While many may assume sushi originated in Japan, the concept was actually first developed in China, as early as the 2nd century BC. The dish ‘narezushi’ was created for practical reasons, with fermented rice used to wrap salted fish to preserve it, and the rice was discarded.
It wasn’t until the 8th century BC that the dish spread from China to Japan, with the earliest known references to ‘sushi’ in 718. It was in the 1700's that it spread to Edo (current day Tokyo) and three sushi restaurants opened for trade.
The ‘nigiri’ was created by Chef Yohei Hanaya (1799-1858) who is credited as being the ‘father’ of nigari-zushi – a thinly-sliced draped piece of raw fish laid over a cluster of sweet and salty vinegared rice. Nigiri is considered the most authentic of sushi, while the rolled form, makizushi, was developed later and became popular in western countries.
The rice dish paella originates from Valencia in Spain, one of the most important rice-producing regions of the country since rice was first introduced by the Moors more than 1,200 years ago.
In the beginning, it was enjoyed by farm workers who cooked over a wood fire at lunchtime and ate it straight from the pan. Over time, other ingredients were added to the base of onions, tomatoes and saffron-flavoured rice, including seafood which was plentiful due to Valencia’s coastal location. It’s still a cherished and much-loved dish in Spain, with families and friends gathering in large crowds at bodegas and picnic sites to share paella.
Dolmades Turkey, Greece, Lebanon
Dolma is the Arabic term for something stuffed – whether its vine leaves, fruits or vegetables – that are filled with rice, minced meat or a combination of the two. Dolmades, the collective term for this style of food, can be traced back to the times of the Ottoman Empire which encompassed Turkey, Greece, Lebanon and several Middle Eastern countries. Each country developed their own preferred flavours and fillings which can vary from herbs of mint, dill and parsley; or the sweetly spiced flavours of cinnamon, all spice, raisins and currants. Dolmades stuffed with ground beef or lamb are usually served warm with an accompanying sauce whereas other styles are served cold.
An Italian staple, risotto is loved around the world for its simplicity, wholesome and rustic flavours. Its origins are traced back to the 14th century when Arabians introduced rice to Italy and Spain. Typically served as an appetiser or main course, it is comprised of four main ingredients: sautéed vegetables; broth; flavouring from herbs, meats or fish; and Italian Arborio rice which is capable of absorbing liquids in the heating process without overcooking. Risotto alla Milanese is one of Italy’s most famous dishes. In Venice and Veneto, risotto with sauteed eels is served as a traditional Christmas meal.
Rice paper rolls Vietnam
Vietnam’s rice paper rolls (gỏi cuốn) are popular around the world but tasting them in their country of origin is another experience entirely. Fresh ingredients are encased in a thin layer of rice paper and they generally contain shredded lettuce, carrots, vermicelli noodles, pork, prawn or beef flavoured with pickles or herbs such as mint, basil or coriander. The precise flavours vary depending on which region of Vietnam you’re in. They are all served with a dipping sauce that can be sweet or sour, hoisin, peanut, or mild and spicy chilli sauces.
Rice pudding Various countries
A simple, sweet combination of rice, milk, sugar and spices is the basis for this humble dessert – but it wasn’t always served sweet. Once a refined dish in the royal courts of Europe, the exact origins of the dish are unknown as it can be traced to multiple countries including China, the Byzantine Empire and India, where rice was a major food source and rice pudding (known as kheer) is a staple food that potentially dates back as far as 6000 BC. By the 15th century, the dish evolved to a sweetened version and, as rice became more accessible with the opening of trade routes, rice pudding was considered an ‘everyday’ dish by the 18th century.
Nasi Goreng Indonesia
The Indonesian national dish of Nasi Goreng literally translates as ‘fried rice’. Its roots can be dated back to the 10th century when the Chinese arrived in the country and, in the mornings, stir-fried leftover white rice from the night before in a wok. The main ingredients used today include leftover rice, shrimp paste, kecap manis (a sweet soy sauce sweetened with palm sugar), sautéed shallots, garlic, chilli and pieces of chicken, beef, prawn or dried fish. Perfect for breakfast time, a fried egg is often served over the top for added protein.