21 most popular different types of Sushi | Traditional Japanese & American

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  September 5, 2020
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There are just so many types of sushi that you might wonder what to order. In this guide, I have photos, videos, and all of the popular types explained.

Sushi is known to be highly skilled and artistic Japanese cuisine, which has become very popular and common in western countries.

Today, it’s possible to walk into your local retail or grocery store and get a take-away sushi package that you can enjoy in the comfort of your home as you watch Netflix.

Different types of sushi for beginners

However, whether you are enjoying sushi from the comfort of your home or a five-star Japanese restaurant, you cannot deny that sushi is one of the famous Japanese delicacies and is very popular throughout the entire world.

In this post, I’ll walk you through the differences between Japanese and American sushi and we’ll take a look at the most popular types of sushi you can find.

What is sushi?

Sushi is a Japanese style of cuisine, they use vegetables, fish (cooked or raw), and then it is mixed with rice that has been seasoned using vinegar.

Most restaurants usually serve wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger alongside this famous Japanese delicacy.

The sushi we enjoy today is a lot different from the sushi that was eaten several years ago.

Originally, sushi was a staple dish of various parts of Asia, and it was basically salted fish that was well-preserved in fermented rice.

Actually, the word “sushi” can be translated to “sour,” and this explains its fermented origins. 

The original style of sushi was very popular in japan up to the end of the Edo Era, where it changed to Edomane Zushi—which is a bit closer to the sushi we enjoy eating today.

In fact, the sushi rolls with a Nori exterior was born in the middle of the 18th century. The Nori sheet was invented in that period and the sushi roll was born soon afterward. Read more about the evolution of sushi from the beginning.

Different types of traditional Japanese sushi

Traditional sushi was developed by Hanaya Yohei, and it was a bit larger than the original sushi, required fresh fish, didn’t take a lot of time in preparation, and it was to be eaten with bare hands.

Read all about the sushi rebel Hanaya Yohei in our article here

Today’s sushi, on the other hand, uses rice soaked in vinegar, and then it’s topped with meat, veggies, fish, a mixture of traditional and at times untraditional ingredients.

There are several varieties of sushi that you can get today, and there is a big difference between Western-style sushi and Japanese-style sushi.

Want to try something different? Try making this healthy brown rice sushi instead

5 main types of traditional Japanese sushi

As I will talk about later in this post, there is a big difference between traditional Japanese sushi and American sushi.

Traditional Japanese sushi is much simpler, not dressed much, and it mostly focuses on the fish.

American sushi, on the other hand, focuses more on the sushi rolls, and it is topped with a lot of sauces and garnishes.

Types of Traditional Sushi

With that said, no matter the style you want, always make sure that you understand the type of sushi you want to order before making your order.

The following are the main types of Japanese sushi.

What’s the difference between sashimi, nigiri, and sushi?

First, let’s explore the difference between these three types of sushi, and then I’ll explain all the types separately.

Basically, you need to know that sashimi is meat (usually raw), served alone without any rice. It is a piece of seafood or meat and you eat it with some soy sauce or wasabi. 

Nigiri is like sashimi but served on a rectangular piece of rice. It usually contains rice and a piece of raw meat on top. It is something between the sashimi and the sushi roll. 

Finally, the sushi is vinegared rice served with other ingredients such as meat, vegetables, and seaweed (called nori). Usually, sushi is served as maki, or as rolls.

The rice, meat, and vegetables are wrapped in a seaweed paper and this is called sushi maki. In uramaki, the ingredients are wrapped in seaweed and the rice is on the outside. 

Popular Types of Japanese Sushi

Sashimi

Delicious sashimi

Technically, sashimi is not sushi, even though it is still categorized as sushi.

Whereas sushi is fish served with a ball of rice, which might have some extra ingredients, sashimi is just a raw fish, which is sliced and served as is.

The fish is sliced in long and rectangular slices, which are known as “hira-zukuri”.

Mostly, sashimi is served alongside soy sauce and ginger, which come as its condiments.

Nigiri

How to make sushi nigiri

This is a type of sushi, made out of balls of sushi rice seasoned with rice vinegar, and then it is topped with a slice of raw fish.

Typically, nigiri is mostly served in two pieces, and you can eat it with your bare hands—so long as you have used the hot towel to clean them.

Chirashi

Chirashi is a sushi bowl

The basic Japanese definition of chirashi is “scattered.” So what is chirashi?

This is a bowl of sushi rice, which is seasoned with rice vinegar, and then topped with an assortment of raw fish and different garnishes.

The raw fish used in this dish is usually the chef’s choice.

Chirashi is simple and easy to make, and a convenient meal to eat. In Japan, different toppings are used for this dish, and it depends on the region where this delicacy is being served.

Mostly, chirashi is eaten on Doll Day or Girls Day, Hinamatsuri, a Japanese day celebrated on March 23rd.

Check out our post on the sushi knives you can use to make these yourself

Maki

Maki is cut rolled sushi

 

When most people think of sushi, they maki rolls come to mind first. This is cut-rolled sushi, which is traditionally made using a sheet of nori (seaweed) that’s wrapped with a layer of veggie, rice, and fish.

The sushi is then rolled with a special bamboo mat and then cut into small 6 to 8 pieces.

There are different varieties of maki sushi rolls that you can order in a traditional Japanese restaurant. These varieties range in style and size, and they include:

Futomaki 

These are a bit larger sized sushi rolls, and they are stuffed with several ingredients. This type of sushi is not as the “fat” roll because it is thicker than others.

Futomaki sushi rolls

Hosomaki 

These are smaller sushi rolls, and they are made into a cone shape using a sheet of seaweed (nori). However, hosomaki contains one single filling, which can be carrots, tuna, or cucumbers.

Hosomaki sushi rolls

Temaki

These are hand sushi rolls, made by rolling nori sheets into cone shapes, and then filling them with fish, veggies, and rice. This type of maki sushi is mostly eaten with hands since they are too large to be eaten using chopsticks.

Temaki sushi cones

Gunkan Sushi

Gunkan sushi

This type is like the maki sushi, only it is formed like a ship (Gunkan) with the seaweed wrapped around the side and the filling on top of the rice instead of rolled within.

Also referred to as battleship sushi, it is made by folding roasted seaweed (nori) around a ball of rice seasoned with rice vinegar so that it creates a good shape that can be filled with different ingredients like salmon roe (ikura), oysters, flying fish roe (tobiko), or sea urchin roe (uni).

Inari-zushi

Inari-zushi fried tofy pouch

The inari-zushi is the most unusual form of sushi because it is deep-fried. As well, most varieties of this sushi don’t contain fish or other seafood and the rolls taste sweet. 

This inari is made of tofu. It looks like a pouch and it contains deep-fried tofu that is simmered in seasoning. Most varieties simmer the tofu in mirin, dashi, soy sauce, and some sugar which gives it a sweet flavor. 

Other popular varieties of this sushi include the vinegared-rice pouch and the omelet-filled inari. 

Temari

Temari sushi

The Temari sushi is translated as ‘handball’ and that’s because this sushi has the shape of small hand-rolled balls.

It is a less popular variety of sushi and mostly made at home for celebrations. Since it’s so small, it’s great finger food. 

It is a small round shaped ball of vinegared rice and topped with a layer of fish. Usually, raw salmon is used but smoked salmon and other fish can be used. 

Kakinoha-Zushi

Kakinoha-Zushi

This is a very unique type of sushi popular in Japan’s Nara region. The sushi rice is pressed and wrapped in persimmon leaf (kaki).

The sushi is quite simple, it is made by placing a piece of fish on top of rice and then wrapping it like a small package. 

Mackerel, salmon, prawn, and eel are all popular fillings. 

Sasazushi

traditional Sasazushi or "bamboo leaf sushi"

Similar to the kaki leaf sushi above, this one is a bamboo leaf sushi. It has rice and some toppings and it is wrapped in a bamboo leaf.

The most common toppings include salmon and other fish, vegetables, and even eggs. There is a sasazushi variety with walnuts, bamboo shoots, and even mugwort. 

Oshizushi (Pressed Sushi)

Oshizushi pressed square sushi for bento boxes

This type of pressed sushi is common in the Osaka region where it was first created. It is made by layering the sushi ingredients in a rectangular box. The individual sushi pieces look like small angular rice sandwiches. 

Usually, oshizushi is served in Bento boxes and gives as a gift for special occasions. 

The common ingredients include salmon, mackerel, gizzard shad, and bamboo leaves. 

Narezushi and funazushi

funazushi or very strong 5 year fermented fish

This is a text overlay image of the original work “鮒寿司” by Yasuo Kida on Flickr under CC license

The Narezushi is the oddest type of sushi on our list. Narezushi is a traditional Japanese fish dish made by preserving the fish for months in salt and rice.

It is fermented and has the typical sour and pungent flavor of fermented food. This is believed to be the original predecessor to modern sushi.

Today, there is a variety called funazushi and it takes 5 years for the fish to ferment before it is served, so it’s very expensive. 

Popular types of American sushi

Types of American Sushi

Today, there are different varieties of sushi that are served in American restaurants. These varieties are considered to be a western version of the traditional Maki sushi.

Even though these American varieties are not traditional, it does not mean that they are not delicious. The following are some of the common types of American sushi rolls, which are served in various American restaurants.

American sushi is typically a bit less healthy than traditional sushi, if you’re worried about the calorie count read this article we’ve written as well.

California roll

California roll american sushi

These have the appearance of an inside-out sushi roll. A California roll has the rice layer on the outside, and the sheet of seaweed (nori) is on the inside.

Mostly, this sushi roll comprises or imitation crab, avocado, cucumber, and at times flying fish roe (tobiko).

The California roll is a type of Uramaki.

The uramaki sushi is similar to maki rolls. It is made with vinegared rice, meat (usually seafood), vegetables, and seaweed.

But instead of the ingredients being wrapped in seaweed on the exterior, the filling ingredients are wrapped in Nori and the rice is on the outside. Usually, the uramaki rolls contain lots of fillings and toppings which may be raw or cooked.  

Tempura roll

Closeup of a tempura shrimp sushi roll with sesame seeds

Just like California rolls, tempura rolls have the rice on the outside.

The rice covers a nori sheet, which contains tempura fried shrimp, together with other veggies like cucumber and avocado.

Spicy tuna roll

Chopsticks picking up the top spicy tuna piece for a stack of sushi

These sushi rolls have a sheet of seaweed on the outside and rice on their inside.

The sheet of nori and rice is wrapped around raw tuna, which is then mixed with seasoned and spicy mayonnaise.

Dragon roll

Beautifully decorated and presented dragon sushi roll on a stone plate

These resemble tempura rolls since they use avocado, cucumber, and shrimp tempura. The rice on the dragon rolls is on the outside, and it is mostly sprinkled with sesame seeds.

But, one thing makes these sushi rolls unique, they include thinly sliced avocado on the top of the sushi roll, together with tobiko, and then they are drizzled with spicy unagi sauce and mayonnaise.

Spider roll

Spider roll soft shell crab sushi on a plate in a restaurant

This is a text overlay image of the original work Spider Roll – Soft shell crab sushi by Loren Kerns on Flickr under cc.

These are made using deep-fried soft-shell crab, and they include different fillings like cucumber, lettuce or daikon sprouts, avocado, spicy mayonnaise, and roe.

Rainbow Roll

Closeup of a few pieces of rainbow roll sushi

This is basically a sushi roll that has been topped with different varieties of sashimi.

Most often, the sushi roll that’s covered by sashimi is a California roll, which consists of crab and avocado.

To prepare a rainbow roll, the sushi chef first makes a California roll, and then adds the extra toppings after that to create a rainbow-like color scheme.

Philly roll

Philly sushi roll

This is one of the most common sushi varieties that you will find in America.

This sushi roll comprises of salmon, cucumber, and cream cheese, even though some chefs usually add other ingredients like onion, avocado, and sesame seed.

The roll is known as Philly roll not because it’s from Philadelphia, but because chefs use Philadelphia cream cheese to make the sushi roll.

Vegetarian roll

Plate of green vegetarian sushi pieces

If you were worried about people who don’t like seafood and meat, then there is something for them as well.

Almost every other sushi restaurant usually offers a vegetarian sushi roll. The sushi roll contains different varieties of veggies, including cucumber and avocado.

Volcano roll

Sushi volcano roll

This is a text overlay image of the original work Volcano roll by Quinn Dombrowski on Flickr under cc.

The volcano roll comes with a variety of ingredients—however, all volcano rolls come with one thing in common: the toppings on these rolls make them look as if they want to explode.

That’s the reason why they were given the name “volcano roll.”

Tiger Roll

The tiger roll is a very flavorful and jam-packet sushi roll. It is vinegared rice, filled with avocado, shrimp, tempura, and fish eggs (tobiko). Also, it has a seaweed exterior and it’s popular in many North American sushi restaurants.

The tiger roll doesn’t contain raw fish, so it’s a great option if you prefer cooked ingredients. The tempura is a fried ingredient and shrimp is cooked.

Common Sides and Toppings

The three most popular sides for sushi are wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger.

Wasabi is a green paste made from Japanese horseradish. 

Soy sauce is salty and contributes to the sushi’s umami flavors.

Pickled ginger cleanses the palette between meals and different types of sushi. This way, you can taste the real flavors of the food. 

The most common topping is fish eggs. The small orange or black balls are placed on top of the sushi. This is called tobiko or masago and it’s popular in Japan and North America. 

What’s the difference between Western and Japanese sushi?

There’s no doubt that Japanese sushi is the original and the best type of sushi. However, the Western-style, inspired by a fusion of American and Eastern sushi is also very tasty. 

The main difference between the two is that American sushi contains more than one ingredient. The sushi is usually in roll format and full of delicious toppings and fillings which give a bold flavor. 

In the United States, the sushi rolls are packed full of meats, veggies, and fried ingredients. In Japan, sushi rolls only contain a couple of ingredients at most and they are usually not fried. When it comes to ingredients, Japanese sushi is usually not spicy and doesn’t contain avocado. 

Type of rice used (brown rice vs. sushi rice)

The Japanese are very specific about the type of rice they use, and they usually use a particular variety of short-grain rice that is perfectly seasoned with sugar, rice vinegar, and salt.

Western restaurants, on the other hand, use brown rice, rather than white short-grain rice. However, the brown rice usually alters the flavor of the sushi and takes away its authenticity.

Levels of complexity

Japanese sushi is very simple, and it comprises of one type of fish, seaweed, some veggies—which are optional, as well as sushi rice soaked in rice vinegar.

The western sushi, on the other hand, they are stuffed with toppings and fillings, which comprise different varieties of fish, vegetables, and any other thing that can fit in the sushi roll.

The American version of sushi, like the rainbow roll, has three varieties of fish, which are placed on top to give the sushi some beautiful appearance.

Then the sushi has some vegetables and avocado on the inside—this can be compared to the American burgers or sandwich that can hold different things whenever possible.

The rolling technique

Traditional Japanese sushi comprises of vinegared sushi rice, raw or cooked fish, and veggies that are wrapped in a nori sheet (seaweed) that is toasted.

American sushi, on the other hand, is rolled inside out, where the nori is on the inside, and the sushi rice on the outside.

Japense vs American sushi

Size

Traditional Japanese sushi should be eaten with only one bite. One sushi roll is mostly cut into six small pieces, which are ideal to be eaten in just one bite.

American sushi roll, on the other hand, is a bit fat, and the roll can produce 8 or more pieces, which cannot be eaten in one bite.

Also read: these rice cookers will make your cooking so much easier

How can you choose the best sushi restaurant?

Choosing the best sushi restaurant is a challenge for many people. However, there are some guidelines that you can follow, which can assist you to have the best sushi experience.

These guidelines include:

What’s the best way to order sushi?

Traditional Japanese sushi restaurants have a basic etiquette that everyone should follow when ordering sushi. Western-style restaurants, on the other hand, you can just order without observing any etiquette. However, there are certain rules that you should follow in both settings.

How to choose the sushi you want to order

How to eat sushi correctly

How to Eat the Toppings and Sauces

Sushi etiquette

Although this might look intimidating the first time, understanding your sushi, as well as the information and etiquette that accompanies it can assist you to have an amazing and memorable sushi experience every time.

Sushi FAQs

What is the most popular type of sushi?

It depends if you are asking about Western or Japanese sushi. 

In America, the most popular types of sushi are:

In Japan, the most popular sushi are:

Can you eat sushi every day?

Eating sushi every day is not very healthy, especially if it contains raw fish. 

It’s healthiest to consume sushi only once in a while, or on a weekly basis. When consumed in moderation, it benefits your health because it is high in protein, low in fat, and contains Omega-3 fatty acids.

Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce cholesterol levels in the body. As well, it lowers the risk of heart disease. 

But best of all, most sushi is low in calories, so even people on a diet can enjoy this tasty food. 

Which sushi is healthiest?

The main culprit when it comes to making sushi unhealthy is rice. But, there are many healthy sushi options, and here are some of them.

If you make sushi at home, you can substitute white rice with brown rice to make it healthier and lower in calories. 

Is sushi good for losing weight?

Like we mentioned above, healthy is generally healthy food and low in calories. Japanese cuisine is very healthy and it helps you lose weight because it is low in calories and incorporates low-fat ingredients. Most sushi is not deep-fried or covered in sauce, therefore it’s not bad for your diet. Also, most sushi varieties don’t contain added fats. 

How much sushi is in a roll?

Sushi comes in a big roll. Each roll is cut up into six or eight bite-sized pieces. 

Why is sushi expensive?

Sushi is expensive because most of it is made with expensive ingredients such as seafood and seaweed. These ingredients need to be fresh and high-quality, so they are costlier than processed foods. For example, sushi-grade fish such as tuna is expensive and can cost up to a hundred dollars per pound, depending on the type. 

Sushi is also very labor-intensive to prepare. It required quite a lot of work to make the rolls. 

Bottom Line

When you visit Japan, make sure that you try out as many sushi varieties as possible.

Today, there is something that you will notice when you visit Japan, sushi is found almost at every other corner.

You’ll find sushi on the supermarket shelves and in convenience stores. Then there are the home-made sushi rolls, not to forget sanding sushi bars, upmarket sushi restaurants, and conveyor belt sushi restaurants.

Some of these sushi eateries have reservation waiting lists that are booked several months in advance.

If you want to have the best Japanese sushi experience, make sure that you try out sushi whenever and wherever you find it.

Some of these Japanese sushi varieties are hard to find in any other part of the world. Take into consideration that the type of local rice, the fresh seasonings, and veggies used, and the attention to detail of the sushi chefs can only be found in Japan.

Just make sure that your visit to japan gets complemented by having a sushi experience.

Want to know more about making sushi? Then this guide for beginners is for you.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.