Being part of a tweetup at the recently opened Sushilicious in Irvine, was as much about conviviality and good times as it was about the sushi – for us anyway 🙂 And when I sat down to write this post, I started wondering about the origins of sushi – we all know it came from Japan, right – but how long ago, and why was it “invented”? That’s how my mind works and why I write a lot about the cultural and historical traditions of food.
After a bit of internet research, I can tell you that sushi has come a long way from its origins in southeast Asia. In the 4th century, salted fish wrapped in fermented rice was an important source of protein. After being stored and allowed to ferment for a few months, the rice was discarded and only the fish was eaten. Over time this method (known as nare zushi) spread to China and then, in the 8th century to Japan.
The Japanese preferred to eat rice together with their fish and during the Edo period, Japanese began making haya-zushi which was created as a way to eat both rice and fish; this dish was unique to Japanese culture. Instead of being used just for fermentation, the rice was mixed with vinegar and combined with not only fish, but various vegetables and dried preserved foods. During the 19th century, when Tokyo was still called Edo, mobile food stalls dominated the food service industry and nigiri sushi, also called edomae sushi, was born. Nigiri sushi is an oblong mound of rice with a thinly sliced piece of fish draped over it and is the most common type of sushi found in modern sushi restaurants. (If you like you can read more about the history and different kinds of sushi here.)
Now, jump into that time machine and vaporize to the year 2010 to Sushilicious in Irvine, CA where patrons select their sushi from freshly colored containers on a gleaming stainless steel conveyor belt. Monster Munching aptly described Sushilicious as “what you get when you smoosh a Japanese restaurant into an Apple store, put it in a bag, added a factory-scene from How It’s Made, sprinkled a dash of Yogurtland and shook it all up”.
Owner Daniel Woo says he was inspired to create a family friendly sushi place after an incident in a sushi restaurant when his then 5-year old daughter was asked to sit down after standing up in the booth. He has expertly achieved even broader appeal with the fun, pastel-colored sleek vibe of Sushilicious. Although there are other revolving sushi restaurants, Sushilicious’ technology quotient is amped in other unique ways: his usage of social media platforms, Twitter and Facebook to promote the restaurant before it even opened (I heard about it on Twitter) and, if you want a drink or to order menu items, your friendly server places your order on an iPod Touch enabled by a WiFi point of sale system. Way cool! Woo approached Apple and is among the restaurants using this beta version. Coming soon – servers will be able to run your credit card on the iPod Touch so your plastic never leaves your sight!
But back to the sushi: while not for purists, the sushi is fresh and well-prepared and creative names like Sushcalifragilistics (battered rock shrimp in a mayo sauce similar to Dynamite sauce), Medusa, Napolean Dynamite, and United Colors of Sushi cause you to impulsively reach out and grab one off the conveyor belt. Your bill is calculated by adding up the number of the plates in front of you plus any drinks and menu items you may have ordered. The plates are color coded and range from $1.50 to $4.00. Oh, and each plate carries a tag that alerts the chefs who remove it from the belt after an hour. And, they DO do this – one roll that I pulled off the line, the chef came over and told me he was about to take it off and he would make me a fresh roll. Awesome!
Sushilicious is all about having fun; and maybe one of these, if you’re so inclined:
15435 Jeffrey Road
Suite #119, Irvine, CA 92618