A Brief History of Raw Fish

Many cultures around the world have been eating raw fish dishes for hundreds – even thousands – of years. Here’s a brief history of a few of these fascinating fares.

Japan 

Raw fish usually brings to mind sushi, so that is where we will begin. The earliest version of sushi is called narezushi, which originated in rice paddy fields in Southeast Asia. Fish was fermented with rice and salt, then the fish was eaten and the rice thrown away. Like many culinary inventions, this practice was done out of necessity as the fermentation preserved the fish, making it safe to eat.

Over the years, this practice spread down the Mekong River, finding its way into Japan. The Japanese people wanted to eat the rice as well as the fish, and from this evolved modern-day sushi.

South America 

With roots in South America, ceviche is a raw seafood dish where fish is cured in a mixture of citrus juice (lemon or lime) and chili, with optional add-ons like onion, salt and coriander.

The history is uncertain, but it likely dates back a couple thousand years to Peru where it is believed that women who migrated to Peru from Granada along with Spanish colonisers adapted their native raw fish dish to the flavours of their new Peruvian home. 

America / France 

Shockingly, tuna tartare is not a French delicacy – it originated in the good old U.S. of A. It was created by a chef running a Japanese-style restaurant in Los Angeles in the mid-eighties.

Forced to improvise when picky American diners turned their noses up at French delicacy tartare (raw steak), the chef came up with an alternative: tuna tartare. It was so loved that diners requested it be added to the menu.

Chef Shigefumi Tachibe was Japanese-born and French-trained, so we can’t give the Americans a complete victory on this one. In reality, tuna tartare is an intersection of multiple cultures.

Pacific Islands 

Bringing it closer to home, our island neighbours have long understood the delicious combination of raw fish and coconut. Take Ika Mata, for instance a delicious Cook Island staple of raw fish, lemon juice and coconut cream with diced vegetables scattered throughout.

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