If the perfect food existed, sushi would be a strong contender. It’s healthy, it’s convenient, and there are unlimited flavor combinations to try. Sushi is also just as pleasing to look at as it is to eat. It’s no wonder sushi is one of the most popular international dishes in the world.
Sushi is arguably the most popular type of Japanese cuisine. But to the uninitiated, it can be difficult to understand. So, if you’re looking to up your sushi and sashimi game, you’re in the right place.
We’ve broken down this complex subject into easy to digest bites. So let’s get started!
What Is Sushi?
Mention sushi and a lot of people immediately think of raw fish. However, the term sushi actually refers to rice seasoned with sweetened vinegar and often topped or filled with a variety of ingredients such as seafood (both raw and cooked) and vegetables. It is also not to be confused with rice bowls (onigiri) which also features rice and sometimes seaweed.
There are many styles and presentations of sushi, but it’s important to know that the most essential ingredient is the (sushi rice) also referred to as sumeshi.
What Is Sushi Vinegar?
To be considered sushi, the rice must be prepared with a certain type of vinegar. Sushi vinegar is made of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar. This gives sushi its signature flavor and a sticky texture that holds its shape when molded.
A Brief Overview of Sushi History
This may come as a surprise, but sushi is said to have originated in Southeast Asia from a dish known as Narezushi, salted fish wrapped in fermented rice. As a method of preservation, the rice prevents the fish from spoiling and can last up to several years. This method was then spread into China and later Japan.
Later, fish was fermented for a significantly shorter amount of time. Pickled rice was eaten with the fish. This fresher tasting style of sushi is called namanare.
Hayazushi (fast sushi) was the next major development and was born during the Edo period, (1603-1868). Rice was now mixed with vinegar, and the fish wasn’t necessarily aged. It had a lighter flavor and was significantly easier to produce.
This style evolved in Edo (modern Tokyo) where fresh seafood was widely available. Eventually an even simpler version was invented called nigirizushi. This simple “hand-formed” sushi is still extremely popular today.
Zushi vs. Sushi
On some sushi menus, you may see an alternate spelling for sushi that starts with a “Z.” In the Japanese language, sushi becomes zushi when referring to a specific type of sushi. For example, maki-sushi becomes maki-zushi. There is no difference between sushi and zushi.
Different Types of Sushi
One of the great things about sushi is there is a type for everyone. You don’t even have to like raw fish to enjoy the perfect simplicity of an avocado roll. Keep reading to learn all about the different types of sushi and the common ingredients.
Technically, sashimi isn’t a type of sushi because it contains no rice. We’re including it in our sushi guide because it plays an important role in Japanese cuisine.
Sashimi is thinly sliced fish or meat often served raw. It can be any kind of meat, but fish and seafood are the most common types of sashimi.
Sashimi can also be cooked, like in the case of Unagi (grilled eel). It’s common to serve slices of sashimi on a bed of daikon radish with a side of soy sauce. No other topping or filings are added because sashimi is meant to highlight the fresh flavors of the fish.
Sashimi vs. Sushi?? Sushi always contains rice, while sashimi is just slices of meat or fish. Sashimi could be considered “no rice sushi.”
Different Sashimi Types
- Sake – Raw Salmon
- Eb – Cooked Shrimp
- Ahi – Raw Tuna
- Unagi – Cooked Freshwater Eel
- Hamachi – Raw Yellowtail
- Uni – Raw Sea Urchin
- Tako – Raw or Poached Octopus
Nigiri Sushi (Nigirizushi)
Nigiri is a classic form of sushi that is both elegant and delicious. It consists of a hand-formed finger of sushi rice that’s topped with a slice of seafood, and there is a typically a dab of wasabi between the rice and topping.
Nigiri sushi is considered a simple delicacy in Japan, a contrast to the complicated sushi rolls that are enjoyed in the west. However, while Nigiri sushi looks simple, it is extremely difficult to prepare. Mastery takes years of practice and a subtle dexterity. When executed properly, it is said that all of the rice grains will face in the same direction.
Types of Nigiri
- Ebi Nigiri – Cooked Butterfly Shrimp
- Tamago Nigiri – Cooked Egg Omelet
- Unagi Nigiri – Grilled Freshwater Eel
- Sake Nigiri – Raw Salmon
- Hotate Nigiri – Fresh Raw Scallop
- Maguro Nigiri – Raw Tuna
Maki sushi is made by layering a sheet of seaweed with vinegared rice and fillings. Makizushi is mostly what people think of when it comes to sushi rolls.
When you look at a slice of maki sushi, you’ll see fillings on the inside, a coating of sticky rice, and a covering of thin seaweed paper (nori).
In Japanese maki means “to roll.” All sushi rolls that are wrapped in seaweed with fillings on the inside are considered maki sushi.
Types of Maki Rolls
- Hosomaki – Any small maki roll with only one filling is considered hosomaki sushi
- Kappa Maki – This popular roll is made with seaweed, rice, and cucumber filling
- Tekka Maki – Just three ingredients: seaweed, rice, and raw tuna
- Futomaki – Futomaki means (fat roll) and contains several fillings
Uramaki sushi is rolled sushi with rice on the outside and nori on the inside. This “inside-out roll” was created in Los Angeles by a sushi chef who wanted to appeal to American customers. Machita Ichiro noticed that Americans weren’t fond of the seaweed wrapping on traditional maki sushi, so he hid the seafood on the inside.
Traditional maki is still preferred in Japan, and uramaki is the most popular type of sushi in the U.S. Many of the sushi rolls referred to as “Special Rolls” on a sushi menu are types of uramaki. It’s common for uramaki to be sprinkled with sesame seeds that cling to the sticky rice
Different Sushi Rolls
- California Roll – This popular roll contains a filling of crabmeat or imitation crab, avocado, and cucumber
- Philly Roll – This roll contains smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, and sesame seeds.
- Dragon Roll – A dragon roll mixes spicy tuna, cucumber, and eel sauce with a topping of avocado that resembles dragon scales.
- Spicy Tuna Roll – The spicy tuna roll is made by finely chopping raw tuna and mixing it with cucumber and sesame oil. It’s finished off with a topping of spicy mayo
Temaki Sushi is a little different from the other types of sushi on our list. A temaki hand roll consists of a large seaweed cone stuffed with rice, fish, and other sushi fillings.
Unlike maki rolls, temaki isn’t rolled with the precise method that produces uniform pieces of sushi. A temaki hand roll is a little more deconstructed and is meant to be eaten by hand as an individual serving.
Maki Rolls vs. Temaki Rolls?? The difference between a maki roll and a temaki roll is that maki sushi is firmly rolled and sliced into several bite-sized pieces. A temaki or hand roll is loosely rolled into a tube or cone shape and meant to be eaten whole as an individual serving.
Chirashi is a lesser known type of sushi that features a bed of sushi rice covered with toppings. The word chirashi means scattered, and it refers to the toppings placed on the sushi rice. But don’t be confused by the term. Neatness and precision play a part in “scattering” the toppings over the sushi dish.
Types of Chirashi
There are several variations of chirashi sushi but two of the most popular come from Tokyo and Osaka in Japan.
- Tokyo Style (Edomae Chirashi) – This style of chirashi contains a topping of raw seafood like tuna, salmon, scallop, and squid.
- Osaka Style (Gomoku Chirashi) – Gomoku chirashi is made with cooked ingredients and has a highly decorative appearance. It’s common to see lotus root and fish roe as toppings.
Sushi Terms Glossary
Because there are so many types of sushi ingredients and fillings it can be difficult to remember their names. Check out some common sushi terms and their meanings:
- AmaEbi – Sweet shrimp, often served raw
- Awabi – Sushi made from abalone
- Daikon – White radish
- Gari – Pickled ginger. It’s not meant to be eaten with the sushi, but rather between different types of fish as a refreshing palate cleanser.
- Humachi – Raw yellowtail
- Inari – Deep fried tofu pouch stuffed with sushi rice
- anni-kama – Imitation crab
- Masago – Capelin fish roe (eggs)
- Nori – Dried seaweed sheets to roll or hold sushi fillings. It adds saltiness and natural unami to the overall flavor of the sushi.
- Shoyu – Soy sauce
- Toro – Raw bluefin tuna belly
- Uni – Raw sea urchin
- Wasabi – Japanese horseradish paste
Some answers to common questions about sushi:
Now that you’ve read this guide about sushi, it’s time to go out and try this wonderful food. You have the knowledge to order like a pro.
Sushi lovers know how crucial it is to find the right spot in town with the best sushi. If you’re vacationing on Hilton Head Island ask around and the locals will tell you to go Skull Creek Boathouse for the best sushi rolls, nigiri, and sashimi on the island.