What is Sushi?
Sushi is any dish with vinegared rice. Raw fish rolled in seaweed and rice (maki) is only one of many types of sushi.
Sushi can use any “meat” (typically fish, but can be raw or cooked seafood or meat, egg, vegetable, or fruit) and any wrapping (typically seaweed or cucumber). This is true even though sashimi, which is just the “meat” doesn’t use sushi rice.
Below we clarify what makes sushi sushi, break down the different types of sushi, and then go over a few pointers about how to eat it.
The Most Common Types of Sushi Overview
Maki-sushi is made into a roll using some kind of a wrapper (typically nori, which is dried seaweed), nigiri-sushi sits on rice, and sashimi is sliced raw meat without rice.
There are a number of different types of sushi beyond just maki, nigiri, and sashimi (especially outside of Japan) and sushi related terms are sometimes used interchangeably, especially in common language.
Learn the difference between sushi, maki, nigiri, and sashimi.
TIP: Vingared rice is rice sprinkled with a vinegar mixture while it is being cooled).
FACT: The vinegared sushi rice, not the fish or seaweed, is the key ingredient that makes the dish into sushi. This is true despite the fact that sashimi is served without rice.
What are the Different Types of Sushi?
The different types of sushi, including maki, nigiri, and sashimi are described in detail below.
Maki Sushi (Hand Rolls)
Maki is typically vinegared rice and “filling” rolled in nori (dried seaweed) using a bamboo rolling mat. Makizushi literally means “rolled sushi”. Maki can use any type of filling: raw fish, cooked meat, egg, or vegetables. It’s a matter of taste. Maki can also use fish, sliced cucumber, or another “wrap” in place of nori.
There are 5 different types of Maki:
- Hosomaki (“thin roll” – rice on inside, nori on the outside)
- Chumaki (“medium roll” – rice on inside, nori on the outside)
- Futomaki (“thick roll” – rice on inside, nori on the outside)
- Uramaki (“inside-out roll” – rice on outside, nori on the inside)
- Temaki (“hand roll” – cone-shaped roll)
FACT: Almost all fish is pre-frozen, that is how fishermen get it from the ship to the shore. Freshness is about where the fish was caught, how long it is from catch to the plate, and the processing in between.
Nigiri Sushi (Sitting on Hand Pressed Rice)
Nigirizushi means “hand-pressed sushi”. Instead of turning the sushi into a roll, sashimi is put on top of a hand pressed rectangle of rice. Typically it’s held together by wasabi and nori. Nigiri is a sort of hybrid maki-sashimi.
Sashimi Sushi (No Rice)
Sashimi is sushi without rice but is still considered sushi. It is often served with a bowl of rice on the side.
Sashimi means “pierced body”, where sashi = (pierced, stuck) and mi = (body, meat). The “meat” is typically thin sliced raw fish, but it can be any type of seafood, meat, egg, fruit, or vegetable. Sashimi can be served “seared” or partially raw.
FACT: People will sometimes refer to the filling used in other sushi types as sashimi despite the way it is prepared, especially when that filling is raw fish.
Other Sushi Styles
Beyond the popular styles, there are also:
- Poke (raw typically fish salad, not technically sushi as it is Hawaiian. In Hawaiian “poke” means “to slice or cut”)
- Chirashi-sushi – means “scattered sushi” (in a rice bowl)
- Inari-sushi (pouch of fried tofu and rice)
- Oshi-sushi means “pressed sushi” (pressed into cubes)
Beyond this many cuisines from around the world have unique ways of preparing raw foods, we can fuse any two cooking styles to apply the principles of sushi to something that would not be recognized as traditional Japanese sushi but could technically be labeled as sushi.
How to eat sushi.
The Garnish For Sushi
Generally, all the above sushi types come with garnishes including wasabi, pickled ginger, and soy sauce. The exact preparation of garnish differs for each dish but typically:
- Maki and nigiri come with wasbi, ginger, and soy sauce. If you are eating at a good restaurant, the person preparing your food will tell you whether to use a dipping sauce or not. They may have pre-seasoned it.
- Sashimi typically comes with ponzu sauce for dipping (a light citrus and soy sauce), as well as daikon (shredded Asian white radish) and perilla leaf or shiso leaf (the green thing the sashimi sits on) for garnish.
- You can eat any of the garnishes although you should probably avoid the plastic grass.
- All of the above typically come with a bowl of miso soup and often sashimi comes with a bowl of rice. The soup may be served western-style before the meal or eastern-style as a palate cleanser after the meal.
- Sometimes you get a hot cloth to wash your hands too (don’t wash your face with it).
One Bite or Two?
Sushi is typically meant to be picked up with your fingers and eaten in one bite. One can take multiple bites if the piece is too big, with say a large Temaki (the cone). Err on the side of one bite as it’s rude to take two bites of sushi. Serving the right size bites to each person is an art-form for the chef.
FACT: When choosing which sushi to eat first go with the more delicate flavors and work your way up to more powerful flavors.
Why Use Wasabi?
Wasabi helps bring out the flavor and can kill microbes in the fish. Traditional Japanese wasabi is naturally green and sweet and made from the root “Wasabia Japonica”. The demand for wasabi around the world results in most of us being served a horseradish mixture (often colored green).
Proper Soy Etiquette
The sushi should be dabbed with soy, not drenched in it. The rice part should not touch the soy if it can be helped. The salt brings out the taste of the sushi (especially the raw fish). If you over salt you numb your pallet and don’t taste the sushi as intended. Covering up the taste of the fish is insinuating the fish is poor quality.
FACT: It is incorrect to mix wasabi with your soy sauce. Rather a small amount of wasabi should be placed on the sushi. Despite this it’s common for westerners to create a soy and wasabi mixture.
What do I do With the Ginger?
You use the ginger to cleanse your pallet to get ready for the next bite of sushi. You should not eat the ginger with the sushi (or put it in your soy sauce). Ginger also aids in digestion.
Sushi has a lot of rules, but don’t let that scare you away from sushi. The only real rule to eating sushi is to pay the bill when you are done. This video takes a look at the rules in a humorous way (please note that nothing in this video is actually true).
What do I do with the Chopsticks?
Use your chopsticks as needed. The correct way to eat maki is by grabbing the seaweed with your fingers, that said messy rolls or sashimi should be eaten with chopsticks.
Here are some more tips:
- Try not to eat sushi with a fork. Use your fingers or chopsticks.
- Make sure you don’t rub your chopsticks together like a mad person trying to brush away splinters (it’s a sign that you think that the chopsticks are poor quality and an insult to the chef).
- Don’t place your chopsticks so they stick out of your rice or fold the chopstick wrapper to put your sticks on. If a chopstick rest is given to you, you should use it. If not, simply balance your chopsticks on the side of the plate or bowl.
- Learn how to use chopsticks and simply rest them on the side of your dish.
How to use chopsticks the right way (hint: both Asians and non-Asians get it wrong. It’s racist to assume that all people of Asian ancestry know how to use chopsticks).
Want to learn more about sushi? Check out howdaily.com.