Atlas Obscura

The Smithsonian’s American History Museum Has a Sushi Collection

A sushi tray.
“Sushi Tray, Small”

Smithsonian / Public Domain

Each day, Slate features an article from Atlas Obscura, the website dedicated to the world’s hidden wonders. You can follow Atlas Obscura on Facebook or on Twitter.

The American History Museum has collected an assortment of sushi ephemera as the Japanese dish gained popularity in the U.S. over the past few decades. Why collect sushi at a history museum? If you take a step back you’ll remember that culinary trends come and go throughout the ages. After all, early Americans consumed vast amounts of game and alcohol; only a fool would have thought about eating raw fish.

A soy sauce packet.
“ ‘Natural’ Soy Sauce Packet”

Smithsonian / Public Domain

At the Smithsonian’s Sushi Collection, each sushi artifact is dutifully cataloged, measured, and accompanied by a detailed description for future historians. It may seem boring today, but think about how interesting it can be to pour over cultural relics from the past like 1960s appliances, World War II propaganda posters, or vintage Coca-Cola ads.

Consider the museum’s description of a “Sushi Tray, Small”:

The two part container has a black tray with a detailed red and gold maple leaf pattern and a clear plastic lid. The clear plastic counterpart is shaped to leave space for the sushi inside, and allows for the contents of the tray to remain visible to the customers. This is an example of a small sushi tray used for packaging sushi.

These trays often contain of a variety of rolls and nigiri, and include a side of wasabi and gari (pickled ginger) as condiments. Upon purchase, the customer is provided with a pair of disposable chopsticks and a single serving packet of soy sauce. These trays are disposable, and therefore these prepackaged sushi trays make a convenient lunch option.

One can only imagine how a century from now, the museum’s disposable chopstick exhibit will form an important touchstone for the American experience.

“Chopsticks, Second Generation”

Smithsonian / Public Domain

Written by Atlas Obscura contributor Elliot Carter

If you liked this, you’ll probably enjoy Atlas Obscura’s New York Times best-selling book, which collects more than 700 of the world’s strangest and most amazing places Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders.