As with many ancient foods, the history of sushi is shrouded in legend and mystery.

Sushi was originally known as a way of keeping food fresh. Fish was fermented with salt and put into rice, allowing people to keep the fish edible for a while. The rice was then discarded while the fish was eaten as needed. Around the seventh century, after spreading throughout China, the method eventually spread to Japan. The Japanese also ate the rice along with the fish. By the 17th century, Matsumoto Yoshiichi of Edo (a Japanese chef) started seasoning rice with rice vinegar, and this is when modern sushi began. His method made it possible to eat sushi immediately, which previously had taken months of preparation.

Here is a brief history of the preparation and development of sushi as we know it today.

The concept of sushi emerged in Japan in the 9th century and grew in popularity with Buddhism. The Buddhist dietary practice of meat abstinence marked the first preparation of sushi as a dish, as fermented rice begins to be eaten along with preserved fish. This combination of rice and fish is known as nare-zushi or old sushi.

Funa-zushi, the oldest known form of nare-zushi, originated more than 1000 years ago near Lake Biwa, Japan's largest freshwater lake. This process took at least half a year and, as a result, such sushi was only available to the wealthy class in Japan from the 9th to the 14th century.

At the end of the 15th century, Japan found itself in the middle of a civil war. During this time, chefs found that adding more weight to rice and fish reduced the fermentation time to about one month. This new preparation of sushi was called mama-nare zushi, or raw nare-zushi.

In 1606, Tokugawa Ieyasu, Japan's military dictator, moved the capital of Japan from Kyoto to Edo. With the help of a growing merchant class, the city quickly became the centre of Japanese life. By the 19th century, Edo had become one of the world's largest cities, both in land area and population. In Edo, sushi masters used a fermentation process developed in the mid-1700s, placing a layer of cooked rice seasoned with rice vinegar alongside a layer of fish. The layers were pressed in a small wooden box for two hours and then cut into serving pieces. This new method has greatly reduced the time taken to prepare the sushi and made the whole process even faster.

In 1824, Hanaya Yohei, the Japanese man credited with creating modern nigiri sushi, opened the first sushi stall in the Ryogoku district of Edo. He used the more modern speed fermentation, added rice vinegar and salt to freshly cooked rice and left it for a few minutes. He then served the sushi in a hand-pressed way, with a small ball of rice and a thin slice of raw fish fresh from the bay. Because the fish was so fresh, it did not need to be fermented or preserved. The sushi was thus made in minutes instead of hours or days. His nigiri way of preparing sushi thus became the new standard in cooking.

By September 1923, hundreds of sushi or yatai carts could be found around Edo, now known as Tokyo. When the Great Tokyo Earthquake struck, land prices dropped significantly and this offered the opportunity for sushi vendors to buy rooms and move the sale and preparation of sushi from street carts to indoors. Soon restaurants hosting sushi shops, called sushi-ya, appeared throughout the Japanese capital.

In the 1970s, sushi bars opened all over the country as the demand for sushi in Japan increased, leading to a growing network of suppliers and distributors and the spread of sushi worldwide.

Los Angeles was the first city in America to successfully prepare sushi, followed by Hollywood, and soon after, several sushi bars opened in New York and Chicago, helping to spread the dish throughout the US.

Drought is constantly evolving. Modern sushi chefs have introduced new ingredients, preparations and serving methods. Traditional nigiri sushi is still prepared and served all over the world, but various rolls wrapped in seaweed or soy paper have gained popularity in recent years. Creative additions such as cream cheese, spicy mayonnaise and deep-fried rolls reflect the strong Western influence that sushi connoisseurs alternately welcome. Vegetarians can also enjoy modern vegetable sushi rolls.