For the inexperienced, the sushi world can appear somewhat intimidating. If you’ve tried a sushi place before, you know how overwhelming the menus can be. There are just too many rolls to choose from, and they all seem to include ingredients that you probably don’t typically come across. To help you order your next sushi meal with conviction, we’ve put this comprehensive guide unpacking terms such as sushi, sashimi, maki, and nigiri.
What Is Sushi?
Any blend of ingredients, including vinegared rice and prepared in bite-size pieces, is sushi. All too often, when people see the word sushi, they associate it with fish – sushi has nothing to do with fish! The word “sushi” defines the particular preparation of the rice used in the dish. Sushi rice is a special type of short-grain rice cooked with rice wine vinegar. The vinegared rice usually has its unique flavor and clusters together to facilitate the making of your favorite sushi rolls and other variations.
What Is Sashimi?
Sashimi (pierced body) refers to thinly sliced fish or other varieties of meat. To allow the flavor of the meat to shine, sashimi is consumed raw without sides aside from soy sauce, of course. Unlike traditional store-bought fish, sashimi-grade fish is the safest and highest quality seafood you can get your hands on.
Some of the more popular types of sashimi fish in the U.S. include fatty tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and squid. However, in Japan, other types of meat such as beef, chicken, or horse can be prepared sashimi-style.
What Is the Difference Between Sushi and Sashimi?
Whether enjoyed as an appetizer or as the main entree, sushi is as diverse as it is tasty. Opening the menu from a sushi place for the first time can be a bit intimidating. That’s why understanding the different varieties can help guide your order.
Generally, every meal on the menu will be either sushi or sashimi. On the sushi side, you’ve got your maki, which is generally sold in rolls, and nigiri, which is sold in bits. Understanding the difference between maki and nigiri can make it easier to spice up your order and get something you know you’ll savor.
What Is Maki?
Maki is what you think of when you try to picture sushi. It’s vegetables, fish, and sushi rice layered atop each other, then wrapped in a sheet of seaweed. So, if you’re eating a traditional sushi roll, chances are, you’re eating maki.
However, there are some variations to the maki. For instance, temaki is served in a similar style but uses less seaweed and is prepared by hand. Hosomaki, another popular variation, resembles a regular maki roll but contains only a single ingredient (including the rice).
There are fish-free variations to the maki, such as the cucumber roll and avocado roll. So, If this is your first time trying some and you’re a bit hesitant about the raw fish, you may opt for one of these vegetarian rolls as a delightful introduction to the sushi world. When you’re feeling daring, try sampling some sashimi or nigiri to experience the incredible flavor possibilities after the initial visit.
What Is Nigiri?
Nigiri (two fingers) isn’t prepared like maki. Instead, a thin slice of raw or cooked fish is laminated atop some vinegary rice. Typically, nigiri is served with a pinch of wasabi between the fish and the rice or a small layer of toasted seaweed to add to the flavor.
Although traditional nigiri is prepared with sashimi-grade fish laid atop rice, not all nigiri includes raw fish. Other types of quality seafood, including eel (unagi) and shrimp (Ebi), are prepared before joining the rice.
How to Eat Sushi
If you have the immense pleasure of eating sushi at a high-end Japanese restaurant or, better yet, in Japan, there is a particular etiquette that you need to follow. Both to thoroughly enjoy the fish’s qualities and not offend the chef who prepared your meal.
Sashimi should be consumed with chopsticks; however, other sushi varieties should be eaten with your hands. When picking up a piece of nigiri, for instance, take it with your hands and gently dip it into the soy sauce.
NOTE: Try to eat the whole thing in a single bite.
Where to Get Authentic Japanese Sushi
Sushi can be expensive, especially when you dine at authentic Japanese places. You can typically order an assortment of sushi at traditional omakase-style restaurants for a reasonable fixed price, which is perfect for groups, or you can order your desired sushi pieces.
For moderately priced sushi, there are restaurants called kaiten-zushi, where the sushi platters circle the dining area on a conveyor belt.
These can be found almost everywhere in Japan and some places in the U.S. Dining at such restaurants, you wait until your favorite sushi dish passes in front of you, and then you simply pick up the plate from the belt. If your favorites aren’t on display, you can always order them from the menu.
There is no shortage of amazing sushi restaurants in Japan. If you’re looking for authenticity, we suggest you buy a plane ticket to the motherland. Perhaps the most popular sushi place in Japan is Sukiyabashi Jiro – a small diner in the Ginza. If you’re fortunate enough to eat here there one day, you’re in for the most authentic Japanese sushi in the nation.
Sushi is widely popular worldwide, but not everyone understands what the dish technically is and how it varies in preparation and presentation. Now that you know what sushi and sashimi are, we hope you enjoy your next outing at a sushi place.