For his latest project, curator Terutoshi presents the “I Love Sushi” exhibition, hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Vietnam and open to the public until Sunday. During a captivating talk show in Hanoi last month, Terutoshi posed an intriguing question: Could Vietnam be the birthplace of an ancient form of sushi, Japan’s iconic dish?

Sushi has evolved into a diverse range of variants over the centuries. Photo: Danh Khang / Tuoi Tre

Terutoshi referenced ancient Japanese records from the 8th century, suggesting that sushi traveled from China to Japan over a millennium ago. Among these records is a 2,000-year-old Chinese document that hints at the dish’s possible origins in the Mekong River basin.

To explore this hypothesis further, Terutoshi embarked on field trips to Cambodia and southern Vietnam, where he discovered dishes reminiscent of ancient sushi. One such example is “Mắm bò hóc” from Tra Vinh Province, where cooked rice is fermented with fish, bearing similarities to ancient sushi preservation methods.

Japanese sushi has transcended cultural borders, captivating food lovers worldwide. Photo: Danh Khang / Tuoi Tre

However, some argue that dishes like “Mắm bò hóc” were introduced to Vietnam by the Khmer from Cambodia, casting doubt on Vietnam’s direct link to ancient sushi. Nonetheless, Terutoshi also explored northern mountainous provinces like Tuyen Quang to uncover culinary traditions with ancient sushi-like qualities.

Vietnamese culinary experts highlight regions like Phuoc Son District in central Quang Nam Province, where locals practice unique fish preservation methods through sour fermentation, providing intriguing clues to sushi’s ancient origins.

Sushi has been an integral part of Japanese cuisine for over 1,200 years, and understanding its evolution from salted fish and fermented rice to the modern version with vinegar-infused rice is key to unlocking its historical mysteries.

Various theories exist about the origin of sushi. Photo: Danh Khang / Tuoi Tre
Sushi Sugata-zushi uses scented fish and vinegar-infused white rice to achieve the perfect sourness, expediting the fermentation-free process. Photo: Danh Khang / Tuoi Tre
Sushi Oshinuki-zushi comes in various shapes and is often made by newly married women to strengthen familial bonds. Photo: Danh Khang / Tuoi Tre
Sushi Izushi, a type of Nare-zushi (Nama-nare), is hugely popular in Hokkaido, especially during the New Year celebrations. Photo: Danh Khang / Tuoi Tre
Maki-zushi is a simple and economical dish, often wrapped in nori seaweed for convenient consumption. Photo: Danh Khang / Tuoi Tre
The Japanese sushi exhibition, hosted by the Japanese Embassy in Vietnam, is open to the public until May 5, 2024. Photo: Danh Khang / Tuoi Tre
Bo-zushi features Sugata-zushi fish fillets without the head and tail, pressed with white rice bars, and is commonly served during festivals and special events. Photo: Danh Khang / Tuoi Tre