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Discover the Fascinating History of Sushi - Fact #2: Sushi, The Original Fast Food

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

(woodprint by Hiroshige Utagawa, 1837「東都名所 高輪 甘六夜待遊興之図」)

Did you know that sushi, in its early days, was the equivalent of a modern-day fast food stand? Yes, it's true! The origins of sushi can be traced back to the bustling streets of Edo (now Tokyo) in the early 1800s, where it was served as a quick and convenient street food, much like hot dogs are today.

This wood print by Hiroshige Utagawa, dated 1837, captures the vibrant scene of Edo street life. On the right side of the print, you can spot a sushi stand or kiosk, denoted by the sign "寿し" (sushi). This was where it all began.

The style of sushi chef Hanaya Yohei is credited with popularizing the style of sushi that we know and love today. In Edo, a city rich with fish varieties from Tokyo Bay, including shrimp, Kohada, and Abalone, sushi chefs faced the challenge of preserving the freshness of their ingredients without refrigeration. Their solution? Treat the fish by searing it or marinating it in soy sauce or vinegar before serving.

Interestingly, tuna was not a popular choice at that time, as it was not as widely available or appreciated as it is today. The sushi business flourished in Edo, attracting people from all over, particularly craftsmen seeking new opportunities. Edo's vibrant culture led to the emergence of a new lifestyle, with a growing demand for fast and easy meals. Alongside stands serving Soba noodles and tempura, sushi became one of the most sought-after food stand items.

Over the centuries, sushi has evolved into a world-renowned delicacy, with countless variations and styles enjoyed by people globally. But let's not forget its humble beginnings on the lively streets of Edo, where it all started as the original fast food.

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