All About Sushi

All About Sushi
In Japanese cuisine, sushi (寿司, 鮨, 鮓?) is vinegared rice, usually topped with other ingredients, including fish, various meats, and vegetables. Outside of Japan, sushi is sometimes misunderstood to mean the raw fish itself, or even any fresh raw-seafood dishes. In Japan, sliced raw fish alone is called sashimi and is distinct from sushi, as sashimi is the raw fish component, not the rice component. The word sushi itself comes from an outdated grammatical form of a word that is no longer used in other contexts; literally, sushi means "it's sour."

There are various types of sushi: sushi served rolled inside nori (dried and pressed layer sheets of seaweed or alga) called makizushi (巻き) or rolls; sushi made with toppings laid with hand-formed clumps of rice called nigirizushi; toppings stuffed into a small pouch of fried tofu called inarizushi; and toppings served scattered over a bowl of sushi rice called chirashi-zushi.


The main idea in the preparation of sushi is the preservation and fermentation of fish with salt and rice, a process that has been traced back to China and Southeast Asia where fish and rice fermentation dishes still exist today. The science behind the fermentation of fish in rice is that the vinegar produced from the fermenting rice breaks the fish down into amino acids. This results in one of the five basic tastes, called umami in Japanese. The oldest form of sushi in Japan, Narezushi still very closely resembles this process. In Japan, Narezushi evolved into Oshizushi and ultimately Edomae nigirizushi, which is what the world today knows as "sushi".

Modern Japanese sushi has little resemblance to the traditional lacto-fermented rice dish. Originally, when the fermented fish was taken out of the rice, only the fish was consumed and the fermented rice was discarded. The strong-tasting and -smelling funazushi, a kind of narezushi made near Lake Biwa in Japan, resembles the traditional fermented dish.

Beginning in the Muromachi period (1336–1573) of Japan, vinegar was added to the mixture for better taste and for preservation. The vinegar accentuated the rice's sourness, and was known to increase its life span, allowing the fermentation process to be shortened and eventually abandoned. In the following centuries, sushi in Osaka evolved into oshi-zushi, the seafood and the rice were pressed using wooden (usually bamboo) molds. By the mid 18th century, this form of sushi had reached Edo (contemporary Tokyo).

The contemporary version, internationally known as "sushi," was invented by Hanaya Yohei (華屋与兵衛; 1799–1858) at the end of Edo period in Edo. The sushi invented by Hanaya was an early form of fast food that was not fermented (it was therefore prepared quickly) and could be eaten with one's hands roadside or in a theatre. Originally, this sushi was known as Edomae zushi, because it used freshly caught fish in the Edo-mae (Edo Bay or Tokyo Bay). Though the fish used in modern sushi no longer usually comes from Tokyo Bay, it is still formally known as Edomae nigirizushi.

Types of sushi

The common ingredient across all the different kinds of sushi is sushi rice (known as shari in Japanese). The variety in sushi arises from the different fillings and toppings, condiments, and the way these ingredients are put together. The same ingredients may be assembled in a traditional or a contemporary way, creating a very different final result.

Nigiri-zushi (握り寿司, lit. hand-formed sushi). This is the most typical form of sushi in restaurants. It consists of an oblong mound of sushi rice that is pressed between the palms of the hands, with a speck of wasabi and a slice of topping called neta draped over it. This is possibly bound with a thin band of nori, and is often served in pairs.

Gunkan-maki (軍艦巻, lit. warship roll). A special type of nigiri-zushi: an oval, hand-formed clump of sushi rice that has a strip of "nori" wrapped around its perimeter to form a vessel that is filled in with topping(s). The topping is typically some soft, loose or fine-chopped ingredient that requires the confinement of nori such as roe, natto, oysters, and quail eggs. Gunkan-maki was invented at the Ginza Kyubey (Kubei) restaurant in 1931; its invention significantly expanded the repertoire of soft toppings used in sushi.

Makizushi (巻き寿司, lit. rolled sushi). A cylindrical piece, formed with the help of a bamboo mat, called a makisu (巻き簾). Makizushi is generally wrapped in nori, but can occasionally be found wrapped in a thin omelette, sesame seeds, cucumber, or parsley. Makizushi is usually cut into six or eight pieces, which constitutes a single roll order. Below are some common types of makizushi, but many other kinds exist. 

Futomaki (太巻き, lit. large or fat rolls). A large cylindrical piece, with nori on the outside. A typical futomaki is three or four centimeters (1.5 in) in diameter. They are often made with two or three fillings that are chosen for their complementary tastes and colors. During the Setsubun festival, it is traditional in Kansai to eat uncut futomaki in its cylindrical form. Futomaki is generally vegetarian, but may include toppings such as tiny fish eggs.

Hosomaki (細巻き, lit. thin rolls). A small cylindrical piece, with the nori on the outside. A typical hosomaki has a diameter of about two centimeters (0.75 in). They generally contain only one filling, often tuna, cucumber, kanpyō, thinly sliced carrots, or, more recently, avocado.

Kappamaki, (河童巻き) a kind of Hosomaki filled with cucumber, is named after the Japanese legendary water imp fond of cucumbers called the kappa. Traditionally, Kappamaki is consumed to clear the palate between eating raw fish and other kinds of food, so that the flavors of the fish are distinct from the tastes of other foods.

Tekkamaki (鉄火巻き) is a kind of Hosomaki filled with raw tuna. Although some believe that the name "Tekka", meaning 'red hot iron', alludes to the color of the tuna flesh, it actually originated as a quick snack to eat in gambling dens called "Tekkaba (鉄火場)", much like the sandwich.

Negitoromaki (巻) is a kind of Hosomaki filled with scallion and chopped tuna. Fatty tuna is often used in this style.

Tsunamayomaki (巻) is a kind of Hosomaki filled with canned tuna tossed with mayonnaise.

Uramaki (裏巻き, lit. inside-out rolls). A medium-sized cylindrical piece, with two or more fillings. Uramaki differs from other maki because the rice is on the outside and the nori inside. The filling is in the center surrounded by nori, then a layer of rice, and an outer coating of some other ingredients such as roe or toasted sesame seeds. It can be made with different fillings such as tuna, crab meat, avocado, mayonnaise, cucumber, carrots. This is typically thought of as an invention to suit the American palate , and is not commonly seen in Japan. The increasing popularity of sushi in North America, as well as around the world, has resulted in numerous kinds of uramaki and regional off-shoots being created, such as the California roll, the B.C. roll (grilled salmon skin), and the Philadelphia roll (cream cheese).

The caterpillar roll includes avocado, unagi, and carrot greens.

The dynamite roll includes yellowtail (hamachi), and fillings such as bean sprouts, carrots, chili and spicy mayo. 

The rainbow roll features sashimi, layered outside with rice. 

The spider roll includes fried soft shell crab and other fillings such as cucumber, avocado, daikon sprouts or lettuce, roe, and spicy mayonnaise. 

A Philadelphia roll contains smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, and/or onion. 

A BC roll has grilled salmon with sweet sauce and cucumber. It is named after British Columbia for its famous wild Pacific salmon. 

A crunchy roll is typically a California roll with shrimp tempura wrapped inside with the other ingredients, with the outside of the roll coated with fried tempura batter crumbs. It is often served with chili sauce on the side. 

The Godzilla Roll includes yellowtail, deep-fried in tempura, topped with teriyaki and a stripe of hot sauce, and then sprinkled with green onions. 

Other rolls may include scallops, spicy tuna, beef or chicken or teriyaki roll, okra, vegetables, and cheese. Sushi rolls can also be made with Brown rice and black rice. These have also appeared in Japanese cuisine.

Temaki (手巻き, lit. hand rolls). A large cone-shaped piece of nori on the outside and the ingredients spilling out the wide end. A typical temaki is about ten centimeters (4 in) long, and is eaten with fingers because it is too awkward to pick it up with chopsticks. For optimal taste and texture, Temaki must be eaten quickly after being made because the nori cone soon absorbs moisture from the filling and loses its crispness and becomes somewhat difficult to bite.

Inari-zushi (稲荷寿司, stuffed sushi). A pouch of fried tofu filled with usually just sushi rice. It is named after the Shinto god Inari, who is believed to have a fondness for fried tofu. The pouch is normally fashioned as deep-fried tofu (油揚げ, abura age). Regional variations include pouches are made of a thin omelet (帛紗寿司, fukusa-zushi or 茶巾寿司, chakin-zushi) or dried gourd shavings (干瓢, kanpyō).

Oshizushi (押し寿司, lit. pressed sushi). A block-shaped piece formed using a wooden mold, called an oshibako. The chef lines the bottom of the oshibako with the toppings, covers them with sushi rice, and then presses the lid of the mold down to create a compact, rectilinear block. The block is removed from the mold and then cut into bite-sized pieces. This variety originates from the Kansai Region and is a favorite and specialty of Osaka.

Chirashizushi (ちらし寿司, lit. scattered sushi). A bowl of sushi rice with other ingredients mixed in (also refers to barazushi). It is commonly eaten in Japan because it is filling, fast and easy to make. Chirashizushi most often varies regionally because it is eaten annually as a part of the Doll Festival, celebrated only during March in Japan.

Edomae chirashizushi (Edo-style scattered sushi) is an uncooked ingredient that is arranged artfully on top of the sushi rice in a bowl.

Gomokuzushi (Kansai-style sushi). Cooked or uncooked ingredients mixed in the body of rice in a bowl.

Narezushi (熟れ寿司, lit. matured sushi) is an older form of sushi. Skinned and gutted fish are stuffed with salt, placed in a wooden barrel, doused with salt again, and then weighed down with a heavy tsukemonoishi (pickling stone). They are supposedly salted for ten days to a month, then placed in water for 15 minutes to an hour. They are then placed in another barrel, sandwiched, and layered with cooled steamed rice and fish. Then the mixture is again partially sealed with otoshibuta and a pickling stone. As days pass, water seeps out, which must be removed. Six months later, this funazushi can be eaten, and remains edible for another six months or more.

Funazushi (鮒寿司) is a dish in Japanese cooking, which involves with anaerobic lacto-fermentation of fresh water fish, funa (鮒, crucian carp). The dish is famous as a regional dish from Shiga Prefecture, It is considered to be a chinmi, a delicacy in Japanese cooking.

Temarizushi are ball-shaped sushi made by pressing rice and fish into a ball-shaped form by hand using a plastic wrap. They are quite easy to make and thus a good starting point for beginners.

Toppings and fillings


For culinary, sanitary, and aesthetic reasons, fish eaten raw must be fresher and of higher quality than fish which is cooked.

Professional sushi chefs are trained to recognize good fish. Important attributes include smells, colour, and being free of obvious parasites that normal commercial inspection do not detect (many go undetected).

Only ocean fish are used raw in sushi; freshwater fish are more likely to harbour parasites that are harmful to humans if uncooked.

Commonly-used fish are tuna (akami, chūtoro, shiro-maguro, toro), Japanese amberjack, also known as yellowtail (hamachi), snapper (kurodai), conger (hamo), mackerel (saba), salmon (sake), and eel (anago and unagi). The most valued sushi ingredient is toro, the fatty cut of tuna. This comes in a variety of ōtoro (often from the bluefin species of tuna) and chūtoro, meaning middle toro, implying that it is halfway into the fattiness between toro and regular red tuna (akami).

Aburi style refers to nigiri sushi where the fish is partially grilled (topside) and partially raw.


Other seafoods such as squid (ika), octopus (tako), shrimp (ebi and amaebi), clam (mirugai, aoyagi and akagi), fish roe (ikura, masago, kazunoko and tobiko), sea urchin (uni), crab (kani), and various kinds of shellfish (abalone, prawn, scallop) are the most popular seafoods in sushi. Oysters, however, are not typically put in sushi because the taste is not thought to go well with the rice. However, some sushi restaurants in New Orleans are known to serve Fried Oyster Rolls and Crawfish rolls.


Pickled daikon radish (takuan) in shinko maki, pickled vegetables (tsukemono), fermented soybeans (nattō) in nattō maki, avocado in California rolls, cucumber in kappa maki, asparagus, yam, pickled ume (umeboshi), gourd (kampyō), burdock (gobo), and sweet corn may be mixed with mayonnaise.

Red meat

Beef, ham, spam, sausage, and horse meat are often lightly cooked. Note: It is a common misconception that in Hawaii, fried Spam is a popular local variation for sushi. In reality, Spam musubi differs from sushi in that its rice lacks the vinegar required to classify it. Spam musubi is correctly classified as onigiri.

Other fillings

Tofu, Eggs (in the form of slightly sweet, layered omelet called tamagoyaki), and raw quail eggs ride as a gunkan-maki topping.


Shōyu, The common name for soy sauce. In sushi restaurants, it may also be referred to as murasaki (lit. "purple").

Wasabi, A piquant paste made from the grated root of the wasabi plant. Real wasabi (hon-wasabi) is Wasabi japonica. Hon-wasabi has anti-microbial properties and may reduce the risk of food poisoning. The traditional grating tool for wasabi is a sharkskin grater or samegawa oroshi.

An imitation wasabi (seiyo-wasabi), made from horseradish and mustard powder and dyed green is common. It is found at lower-end kaiten zushi restaurants, in bento box sushi and at most restaurants outside of Japan. If it is manufactured in Japan, it may be labelled "Japanese Horseradish". In sushi restaurants, wasabi may be referred to as namida ("tears").

Gari, Sweet, pickled ginger. Eaten to both cleanse the palate as well as to aid in the digestive process.

Ocha, In Japan, green tea (ocha) is invariably served together with sushi. Better sushi restaurants often use a distinctive premium tea known as mecha. In sushi vocabulary, green tea is known as agari.

Health risks

Some fish such as tuna, especially bluefin, can carry high levels of mercury and can be hazardous when consumed in large quantities. As of January 2008, quite a few New York City restaurants offer tuna sushi with high enough concentration of mercury that a weekly reference dose is contained in 2−6 pieces, depending on the amount of tuna in sushi and the person's weight. Consuming raw or undercooked seafood presents the risk of anisakiasis. Uncooked seafood also often carries the bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus, which can cause diarrhea.

Sushi is usually eaten with salty condiments such as soy sauce, which are added by the diner in whatever quantity is desired. Those with hypertension or renal disorders must be careful not to inadvertently eat too much salt through overuse of salty condiment.


In Japan, and increasingly abroad, conveyor belt sushi/sushi train (kaiten zushi) restaurants are a popular, cost effective way of eating sushi. At these restaurants, the sushi is served on color-coded plates, with each color denoting the cost of the sushi serving. The plates are placed on a conveyor belt or boats floating in a moat. As the belt or boat passes, the customers choose their desired plates. After finishing, the bill is tallied by counting how many plates of each color have been taken. Some kaiten sushi restaurants in Japan operate on a fixed price system, with each plate, consisting usually of two pieces of sushi, generally costing between ¥100 and ¥200.

More traditionally, sushi is served on minimalist Japanese-style, geometric, wood or lacquer plates which are mono- or duo-tone in color, in keeping with the aesthetic qualities of this cuisine. Many small sushi restaurants actually use no plates — the sushi is eaten directly off of the wooden counter, usually with one's hands.

Modern fusion presentation has given sushi a European sensibility, taking Japanese minimalism and garnishing it with Western gestures such as the colorful arrangement of edible ingredients, the use of differently flavored sauces, and the mixing of foreign flavors. Highly suggestive of French cuisine, this deviates somewhat from the more traditional, austere style of Japanese sushi.


Sushi can be eaten either by hand or using chopsticks, although traditionally nigiri is eaten with the fingers because the rice is packed loosely so as to fall apart in one's mouth, and would disintegrate on chopsticks. In Tokugawa Shogunate, most sushi stands stood in front of Sentō. So the customers' fingers seemed to be clean, otherwise it seemed to be very rude to eat anything without chopsticks. Nowadays, customers are considered to wipe fingers well with oshibori(wet towel) before eating.

Traditionally, one should start with white-fleshed or milder-tasting items and proceed into darker, stronger-flavored varieties later. Condiments (soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger) may be used as desired. However, consider the following recommendations:

The soy sauce is to flavor the fish, not the rice, and should be used sparingly so as to not overwhelm the flavor of the fish. 

As one connoisseur counsels, "adding wasabi to soy sauce is a disaster. It reduces the spiciness dramatically and masks the taste of the fish." (Likewise, the pickled ginger should be eaten by itself as a palate cleanser between types of sushi, not dipped in soy sauce.) This, however, may be a matter of personal taste as the two are sometimes mixed to form a single dipping sauce known as Wasabi-joyu. In top-end sushi restaurants, it is also considered bad form to request or add extra wasabi when the chef has (or should have) already placed a suitable amount in each morsel.

Sake is not considered a natural pairing of sushi, since the flavor is too similar to rice to enrich the meal. Beer is usually preferred choice of drink for accompanying sushi.

Many sushi restaurants offer fixed-price sets, selected by the chef from the catch of the day. These are often graded as shō-chiku-bai (松竹梅), shō/matsu (松, pine), chiku/take (竹, bamboo) and bai/ume (梅, ume), with matsu the most expensive and ume the cheapest. The house soy sauce is often diluted with dashi, a broth made from fish flakes and kelp.

In Japan, staff in sushi restaurants often employ a complex code-like vocabulary, where alternate words are substituted for common items. For example, egg is called gyoku ("jewel"), rice is called shari (Buddha's bones), soy sauce is called murasaki ("purple") and the bill is known as o-aiso ("courtesy", "compliment"). The code words vary from place to place and often evolve locally to incorporate puns: for example, shako might be called garēji (garage), because the Japanese word shako can also refer to a vehicle depot. These terms would not be used, or even understood, in other contexts, but regular patrons may pick up and use this specialized terminology themselves while dining in the restaurant.

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