Do you know the true English translation for the Japanese word 'sushi'?
It's funny. I never wondered if there was one. Sushi is sushi. To me, it's like asking 'what does chicken mean?'...
Except, like the many styles and ingredients utilized in the creation of sushi, things are more than what we assume.
First off, sushi as a food does not imply raw fish. Forget that schoolyard crap.
Slices of raw fish are called sashimi, and are delicious. However, sushi can (and does) utilize raw thinly sliced raw fish as an ingredient.
Sushi (すし, 寿司, 鮨) is a Japanese food consisting of cooked vinegared rice (鮨飯 sushi-meshi) combined with other ingredients (ネタ neta), such as seafood, egg, vegetables and sometimes tropical fruits. I assume this is the avocado in a non-traditional California sushi roll.
While the ingredients and form of sushi vary greatly, the common denominator is sticky rice (color isn't set in stone either, but white is more usual).
But what does 'sushi' mean?
Sushi, according to Ripley's, translates to "sour-tasting".
I guess it's from the vinegar rice (pickled rice)!
Perhaps in the old days of Japan, it was truly sour tasting, or maybe it still is and I'm just used to it…
Sour-tasting? Who knew?
Ripley's did, believe it or not.
PS: Image above is an ukiyo-e showing a plate of sushi (actually known as "Bowl Of Sushi" print), drawn early in his career by master artist Hiroshige (1797-1858) in the 1800s... yes, I'm too lazy to look up the date. Okay - screw that... I just spent an hour searching on-line, and found a book describing a scene that sounds like this ukiyo-e... it gives the creation date as 1843.
That book says: "containing both nigirizushi (gizzard shad, kohada, on the left, shrimp, ebi, on the top) and makizushi (rolls wrapped in tamago and nori)".
For your edification, tamago (Auto Correct keeps changing it to 'tamale') is egg (the yellow banding on the front open faced roll of sushi) and nori (dried, flattened sheet of seaweed) - this is on the open faced sushi roll in the far right… with the dark circles in it… I missed it twice while staring at this drawing.
That date and description was taken from Google Books: Japan's Dietary Transition and Its Impacts, by Vaclav Smil, Kazuhiko Kobayashi.