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TripAdvisor Ranking #444 of 1592 places to eat in Krakow
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  • Sep 15, 2017: “Nice place with good food”
  • Aug 12, 2017: “Excellent”
  • Jul 31, 2017: “Fresh Sushi”
  • May 3, 2017: “Terrible fusion food”
  • Apr 23, 2017: “Asian fushion”
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Sushi – history and traditions

Most forms and shapes of sushi we know today are not older than 200 years, but their prototypes can boast a 25 century long history. Methods of fish preservation in salt and rice have been known in both north China and South East Asia since the 5th century BC and as most researchers presume, they came to Japan together with the ability to cultivate rice. These methods involved the salting of gutted fish and filling them with cooked rice, which stimulated the production of lactic acid - the main preservative. Fermentation lasted from 2 to 12 months. Sushi prepared in such way is known as Nare-zushi or Funa-zushi and is still available today in old-fashioned restaurants, especially in the Nara and Wakayama prefectures. Their scent is rather unpleasant for the layman, although for the Japanese of conservative taste it is a real delicacy. Some kinds of Nare-zushi were eaten together with the rice, which was used as the filling of the fish, but in most cases fermented rice was discarded.

During the 15th and 16th century thrifty Japanese developed a new method of accelerated fermentation, which not only shortened the maturation time to a few days, but also allowed the consumption of rice with fish. Also this kind of sushi, called Nama-Nare or Han-Nare-zushi, is still known in some parts of Japan. Many other varieties of sushi existed, or still exist, associated with a certain prefecture, the species of fish or by the method of preparation. In both the above mentioned types of sushi, the taste of rice was very specific: acid-salty with a distinct aroma of fermented fish, which did not suit the Japanese, preferring rather delicate and natural flavors.

Around the middle of the 17th century, a doctor living in Edo (old name of Tokyo) named Matsumoto Yoshiichi came up with the idea of acidifying rice with rice vinegar, which further shortened the time to "ripen" sushi for consumption.

Still, the fish used for sushi was subjected to the ripening process in an acidic, rice-vinegar environment. Reminiscent of these techniques is the still-functioning name of the sushi master's working place: "tsuke ba", which can be translated as "place of the silage". The sushi then tasted and looked very different from those we are used  eating in today's sushi bars. On the other hand, the tradition of pickling fish in salt and sweet vinegar, without rice though, are still popular. As example serves the whole hikari mono category of small, rather oily fish with shiny skins (e.g. mackerel, herring, sardine) used commonly in modern sushi.

Preserving fish in vinegar has been a necessity in cities and regions distant from the sea coast, where, before the development of fast transport and refrigeration techniques, the consumption of fresh fish and seafood was a luxury. One of the examples is the battera – kind of sushi associated with the old capital of Kyoto and Osaka, combining compressed rice and mackerel slices, initially marinated in salt, and then in slightly sweetened rice vinegar. A different, sharper characterizes I-zushi originating from Hokkaido – a composition of rice with herring fermented in yeast cultures. In all regional variations and sushi kinds however, there was a clear tendency to shorten the fermentation time or even to completely eliminate the process altogether.

The fundamental change took place in Edo at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries. The people of Edo were already known for their impatience and haste, which qualities stigmatized the local sushi, called Edomae. The novelty of this variety, better known as nigiri, was the combination of raw, not fermented fish with rice, which was prepared separately, i.e. apart from the fish. Due to the taste and respect for tradition, the rice was seasoned after cooking with tezu, a salty-sweet-sour tasting mixture to resemble the pickled rice from the past. Chilled rice was formed into small balls or "sticks", although much larger than used today weighing about 30-40 grams, which were covered with a slice of commonly raw fish or crustacean. Also the preparation speed of nigiri was incomparably faster, measuring just a dozen of seconds in the hands of a master! It was soon discovered that nigiri bound with a nori ribbon is more durable and keeps better together while being moved from the tray to the mouth or dipped in soy sauce. Larger nori sheets could also be used to wrap rice with a fish "insert" to form thick or thin rolls, forming hoso-, ura- and futomaki rolls, temaki cones, gunkan "boats" or other forms. In addition, the flavour of nori excellently blended with rice and fish and unlike nowadays used bamboo leaves, were edible.


Top drawing: Masami Teraoka