Chirashi Sushi

Chirashi Sushi

The “Family” Sushi

Chirashi sushi, or “scattered sushi,” is the fun and festive looking dish families enjoy when it’s time to celebrate happy events, such as birthdays and graduations, seasonal festivities, like flower viewing or summer fireworks, and any other special occasion! That said, chirashi sushi is a time consuming dish to prepare; seasonal ingredients have to be specially purchased, and many ingredients must be seasoned and cooked prior to using. In some families, the recipe for chirashi sushi is passed down from generation to generation, carrying with it the homey warmth and pleasant memories associated with a family meal made especially for celebrations. And we’ll show you a wonderful short-cut for making it easily at home!

Is Chirashi Sushi Really Sushi?

When most of us hear the word “sushi,” most likely the first thing we think of is nigiri, or hand-formed, sushi. Nigiri sushi made its appearance in Japan during the Edo period, around 1820, and consisted of a small hand-formed oblong of su-meshi (rice seasoned with vinegar, also called “sushi rice”) on top of which usually rested a piece of sashimi, or raw fish, which was dipped in soy sauce and eaten. Considered a snack, or fast-food, it was sold by street vendors in Tokyo, eventually finding its way throughout all of Japan and becoming popularized throughout the world.

There are many other types of sushi as well, including maki sushi, cylindrical rolls formed by using a small bamboo mat; inari sushi, which are seasoned pockets of deep-fried tofu filled with sushi rice; temaki sushi, a cone shaped roll of roasted seaweed which encloses sushi rice and various fillings; oshi sushi, common in the Kansai area, a bed of rice topped with fish or other toppings pressed into a square shape using a mold. You’d be surprised just how many varieties of sushi there are!

What chirashi sushi has in common with the above types of sushi is the use of su-meshi,—but that’s it! There is no shaping or molding of the rice; it’s usually placed in a large container that makes for easy mixing. The base of chirashi sushi is sushi rice that has flavored, often lightly cooked vegetables chopped into small pieces (and sometimes cooked or marinated fish as well) mixed into it. The rice is then covered with a myriad of toppings which are “scattered” over the top. Chirashi means scattered, thus the chirashi part of the name. These toppings include thin slices of crepe-like egg, thinly sliced roasted seaweed, shrimp, slices of sashimi, etc. The ingredients mixed into the rice and the toppings, as well as how the ingredients are arranged, vary widely from region to region, household to household, and season to season. Chirashi sushi is also known by the names bara sushi and gomoku sushi, with differences in their meaning depending on the location where it’s made.

The Tale of Okayama Prefecture’s Bara Sushi

Many, many years ago, the origin of chirashi sushi is said to have had its roots in the bara sushi of Okayama prefecture. At the early part of the Edo period there was a powerful territorial lord, or daimyo, named Mitsumasa Ikeda, who, as part of his governing policy, made laws forbidding the general population from enjoying any type of “extravagance”—extravagance being what the ruling class determined for the poorer masses—and one of these laws stated that they should maintain a spare diet, with each meal consisting of only one bowl of miso soup and only one side dish to accompany their rice.

Rebelling against this, the hardworking masses devised an ingenious method to fool Ikeda. They carefully lined the bottom of a container with fresh fish that had been grilled or stewed, perhaps some shrimp as well, plenty of seasonal vegetables and other “forbidden” foods, layering them cleverly underneath rice mixed with the ingredients allowed to them, so that anyone looking at the top would see only a meager meal—then they flipped the container over onto a separate plate and voilˋa! The daimyo was fooled, the masses escaped punishment and were able to enjoy a fulfilling, delicious meal full of the bounty of the season. The prototype for today’s chirashi sushi was born.

Ingredients for Chirashi Sushi

Typical ingredients include: reconstituted dried shiitake and kampyo (gourd), lightly boiled carrots, take-no-ko (bamboo shoots), pickled renkon (lotus roots), etc., which are joined by chikuwa (tube-shaped fish cake paste), kamaboko (steamed fish cake), braised seasoned freeze-dried tofu, shrimp, sea or freshwater eel, broiled and dipped in soy sauce based sauce, etc. All these are cut up into small pieces and mixed in with the sushi rice. For a pretty multicolored topping, blanched snow peas (bright green), thinly sliced crepe (yellow), finely cut nori (black), beni shoga (pickled ginger) (red), salmon roe (orange), sakuradenbu (seasoned and powdered dried fish) and daikon cut in flower shapes and tinted (both pink) are sprinkled on top; sometimes pieces of raw or marinated fish are also included for a splendid finish! The variation between regions, seasons and households can be quite dazzling, too!

Chirashi sushi can be served in a sushi oke, which is a large, shallow round wooden container specifically designed to hold cooked rice, lacquered containers or large serving platters from which each person helps him or herself. You can also make delightful mini-chirashi in small individual bowls, which are perfect for party hors d’oeuvres!

Chirashi Sushi no Moto (Chirashi mix)

Gomoku Chirashi Sushi no Moto, the flavored mix of vegetables that includes carrots, renkon, shiitake, take-no-ko and kampyo in a savory mellow vinegar seasoning was developed in Japan in 1977. Created so that families could easily make chirashi sushi at home, after young school children responded to a newspaper questionnaire which asked them, “What is your favorite meal?” with “Sushi!”, Gomoku Chirashi Sushi no Moto was a revolutionary item that became immensely popular because it let anyone easily and quickly put together a basic chirashi sushi meal with very little preparation, simply by mixing the contents of the package into cooked rice. For those who desired to put in a little extra time and effort, the addition of green beans, thinly sliced crepe, sliced nori, sakuradenbu, shrimp etc., resulted in quite a sumptuous platter! Ever since came onto the market, it has always had a special place in Japanese hearts and households. It has also gained a big following world-wide!

Gorgeously bedecked with seasonal colors and rich in seasonal flavors, chirashi sushi always brings a smile to everyone’s face, whether celebrating a birthday, seasonal festivals like hinamatsuri, or kodomo-no-hi, or a long-awaited family get-together. An irresistible combination of warm childhood reminiscences and happy celebrations, both past and present are inextricably intertwined in this delightfully vibrant dish.

Marukai has all the ingredients you need to make chirashi sushi, including, sushi-su (seasoned sushi vinegar) and short-grained rice, along with a great variety of items to select from to make your very own version of chirashi sushi. Enjoy with your family, invite your friends! Who knows—maybe you’ll start your very own chirashi sushi tradition tonight!