang juk), which causes the flesh to turn white.

Singapore and Malaysia

Chinese people in Singapore and Malaysia have the custom of eating raw fish (yu sang) during Chinese New Year, particularly on the seventh day. It is said to be a combination of a New Year soup called 'seung chat gang' containing seven ingredients and 'chat choi yu sang' from Shunde District and Nanhai District area in Guangdong Province, consisting of sashimi such as grass carp or salmon topped with finely chopped ginger, daikon and citrus fruit skin, peanuts or flakes made from deep-fried wheat flour and served with a sweet-and-sour seasoning. After being served at the table, diners proceed to mix the ingredients with their chopsticks while saying 'lou hei' or 'Fa' before eating, a style of eating known as 'lou yu sang' that is done in order to wish for prosperity in business. It is also an essential food for the New Year parties of companies and shops.

Philippines

A home cooking known as 'kinilaw' is made with raw fish in the Philippines. Raw saltwater fish such as marlin or Spanish mackerel is cut into slices, pickled in vinegar and marinated in salt, ginger, calamansi, onion, cucumber and coconut milk, and the like. The dish was originally made by fishermen for themselves; however, today it is eaten by all and is popular as an accompaniment to alcoholic beverages.

Hawaii

A sashimi dish called 'poke' is served in Hawaii. It is made using red-fleshed fish such as tuna or bonito, but octopus is also used due to the influence of the Japanese immigrants.

South America

The Pacific Coast nations of Peru and Chile are particularly well known for their dish called 'ceviche' which is commonly served. The preparation methods differ slightly between different regions, but slightly boiled or marinated ingredients are eaten with raw sea urchin or white-fleshed fish that has been flavored with condiments such as lime or salt and ginger and then seasoned with chili sauce. There are many preparation methods ranging from the use of a single type of fish to the combination of various types of seafood (there are also varieties that could be considered exactly the same as Japanese sashimi if soy sauce were used as a seasoning). It is said that this dish originated with slaves that had been taken to South America--they would hide in the shadows so as not to be discovered and quickly eat their stolen fish with lime and salt--and their preparation method became common in households throughout the region. This was originally a dish eaten in areas with an abundance of fresh, hygienic fish, and its similarity to Japanese sashimi means it is highly prized by Japanese businessmen dispatched to these areas, most of whom are surprised that such raw food dishes can be found in South America.

Netherlands

The Dutch are famous for their fondness of Pacific herring, and the raw Pacific herring is commonly eaten in the Netherlands. Pacific herring is cut into fillets, sprinkled with lemon juice and eaten in many ways, including sandwiches. Stalls selling raw Pacific herring dishes are commonly seen in towns and cities throughout the country.

Italy

In fishing villages of southern Italy, freshwater prawns are eaten raw marinated in vinegar or lemon juice, olive oil and so forth in what is said to be a typical French method of food preparation.

Dishes Around the World Incorporating Sashimi

In the twentieth century, sashimi became incorporated into the cuisines of countries around the world.

Japanese food became popular in Europe and North America during the 1980s, and came to influence the local cuisines. As food influenced by Japanese cuisine, it became common in Italy for fish such as tuna to be used to make carpaccio, which was traditionally prepared using beef. It is now easy to obtain frozen sashimi in Europe.

While Taiwan was under Japanese rule, the practice of eating sashimi made from local fish gradually spread throughout the population. Food colloquially called 'sa xi mi' is considered to be a Japanese dish, which is also commonly sold at night market stalls. Pacific bluefin tuna and billfish are particularly welcomed.

In South Korea, sashimi is called 'hoe' (the same character as 'namasu'). This word originally had the same meaning as 'namasu' but Japanese-style sashimi was exported to Busan prior to the era of Japanese rule and spread throughout the country during Japanese occupation, so that now the word 'hoe' is also used to refer to Japanese-style sashimi. It is generally served as daily food, but gochujang or garlic are also added to create new flavors.
Refer to 'Yukhoe' and 'Hoe.'

Due to the influence of Japanese occupation, the practice of eating sashimi made from saltwater fish such as olive flounder and raw sea urchin has remained in part of the population of the Dalian City area of Liaoning Province, in the People's Republic of China. Restaurants in China sell not only the Shunde style 'yu sang' dishes which are served with a sauce and condiments but also commonly serve dishes including Japanese spiny lobster and salmon with soy sauce mixed with plenty of wasabi paste.

Issues

Image
Previously; "sashimi" was translated simply as 'raw fish, but these days, "raw fish" dishes are referred to as 'sashimi' outside of Japan. Partly because the problem with this translation, it often caused the instant reaction of 'the Japanese eat raw fish' in regions without the custom of eating raw fish. This is based on the impression of 'unpleasantness', i.e., it is thought unpleasant to eat raw flesh. There are also instances in which the word 'raw' is taken to mean a fish that has just been caught and uncooked.

Preparation Without Sufficient Knowledge
Incidents are likely to occur when fugu (pufferfish) sashimi is prepared by a person that isn't licensed to do so, or when sashimi is made from freshwater fish and certain shellfish.

Risks outside of Japan
Eating raw flesh carries the risk of food poisoning or parasitic infection. It is a matter of course that the practice of eating those foods uncooked has traditionally continued because the risk is low for those foods. However, danger may arise when the Japanese who have become accustomed to eating sashimi in Japan seek it out in other countries and are served uncooked food that haven't traditionally been eaten raw. Gnathostomiasis is an example of this.

Freshness
There is a risk of food poisoning, urticaria, and anaphylactic shock from the consumption of fish that is rapidly perishable, that isn't fresh, or that hasn't been prepared in a hygienic manner.

Constitution
Irregularities include diarrhea may result from an inability to sufficiently digest fats such as glycerides due to an individual's physical constitution or lack of experience in the consumption of raw fish.

Non-seafood Sashimi

Sashimi is no longer limited to seafood, and various materials that are cut and arranged like sashimi and seasoned with wasabi and soy sauce to be appreciated the materials' tastes are also sometimes called 'sashimi.'
The main ingredients prepared in such a manner are shown below:

Konnyaku (Konjac)
A processed food konnyaku is cut into rectangles and eaten with soy sauce seasoned with wasabi, soy sauce mixed with vinegar and vinegared miso.

Tofu Skin
Raw tofu skin is eaten with soy sauce seasoned with wasabi and vinegared miso.

Kamaboko (processed fish paste)
Itatsuki kamaboko (processed fish paste placed on a wood piece) is cut into rectangles and eaten with soy sauce seasoned with wasabi. Itawasa (processed fish paste with wasabi), known as an accompaniment to alcoholic beverages served in Japanese style bars is one variety.

Meat
Other than fresh beef and horsemeat, sashimi is also made using chicken breast meat. Whale meat has also been served as sashimi. Pork isn't generally eaten raw, as it carries a high risk of parasitic infection, but boiled pork is called 'reiton' or 'yudebuta no sashimi' and eaten with soy sauce seasoned with wasabi or soy source containing citrus juice.

Avocado
The flesh of the avocado is said to have a texture similar to fatty tuna, and it has become commonly eaten with soy sauce seasoned with wasabi so that it is now described in many recipe books as 'avocado sashimi.'