Sushi, Sashimi, Nigiri: The Lowdown on Japanese Food You Didn’t Know You Needed

Perhaps the most famous Japanese food, sushi is essentially any dish that is made with vinegared sushi rice. While most people mistakenly believe that all sushi is made with raw fish, the most important element in sushi is the rice. Sushi can be made with raw fish, meat, other forms of seafood, and even vegetarian ingredients alone. 

Since Japan is an island country, seafood is widely used in their cuisine. Traditionally, sushi used to be fermented fish with rice that was preserved in salt, and this was a staple in the Japanese diet for over a thousand years. Contemporary sushi, which is what we eat now, was developed to be considered a fast food item in Japan, which it remains to this day. 

What are the different types of sushi?

Nigiri

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The most popular form of sushi is the oval-shaped sushi known as Nigiri, which means hand-pressed sushi. Nigiri has a slice of raw fish on top of an oblong, compact, oval-shaped mound of rice. Night is usually served in pairs, with a small dab of wasabi between the rice and fish, with a slim strip of nori (seaweed) tying it together.

Maki

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Maki, which means rolled sushi, involves strips of fish and vegetables laid on a bed of rice and rolled inside nori to create a long cylinder, after which is sliced into six to eight pieces. 

Uramaki

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Uramaki is sort of like an inside-out roll. The fish is in the center, followed by the nori, and then topped with rice. Like regular maki, uramaki is then rolled into a long cylinder and then sliced into pieces.

Temaki

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Temaki, which means hand roll, has a nori cone which holds the rice, fish, and other ingredients inside it.

Gunkan

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Gunkan is an oval-shaped sushi wrapped with a strip of nori and then topped with different ingredients.

Chirashi

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Chirashi, which means scattered sushi, is basically like a rice bowl. A bowl of sushi rice with fish and other ingredients are mixed together and served. 

Inari

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Inari contains no fish, and is only sushi rice encased inside a fried tofu pouch.

Oshizushi

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Oshizushi, which means pressed sushi, involves vinegared rice and other ingredients being shaped into a block with a wooden mould named oshibako. It is then cut into bite-sized pieces and eaten with chopsticks.

Narezushi

Narezushi is very similar to the original form of sushi, and has fermented fish with rice and salt and is preserved for a few months before being eaten. Before Narezushi is eaten, the rice is discarded and only the fish is eaten.

Are sushi and sashimi the same thing?

While many use the terms interchangeably, sushi and sashimi are different. Sashimi is an entirely different Japanese dish made of thinly-sliced raw food, usually fish and seafood, but also sometimes other meats. The key difference between sushi and sashimi is that the former is always made with rice, while the latter is just the raw item. 

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Based on the ingredient, sashimi is sliced into different kinds of shapes, like flat slices, rectangles, cubes, diagonal slices or thin strips. In addition to seafood and fish, sashimi is also made of raw meat like beef, pork, and chicken. While most sashimi is served raw, some sashimi items are served braised, seared, or boiled, both for flavour and to prevent food poisoning.