Sushi dining can be confusing – so many different kinds, and so much to choose from! Here’s a quick course in sushi terminology so you can easily zero in on what suits your tastes best from the large sushi menu.
While most people use the word “sushi” to refer to raw fish on rice, it’s actually much more general than that. Sushi is any dish made with sweetened vinegar rice (shari) combined with other ingredients.
There are many different types of sushi, all with their own names:
Nigiri is what most people call sushi. These are small oblongs of sushi rice with a dab of wasabi and some kind of topping – typically raw, sliced fish but actually extends to a very wide variety of other toppings such as omelette, roe, grilled eel, etc.
Technically, nigiri is meant to be finger food, and the ingredients should be dipped in the soy sauce rather than rice. If you lift nigiri with chopsticks, the rice will often fall apart, especially if you dip the rice in soy sauce.
Maki Rolls (Makizushi)
Maki is seaweed (nori) topped with layers of rice and ingredients, rolled into a tube using a bamboo mat and then sliced into smaller chunks. Maki can also be ‘inside out’ (uramaki), with the rice on the outside of the roll and the seaweed between the rice and the around the ingredients. Maki also includes Western style creations, such as California or Rainbow rolls.
Hosomaki (“thin rolls”) are generally smaller than regular maki and only have one ingredient.
Maki are delicious bite sized flavour sensations, perfect for sharing as they are usually six or eight per order, and can be eaten either with chopsticks or fingers.
Temaki (hand rolls or cones)
Temaki is basically a seaweed ice cream cone filled with sushi rice and ingredients – yum! Plus they’re easy to pick up and gnaw on for a few bites worth of deliciousness. If you enjoy big, full bites of delectable taste, hand rolls are for you.
Sashimi is delicately sliced raw fish or beef, served without rice. It is widely considered to be the finest dish in Japanese culture, and should be eaten first (using chopsticks) before other strong flavours ruin the palate. Sashimi can be an acquired taste, but well worth it – the delicate, subtle flavours of the fish and the fine textures brought out by a skilled chef’s knife are a pleasure on the tongue.
Wasabi in America is usually dyed horseradish paste. As such, it has a very hot flavour that lingers in the mouth, and should be used sparingly.
Japanese wasabi is very different from horseradish – it is a nova of heat and flavour that does not linger, and is easily washed away with more food or water.
While some people mix it with their soy sauce for dipping all their sushi, if your sushi chef has done their job well crafting your nigiri and maki you should only need to mix wasabi and soy sauce for sashimi.
Now that you are fluent in sushi-ese, you can order with confidence and show off your urbane and cultivated knowledge of Japanese cuisine on your next visit to a Japanese restaurant.