Sushi is perhaps the most famous Japanese food in the world and has transformed into contemporary dishes with varying preparation, condiments, and ingredients, but that doesn’t mean that everyone understands what sushi technically is and what exactly the different types of sushi are. So if you’re looking for the answers to these questions, this article is for you.
Before I elaborate on what the types of sushi are, let me discuss more about what makes sushi and the difference between sushi and sashimi.
What is sushi?
Sushi is vinegared rice topped with some sugar and salt, combined with a variety of other sushi ingredients which can include raw fish, avocado, soy paper, seaweed, cucumber, and omelets. These are just some of the common accompanying ingredients.
The word “sushi” is often ambiguous for most sushi beginners. They think of it as being interchangeable with raw fish. Despite popular belief, the word sushi does not say anything about raw fish. Originally, sushi was fermented fish with sushi rice preserved in salt, and this was a primary dish in the Land of the Rising Sun for a thousand years until the Edo Period when contemporary sushi was developed. The term sushi is no longer used in its original context and literally means “sour-tasting”, which reflects back to its origin of being preserved in salt.
Sushi is Japanese cuisine, but these days you could find sushi everywhere since it has developed into international trend across the world. In America, sushi has become a trendy, healthy, and delicious lunch choice.
The taste can differ vastly from region to region. For instance, sushi in Japan is more flavor concentrate and simple that does not contain more than one type of fish or one type of vegetable. In Japan, they don’t have the types of rolls that are popular at most establishments in the United States, such as Spider Roll, Rock & Roll, and Caterpillar Roll. These kinds of rolls are considered Western-style. When it comes to using condiments, the Japanese also keep it simple. They do not mix wasabi in the soy sauce, they dab a little bit on the sushi if desired. Japanese also do not put sauces on their sushi, such as unagi sauce or spicy mayonnaise. The pickled ginger (Gari), as a palate cleanser, is eaten in between pieces of sushi, not with the sushi pieces.
On contrary, in the Westerners, we love them all in combinations, with the addition of avocado, cream cheese. And the pieces of sushi here are quite big, not the typical bite-size like in Japan, but it’s fine to take two bites.
So what’s the difference between Sushi and Sashimi?
Many non-native Japanese tend to confuse between sushi and sashimi while they are actually two completely distinct and separate items. Just remember that sashimi is not sushi since it is not accompanied with rice. Sashimi means “sliced meat”. It is commonly thinly sliced raw seafood that is fresh like Tuna or Salmon. Since mostly freshwater fish tend to have parasites that can cause intestinal distress, saltwater fish is often used. Typically in restaurants, sashimi is served on top of daikon (Asian white radish shredded into long strands) along with soy sauce, pickled ginger and wasabi paste.
Here is a list of common meats served as Sashimi.
- Salmon (Sake)
- Tuna (Maguro)
- Horse Mackerel (Aji)
- Octopus (Tako)
- Scallop (Hotate-gai)
- Fatty Tuna (Otoro)
- Sea Urchin (Uni)
If you want to learn more about Japanese cuisine or simply want to make sushi at home, you also need to know the different types of sushi. So without further ado, let’s dive into the details of all the different types of sushi and prepare your taste buds for some delicious Japanese dishes.
The different types of sushi
The most well-known sushi is Nigirizushi or Nigiri, which means hand-pressed sushi. Nigiri is the original form of sushi, consists of an oblong mound of vinegared rice pressed between the palms of the hands to form an oval-shaped ball, and a single topping draped over it. Any hand pressed sushi using your palms belong to this category.
Nigiri became popular in the early 19th century in Japan and it is believed to have been invented as a type of “fast food” by a sushi chef who decided to sell his freshly created sushi to nearby workers for a quick snack. Like other types of sushi, the key seasonings used in nigirizushi are wasabi and soy sauce. While soy sauce is used as a dipping sauce, wasabi is put in nigiri. Other garnishes might include daikon radish and seaweed.
Some common Nigiri sushi toppings include:
- Sea Bass
- Sweet Shrimp
- Young Yellowtail
- Japanese Omelette
- Fake Crab
- Monk Liver
- Salmon Roe
- Sea Urchin
- Surf Clam
The best nigirizushi is the one that has bite-size mouthwatering sushi size and thick enough topping to complement the flavor. Many sushi chefs have to go through extensive training to learn how to make nigiri. In many sushi restaurants, nigiri is offered on a combination platter, so that diners can try several different types of sushi at once. This type of sushi is usually served with other types of sushi such as Inari for a taste contrast. Some types of nigiri combine a variety of ingredients, although these types are often found outside of Japan. One of the popular nigiri combinations is grilled unagi and avocado.
If you have a reliable source of very high-quality fresh fish, you can easily make Nigiri at home. If you are unable to obtain freshly caught fish, the fish should be roasted, baked, grilled before being eaten. To make this type of sushi, cook a batch of short grained sticky rice and season it with a mixture of one teaspoon sugar, one tablespoon rice vinegar, and a pinch of salt to each cup of rice. Let the sticky rice cool while you prepare your topping or neta. Dip your hands in water to keep the rice from adhering and pick up a small handful of rice, compressing it to form a clump.
This sushi is intended to be eaten with your fingers, but you can eat it with chopsticks also if desired, and guests are often provided with small individual plates and mixing bowls for sauces. If you want to eat with your hands, place one piece of Nigirizushi between your forefingers and thumb, turn it upside down, and dip the fish in the soy sauce. Be careful not to dip rice in soy sauce too much. This is must be done this way since dipping it rice-side first will cause it to fall apart. You should place Nigiri in your mouth fish side down.
Temarizushi – This is a variant of nigirizushi that is made by pressing rice and fish into a ball-shaped form by hand using a plastic wrap. These sushi balls combine vibrant contrasting colors sashimi over seasoned sushi rice. Temari often served during Hinamatsuri (Japan’s girl day) or other special occasions.
Gunkanmaki – Although Gunkanmaki is referred to as warship or battleship “roll”, it is actually a special type of nigiri that has a strip of nori wrapped around its perimeter to form a vessel that is filled with some loose ingredients that require the confinement of nori. Some common toppings for Gunkanmaki include soybean-natto, salmon roe – Ikura, sea urchin – Uni, and capelin eggs – Masago. Other raw ingredients are also used through dicing, chopping, smashing, then either go alone or combine with sriracha, spice or kewpie mayo to make a unique mixture and place atop the Gunkanmaki.
This type of sushi is one of the most popular types of sushi in America. Which means you can walk into any well-stocked modern grocery store and you can usually find a sushi booth stuffed with all kinds of variations of Makizushi.
Makizushi is the “roll” type of sushi. This is the type of sushi where rice and ingredients are carefully rolled in a sheet of Nori (seaweed), which is then cut into smaller pieces. It can also be wrapped in a thin omelet, cucumber, soy paper, or perilla leaves – Shiso. These are also eaten with your hands.
Topping ingredients for Maki sushi can be anything from whole, slice to chunk, cook to raw. They can be fruit, pickle, meat, seafood, vegetable. The best sushi rolls will have all toppings and ingredients hold well together, e.g. everything should be fresh whether cook or not, not crumble down when eating. Many sushi restaurants make specialized sushi rolls with their chefs’ creations. The creative possibilities are endless.
There are 3 main types of Makizushi that are “inside” rolls. Which means that the rice is rolled inside the seaweed-nori or just about anything that is flat and pliable potential.
Hosomaki (Thin rolls)
Hosomaki is quite popular in Japan for snack, lunch as it is small and bite-sized. It usually contains one ingredient like a strip of fresh tuna, cucumber, or pickled daikon. Because of its thin diameter ( about 1-inch diameter), most people find it harder to roll than the larger chumaki roll.
Some popular types of Hosomaki are:
- Tekkamaki – This sushi is made with raw tuna, served as a quick snack that could be eaten with one hand.
- Kappamaki – named after Japan water imp (greenish color), it is made with sliced cucumber and is traditionally used to cleanse between seafood or fish.
- Negitoromaki – Chopped tuna is usually used for this sushi with chopped scallion.
- Kanpyomaki or Kanpyo – marinated dried gourd strips are the main ingredients in this roll.
- Tukuan Hosomaki – This one is made with takuan.
Chumaki (Medium rolls)
Chumaki is the slightly larger cousin of the Hosomaki, it usually contains 2 or 3 ingredients and is about 1.5” in diameter. It’s a bit easier to roll because there is more diameter to “grip”, but not too much to grip. And there is a 2 ½ inch bare nori strip at the farthest edge left to seal the roll. To make this sushi, you could either use the full 8×7 nori sheet or just fold and tear off a quarter.
What you will need to make this roll are a little close to 1 cup of cooked sushi rice and the ingredients. Then just roll it like you would on a Hosomaki.
Some popular Chumaki rolls include but not limited to:
- Umekyu maki – pickled plum and cucumber, double the clean
- Anakyu – saltwater eel and thin slices cucumber
Futomaki (Thick rolls)
Futomaki is the “fat boy” of this maki roll lineup, typically between 2 and 2.5 inches in diameter. Because of its large size, some people find it harder to roll than a chumaki roll. This roll includes a combination of ingredients (4 or more ingredients).
This roll is a more popular variation of sushi within America and comes in variations that take their names from their place of origin. In Japan, Futomaki usually filled with a variety of contrasting color veggies and pickle mainly for decorating purposes when serving at special occasions. Similar to the above two cousin’s rolling method, the futomaki roll is cylindrical in its shape and usually wrapped in nori, and it uses 1 ½ cups of sushi rice over a full nori sheet instead. One of the unique facts about this type of sushi is that it uses dried ingredients instead of using fresh ingredients which used for a typical sushi roll. One of the most popular Futomaki in Japan is the Ehomaki.
Then there is an “inside-out” sushi when the rice is on the outside, this is called uramaki. This roll is modern version of makizushi and is a Western’s invention as a result since the creation of the California roll. Which’s why a majority of Western’s sushi rolls are uramaki variants. It’s made by first layering the sushi rice onto the bamboo sushi mat, then laying the flipped nori on the top followed by the certain ingredients such as crab stick -kani, avocado, cream cheese, before rolling. It’s often rolled in sesame seeds, which helps enhance flavor and reduce stickiness or topped with tobiko fish eggs for extra crunch.
And last but not least, there is “handroll” or Temaki. Temaki literally translates to hand (te) rolled (maki) sushi. Temaki roll is also a popular casual Japanese food at Japanese sushi bars where your choice of sushi fillings (seafood, fish, egg roulade, caviar, and vegetables) are wrapped with a small amount of sushi rice in a large piece of nori into an easy-to-grab, ice cream cone shaped sushi roll. Traditionally, temaki is eaten by hand, because it would be awkward with chopsticks. Making temaki roll is fun and easy, and it is often used to introduce Westerners to the taste and experience of sushi. The temaki is also ideal for family night dinners. All you need is to prepare the sushi rice, meats and vegetables like crab, tuna, avocado and maybe some seasoned shitake mushrooms and dinner is served.
Inarizushi is the third popular type of sushi in the U.S., along with nigirizushi and makizushi. This is a deep-fried tofu pouch stuffed with sushi rice which is brown and oval-shaped. The seasoned inari pouch is most commonly filled with sushi rice to create a sweet, slightly sour, juicy dish. Inarizushi can also be filled with rice topped with other ingredients like squid, mushrooms, chives, and shredded omelet. The number of inarizushi recipes is limitless as any ingredients combination mixed to the rice stuff with tofu would create a fun variation.
The portability, versatility, ease of making of inarizushi makes it a perfect lunch for picnics. Unlike other sushi types mentioned above, inarizushi doesn’t contain any fish. So if raw fish is not your favorite, try this sushi. And if you like regular sushi, you’ll still like it, too!
The word “chirashi” means “ scattered”. Chirashi is a type of sushi served in a bowl of sushi rice mixed with fish, vegetables, and other ingredients of your choice. The toppings commonly include pieces of salmon, cucumber, squid, and shredded omelet. This sushi is similar to a kaisendon (Japanese rice bowl topped with a large amount of seafood), however, chirashizushi uses vinegared sushi rice whereas kaisendo uses plain steamed white rice.
Chirashizushi is very popular in Japanese homes because it is easy to make and there are almost no limits to what ingredients go in chirashi, making it ideal for using up leftovers. And if you’re a vegetarian, you could make a vegetable-only chirashi since it does not need to have fish. If you’re in the mood for rice and fish but don’t want to make sushi rolls, you can try this one as well.
Mushi zushi means steamed sushi. This is a very regional sushi that it is not used or found very often on the internet, even if you ask any Japanese, it’s likely they have never heard of or seen it before unless they are from Osaka or Kyoto region. This steamed sushi comes in either a bamboo steamer or a bowl, with such fish as Unagi (freshwater eel), Anago (sea eel), Shrimp and white fish with shitake mushroom and cooked a shredded egg over rice. This sushi is a kind of steamed version of Chirashi. It is easy to make – just place any kind of fish and vegetables over the sushi rice and steam until the fish is cooked.
Oshizushi means “pressed sushi” or is also known as hako-sushi which means “box sushi”. Box sushi is a fun way to enjoy sushi and fresh fish. This type of sushi is from Osaka, a part of the Kansai region. Today, “box sushi” made with sushi rice and mackerel is one of the most popular forms of taking out food bought at airports by Japanese travelers.
Pressed sushi is one of the oldest forms of sushi, sushi rice and ingredients shaped into a block with a wooden mold, called an oshibako. The bottom of the mold is lined with the topping which is covered with rice and then the lid of the mold is firmly pressed down to form rectangular shape sushi. When the block of sushi is removed from the wooden mold it cut into pieces and served. The toppings include fish like gizzard shad or mackerel, and may also be decoratively layered with leaves like bamboo.
Some popular Oshizushi you would see are:
- Kakinohazushi – This is the type of pressed sushi which is wrapped with persimmon leaves. Unlike most of the other types of sushi, the wrapper of this persimmon leaf-wrapped sushi is not edible, however, it is there because of its bactericidal nature and also to infuse the sushi with its scent. The sushi rice with raw fish wrapped in persimmon leaves and kept for a couple of days, which makes this persimmon leaf-wrapped sushi have a strong and delicious umami taste. Originally from Nara (the land with no sea in Japan), this sushi commonly cannot be found in sushi restaurants.
- Hakozushi – Osaka modern pressed sushi, which includes high-grade fishes such as sea eel, snapper, shrimps and other exotic.
- Hazushi – pressed sushi with leaves layer
- Battera – pressed sushi which topped with gizzard shad or mackerel and cut rectangles.
- Masuzushi – pressed sushi which wrapped by bamboo leaf
- Bozushi – pressed sushi in long candy bar shape and cut into bite-size pieces
This is considered as a taste of ancient sushi in Japan as before nigiri was invented, Narezushi was the only form of sushi in Japan. Dating back to the 10th century in Japan, Narezushi was fermented fish with sushi rice and salt for six months to a couple of years before being eaten – is a perfect example of this technique that dates to the Nara period. During the fermentation process, the fish started to generate very foul odor and as such, its delicacy just like some foul odor possessing cheese. After the fermentation process was done, the rice was originally discarded, only the fish was eaten.
Over time, this fermentation period became shorter so that the rice could be eaten with the fish that then gave way to more modern types of sushi. At first glance, this sushi looks nothing like other modern sushi. It’s often sold as one whole fish, covered in a yogurt-like sauce. To serve, sushi chefs will slice the fish into thin layers and arrange them atop a bed of rice in a beautiful pattern.
Because of the sewage-like aroma and mouth-puckeringly sour taste of the Narezushi, this one will either make or break your dinner.
These days, narezushi is less popular than other types of sushi because of its extremely pungent flavor. However, funazushi, in the Lake Biwa, remains popular, which made from nigorobuna fish. Because it commonly takes up to 5 years to ferment, funazushi is considered a regional delicacy due to its high price.
The Most Popular Sushi rolls
As you can see, there are many great sushi rolls out there, but some sushi rolls are popular than others. These sushi rolls can usually be found at most sushi restaurants. If you’re going to go out for sushi, here are some great options you can choose from.
If you’re a vegetarian, these rolls are great options. They usually contain avocado, shisi leaves, sprout, asparagus, cucumber, carrot, kaiware, etc.
The classic rolls
These rolls are classic for a reason! These ones are very simple yet tasty and contain only three things: tuna, avocado, and cucumber.
One of the top famous rolls in the U.S. and it’s virtual an inside-out roll with cucumber. I like the crunchy texture of shrimp tempura inside this roll. The outside is cover with sliced avocado to resemble the scale and roasted eel. Since raw sashimi fish is not required for this recipe, pregnant women or small children can enjoy this roll at home!
Shrimp tempura roll
This sushi roll is easy to make and taste just as delicious too. Shrimp tempura roll is one of my favorite sushi rolls, although it’s not prepared in the traditional way since it’s fried is shrimp tempura.
The New York roll
This one is pretty basic but incredibly tasty, it usually contains apple, avocado, and smoked salmon. This roll is ideal for making at home since you can find the ingredients in almost any local market. Most people are open to eating shrimp which makes it a great choice for beginning sushi consumers.
If New York is not quite to your liking, try Philadelphia. This one is a makizushi classified as a type of sushi generally made of smoked salmon, cucumber, avocado, and cream cheese. It can also include other ingredients such as sesame seed, scallions, or other types of fish.
Eel and Avocado roll
Even if you’ve never had sushi roll, you will like this roll. This sushi is chewy and one of the fattier fishes used in sushi. It’s eel, rice, avocado, and nori.
This roll is a type of Western-style sushi. It is called this perhaps because of its color scheme and its heavy calorie numbers. It usually contains tempura and masago with vegetables like avocado, radish sprouts, and cucumber, as well as Japanese mayonnaise. The roll is lightly baked, torch, etc. to melt the sauce a bit.
These rolls contain spicy yellowtail, scallion, and cucumber inside, topped with more yellow sashimi. If you’re not a fan of yellowtail, you can use tuna or salmon instead. Unlike some other traditional sushi, Yellowtail ( or Hosomaki in Japanese) is really easy to make. These are also not inside-out rolls, which requires a bit more practice, so it’s a great sushi roll if you are a first-timer.
This is the basis for all Western or American sushi rolls. This roll is made of avocado, imitation crab, and strips of cucumber. It is then rolled with sushi rice on the outside, seaweed inside and cover with some sesame. The California roll has a lot of variations, with each restaurant changing it a bit. You could find this sushi at any sushi restaurant that serves sushi at a pretty affordable rice too since the ingredients are all budget.
Lion King roll
Lion King roll is essentially the California roll wrapped with salmon and baked, and topped off with a special house sauce (Mayo, Roe, and Sambal Oelek brand chili sauce). Making the Lion King at home is quite simple and budget-friendly as well.
This roll is very similar to the California roll with just slight variations, for example, poached shrimp is used instead of imitation crab. It is usually served with soya sauce, wasabi, and pickled garlic. This roll contains no raw fish, so if you’re a fan of raw fish, you want to give this one a go.
This one is definitely one of my favorite rolls. This sushi roll is just a basic California roll, but it’s marbled and the layered topping of assorted fish (tuna, salmon, white fish, yellowtail, red snapper) and avocado make this roll perfectly divine.
Spicy tuna roll
This roll is another popular sushi roll in sushi restaurants in the U.S., along with California rolls, Dragon rolls, and Rainbow rolls. Do you like it hot? If you do, you might like this one made of sushi rice, nori (seaweed), avocado, cucumber and a bit of chili sauce to give it a kick!
These rolls are just some of the most basic. Of course, there are a lot of sushi rolls that you can find on the market. Some rolls are actually unique to the restaurant. Some may be served mainly in a certain region. For example, in Japan, it’s common to find certain types of sushi in Osaka that you cannot find them in Tokyo. While the American restaurants don’t have this as much, you will still find unique sushi rolls at locally-owned and operated Japanese restaurants.
As mentioned, there are some noticeable differences that you can find between traditional Japanese sushi and U.S. sushi. That’s mainly because Americans are used to eating foods that have certain textures and tastes. For instance, in Japan, the seaweed wrap the outer-most part of the sushi roll, but it is almost always on the inside in the U.S.
The main difference between Authentic Japanese sushi and American sushi
One of the most common questions that most sushi lovers want to know is what the difference between the sushi is prepared in its homeland of Japan and the sushi available in the U.S are. So if you’re finding yourself wondering this question, maybe you can find the answer to your question in the comparison table below.
|The original sushi rolls are typically done in the traditional manner which contains sushi rice, fish, and vegetables wrapped in seaweed.||The traditional sushi roll was flipped inside out to appeal to Western aesthetics who did not enjoy the texture of seaweed on the outside of the roll.|
|Sushi is simple: sushi rice, seaweed, one type of fish, and some vegetables inside.||Sushi rolls are topped with different types of fish, veggies and whatever else can fit inside the sushi roll. Rainbow roll, for example, contains tuna, salmon, yellowtail, snapper and avocado all wrapped around a California roll.|
|As mentioned, sushi translates to vinegar rice. Sushi rice is a smaller white grained rice seasoned with sugar, salt, and vinegar.||Sushi restaurants usually introduced brown rice to attract healthy nuts.|
|Sushi is typically a one-bite kind of food. It consists of 6 small pieces.||Sushi rolls are larger than traditional rolls. Orders usually contain 6+ pieces of a large sushi roll.|
|Japanese sushi is a delicate balance of flavors - The balance between the flavors of rice and fish.||American diners prefer bold colors and strong flavors, which explains the popularity of a roll like the “Philadelphia roll”.|
So if you want to try authentic Japanese sushi, keep reading on!
Where to get Authentic Japanese Sushi?
You can get authentic Japanese sushi in any traditional sushi restaurant in Japan. Generally, Sushi is considered a high-class delicacy, however, prices of the sushi may vary depending on several factors, such as the type of sushi you choose, the location and the sushi chef’s ability. In Japan, you can order your favorite sushi pieces as you eat your meal or you can order a set of sushi with a fixed price, which often comes in handy for group outings.
If you can’t find a sushi shop that meets your budget, there are places called kaiten-zushi, where a conveyor belt topped with plates of sushi moves from table to table around the restaurant. These restaurants offer a casual sushi dining experience at reasonable prices and can be found everywhere in Japan. When you go to a kaiten-zushi, you will wait until your favorite plate of sushi comes near you, and then pick up it from the moving table. If your favorite sushi isn’t available on the table, you can also order them from the kitchen. Prices of the sushi in such a restaurant are determined by the color of each plate, so it’s easy to keep track of meal costs.
If you’ll likely never visit Japan but really want to try one of these types of sushi, you can find it at traditional Japanese restaurants which are usually located in coastal cities with large Japanese populations such as New York, Seattle, Honolulu, or Los Angeles.