Sushi in Tokyo is known as Edomae, and is pressed by hand. Osaka’s famous style of sushi, meanwhile, is pressed sushi. “Box sushi” is one example: the toppings and vinegared rice are placed into a square wooden mold and pressed to fit. Watching the process of pressing box sushi is mesmeric.
In the past, boxed sushi was made using a standard type of fish such as mackerel or horse mackerel. During the Meiji era, however, more expensive fish varieties such as sea bream or shrimp began to be used that featured decorative presentations in addition to delicious taste—a popular style that continues in many establishments today.
One style of boxed sushi features vinegared white-sheet kelp atop mackerel in a style known as battera (a Portuguese word meaning “small boat”) that is standard fare in many of Osaka’s sushi establishments and family-style restaurants. Convenient to eat, colorful and attractive, it is also much-loved for the harmonious balance achieved between the taste of the rice and the other ingredients. Flavorful enough on its own without adding soy sauce, this is a perfect meal to be enjoyed between the acts of a play, or to be offered as a gift.
While soft rice is ideal for Edomae-style hand-pressed sushi, the firm rice produced in the Omi region near Osaka is ideal for pressed sushi.
With its excellent moisture retention, the tasty flavor of the rice is maintained even into the following day.
The rice is boiled using kombu cooking stock, and flavored with sugar and mirin (sweet cooking saké).
Sugar is used in order to facilitate the retention of moisture, allowing the sushi to be taken home and enjoyed later. And because this is such a popular flavor in Osaka, numerous local shops also use sugared rice when serving hand-pressed sushi.
Because of the time and skill required to produce the pressed sushi, the number of shops serving it has decreased. Still, a number of sushi establishments in Osaka do continue to preserve these traditional dishes—offering not only pressed sushi, but various additional types including stick-shaped, rolled, chirashi (“scattered”), and steamed sushi.
There are various theories as to when Tokyo-style hand-pressed sushi began achieving popularity in Osaka, including after the Meiji Restoration, and after the Great Kantō Earthquake. In any case, fish from Osaka’s adjacent waters are now used for hand-pressed sushi, with numerous restaurants now proudly serving it as a popular local item.
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