What Is Sushi?
Sushi, considered to be an artistic and highly skilled Japanese cuisine, is now so common and popular that you can walk right into your local grocery store and pick up a take-away package of sushi to eat at home while binge-watching Netflix. And whether it’s from the comfort of your couch or dining at a five-star restaurant, there’s no denying sushi’s popularity around the world.
So, what is sushi? It’s a Japanese style of food that uses fish (raw or cooked), vegetables, and is often combined with rice that’s been seasoned with vinegar. Pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce are usually served on the side.
The sushi we know today is a far cry from where it began. The original sushi was once a staple dish around various regions of Asia and was salted fish preserved in fermented rice. In fact, the word “sushi” roughly means “sour” as a nod to its fermented origins. This style of sushi was common in Japan until the end of the Edo period, when it evolved into Edomae zushi, a style of sushi closer to what we eat today. Developed by Hanaya Yohei, this sushi was larger, used fresh fish, was prepared quickly and meant to be eaten with the hands.
Contemporary sushi uses vinegared rice topped with fish, meat, and vegetables, mixing traditional and sometimes untraditional ingredients. There are a variety of styles of sushi you can order, and yes, there is a difference between Japanese-style sushi and Western-style sushi.
Main Types of Sushi
While traditional Japanese sushi is simpler, less dressed up, and focused on the fish, its American counterpart is more focused on rolls, topped with plenty of garnishes and sauces. That said, no matter which style you’re choosing, it’s important to know what you’re ordering before you order.
Technically not sushi! While sushi is fish that is served with rice and may be adorned with other ingredients, sashimi is simply the raw fish, served as is. It’s sliced in long rectangular slices known as “hira-zukuri” and may have wasabi, soy sauce and ginger served on the side as accompanying condiments.
Nigiri is a style of sushi that is made by molding a ball of vinegared rice by hand and topping it with a slice of raw fish. It’s usually served with two pieces and can be eaten with the hands.
Chirashi, meaning, “scattered,” is a bowl of vinegared rice topped with a mix of raw fish (typically chef’s choice) and various garnishes. It’s fast and easy to make, and convenient to eat. In Japan the toppings vary depending on the region where it’s being served and is often eaten on Hinamatsuri, Girls Day or Doll Day, a special day in Japan celebrated on March 3rd.
Maki is cut rolled sushi, traditionally made with a sheet of nori, wrapped around a layer of rice, vegetables, and fish, then rolled up using a special bamboo mat, and cut into 6-8 pieces. There are a variety of maki sushi rolls you can order which range in size and style.
- Futomaki are larger sized rolls filled with a number of ingredients.
- Hosomaki are smaller rolls made with a sheet of nori, rolled up with a layer of rice, but contain only a single filling, such as cucumbers, tuna or carrots.
- Temaki are hand rolls, which are made by rolling a sheet of nori into a cone shape, then filling with rice and vegetables and fish. Temaki are eaten with the hands because they’re too big to eat with chopsticks.
- Gunkanmaki, also known as battleship sushi, it’s formed by wrapping nori (roasted seaweed) around a ball of vinegared rice so that a well is created that can be filled with ingredients like oysters, ikura (salmon roe), tobiko (flying fish roe) or uni (sea urchin roe).
Guide: Types of Sushi Rolls
A lot of the sushi rolls we’ve become familiar with in the United States are a Western take on Japanese Maki sushi. Even though they’re not traditional, it certainly doesn’t mean they aren’t delicious! We’ll break down some of the popular types of sushi rolls you’ll find on most menus in America.
California Rolls look like an inside-out sushi roll with a layer of rice on the outside and a sheet of nori on the inside, and usually include avocado, imitation crab, cucumber, and sometimes tobiko (flying fish roe).
Tempura Rolls, like California Rolls, have the rice on the outside around a sheet of nori containing tempura-fried shrimp along with vegetables like avocado and cucumber.
Spicy Tuna Roll
Spicy Tuna Rolls also have the rice on the outside, with a sheet of nori on the inside, wrapped around raw tuna that’s been mixed with spicy mayonnaise.
Dragon Rolls are similar to Tempura Rolls in that they use shrimp tempura, avocado, cucumber, and have the rice on the outside sprinkled with sesame seeds. Dragon rolls, however, include thin slices of avocado on top of the roll, along with tobiko, and are then drizzled with spicy mayonnaise and unagi sauce.
Spider Rolls are made with deep fried soft-shell crab and include fillings such as cucumber, avocado, daikon sprouts or lettuce, roe and spicy mayonnaise.