Sushi is the world-famous representative of the Japanese cuisine. Techniques and methods with a rich history and flavor give the sushi its fame and popularity. In Japan, sushi comes in many different varieties of preparation, ingredients and preparation. While, maki rolls and nigiri are known widely across the western hemisphere there are some lesser known types of sushi that are truly an experience on the eyes, and taste buds. Oshizushi (pressed sushi) also referred to as hakozushi (boxed sushi) is a style of sushi that is prepared using thousand years old methods.
A Thousand Years?
Oshizushi has a very distinct rectangular shape. It is prepared in a “oshiwaku” rectangular box, which is full of history in Japanese culture. Oshiwakus were used for centuries to store to preserve fish. People packed the fish inside these rectangular boxes tightly with fermented rice. This preservation and fermentation technique created the original sushi dish Narezushi, where the rice was discarded and the fish was consumed. The technique resurfaced centuries later to create one of the mots consumed types of sushi in Japan.
The oshiwaku consists of three parts, the walls or sides, top and the bottom. This allows for easier cleaning between sushi preparation, to limit the sticking of rice. Oshizushi is prepared in layers. These layers can contain only fish and rice, or a multitude of ingredients and layers in a desired order. The fish used in the dish is most often cooked or cured, and the layers are pressed individually after each one is added on. Oshizushi truly gives sushi a truly different but uniquely elegant aesthetics. Sushi masters in different regions of Japan and the world have really given their own take on ingredients and style.
In fact, there are regions of Japan with specifics types of Oshizushi for which they are famous.
Battera – Osaka Region: this pressed sushi from Osaka is made with mackerel. Prepared stacking vinegar pickled mackerel with thin slices of mackerel, and konbu on top of sushi rice.
Omurazushi– Nagasaki Prefecture: Famous for their thin slices of scrambled eggs also known as kinshitamago.
Gozaemonzushi – Tottori Prefecture: Slightly different than other oshizushis, as it is not layered. Made with vinegar pickled mackerel and vinegared rice all wrapped in a layer of konbu (edible kelp) from Hokkiado.
Masuzushi – Toyoma Prefecture: Masu sushi or trout sushi is made using the colorful sakura masu or masu salmon flavored with vinegar and salt layered and pressed with sushi rice. Wrapped in bamboo leaves, and served in triangular slices that resemble slices of cake and pizza.
Kakuzushi – Hiroshima Prefecture: very popular dish prepared with tightly packed with a variety of ingredients which include asari shell clams, kinshitamago or thin layers of scrambled eggs, vinegar pickled mackerel and shiitake mushrooms.
Iwakuni Zushi – Yamaguchi Prefecture: this is a very large style of multiple layers and ingredients of sushi. Considered to be very luxurious, the Iwakunizushi is made from layers of eggs, vinegared rice, lotus root, fish and shrimp prepared with vinegar, and denbu (a sort of fish mash).
Oshizushi has made its way west recently in more upscale sushi joints. Maybe one day these dishes will reach their popularity in Japan where they are one of the most preferred options at airport lunch boxes. Since they were created in the 18th century as a dish, oshizushi has been taken from its humble ancient roots, and transformed into an artistic and flavorful sushi preparation method.