Sushi: The Complete Guide To 42 Types You Find In Restaurants
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There are two main types of sushi: nigiri and maki. Nigiri is sushi with a strip of raw fish on top of a rice ball. Maki is sushi rolled up in seaweed and sliced into bite-sized pieces. Maki has different shapes like the thin hosomaki or large futomaki.
This guide will show you every type of roll imaginable with pictures, videos, descriptions, and instructions on how to eat each one properly.
You’ll learn everything from nigiri and maki to temaki hand rolls (cone-shaped), gunkanmaki (battleship-shaped), and even chirashi sushi in a bowl!
If you really love Japanese culture and cuisine, I strongly recommend you give this Complete Guide to Sushi and Sashimi by Jeffrey Elliot a read as well:
This incredible book provides all the information needed to start, from ingredients and knives to equipment, fish butchery, and plating techniques. It has amazing pictures of everything, so it’s also a very inspiring book.
But let’s get into the different sushi types here.
No, a serving of raw fish is called sashimi and it is not the same thing as sushi because it doesn’t contain rice. Sushi is associated with raw fish but vinegared rice is the most important component. All types of sushi contain vinegared rice, but not all contain raw fish.
The rice is what makes sushi unique. It is sticky, so it holds everything together.
It has a slightly sweet and sour flavor that is balanced by the salty taste of the fish or seafood.
Just raw meat, raw fish, or raw seafood is not sushi without rice.
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In this post we'll cover:
- 1 The 14 Popular Types of Japanese Sushi
- 2 Why is sashimi not sushi?
- 3 What does sushi mean?
- 4 Common sushi sides and toppings
- 5 Conclusion
The 14 Popular Types of Japanese Sushi
There are two main types of sushi, but within maki (rolled) sushi, there are several subtypes:
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 sashimi and the sushi roll, but because it’s made with sushi rice, it is a type of sushi, whereas sashimi is not.
Let’s look at each of these 14 types of sushi and all of their subtypes more closely:
This is a type of sushi, made out of balls of sushi rice seasoned with rice vinegar 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.
Nigiri is a kind of sushi made of thinly sliced raw fish placed on a bed of vinegared rice, but not rolled. Sashimi is raw fish or meat (mainly salmon and tuna) served raw without any rice.
Saba nigiri (Mackerel)
This has a very fishy taste and smell, even though the texture is buttery. This fish is versatile and relatively affordable so it’s common at restaurants.
Tai nigiri (Sea bream)
One of the most popular types of nigiri is Tai sushi, also known as sea bream sushi. It is made with fresh white fish (sea bream), on a rice base.
Sake nigiri (Salmon)
In Japan, people eat nigiri with raw salmon. It can be prepared in different ways and may have a salty or buttery flavor.
Unagi nigiri (Eel)
Raw eel is served on a bed of rice in this nigiri. The taste is a bit bland and not as bold as other seafood. There is a note of sweetness and a bit of a salty aftertaste.
The eel may be marinated in soy sauce before serving.
Otoro nigiri (Albacore belly)
This is considered a premium type of sushi made of expensive fish.
It’s hard for the chef to cut the perfect slice since the fish has an odd texture so it requires skill to prepare this nigiri.
Kampachi nigiri (Greater Amberjack)
This nigiri has an interesting creamy taste with a hint of sweetness.
But, when you take a bite you’ll realize it’s much firmer than other fish.
Engawa nigiri (Halibut)
The halibut nigiri is common in both America and Japan. It has a high-fat content but a very balanced flavor and soft texture so it’s one of the most popular types of sushi fish.
Aji nigiri (Horse Mackerel)
This fish has an extremely strong smell and aroma.
It is an oily type of fish but it tastes great combined with the sour vinegared rice.
Hotate nigiri (Scallop)
Scallops have a chewy texture and they are usually brushed with a savory or umami glaze before being served on vinegared rice to enhance the naturally bland taste.
Ika nigiri (Squid)
Squid is another popular nigiri topping because it has a mild flavor.
It is chewier than the scallop and goes well with dipping sauces.
Kurage nigiri (Jellyfish)
The kurage is another common nigiri but it is flavored and served with other ingredients like soy sauce or oyster sauce to enhance its flavors.
Iwashi nigiri (Sardine)
This nigiri is made with cured sardines, not raw fish. Thus, the process takes a long time and the meat is very delicate and breaks so only skilled sushi chefs serve this dish.
Uni nigiri (Sea urchin)
This is a rare type of nigiri because removing the urchin from the quail egg releases all kinds of toxins so the process must be performed carefully.
However, the flavor is very potent and it has a creamy texture when you chew it.
Escolar nigiri (Oilfish)
The oilfish is very fatty and oily with a strong fishy taste.
It has a white color and it’s tender when you chew it.
Akamutsu nigiri (Rosy Seabass)
This fish taste very clean and kind of natural when you serve it raw. But, in some restaurants, they torch it a bit to give it some kick and smoky flavor.
When most people think of sushi, the maki rolls come to mind first. This is cut-rolled sushi, which is traditionally made using a sheet of nori (seaweed) to wrap a layer of vinegared rice with a vegetable or fish in the center.
The sushi is then rolled with a special bamboo mat and then cut into small 6 to 8 pieces.
Hosomaki are thin rolls with typically only one ingredient. Most will know the salmon roll, the crab roll, or the avocado roll, topped with roe.
Sāmon maki (Salmon roll)
Salmon sushi maki is by far the most popular maki roll in Japan. You will often see it as sake maki on the menu. Sake means chum salmon and can only be eaten cooked, sāmon means raw salmon.
In most cases sāmon maki will be more accurate than sake maki.
It is a simple maki but that flavor of raw salmon is very delicious.
Kani maki (Crab roll, often with crab sticks)
Kani maki is a simple roll made with crab sticks. In some high-end restaurants, you’ll get authentic crab meat (kani) but at cheaper places, it’s made of imitation crab (kanikama).
Regardless, it’s a delicious roll with Japanese mayonnaise, nori, and vinegared rice.
Tekka maki (Tuna roll)
The Japanese tuna roll is not like the Western version that’s loaded with mayo, cucumber, and other toppings.
Here we have a simple maki roll stuffed with fresh raw tuna. In fact, this simple sushi maki roll is one of Japan’s all-time bestsellers.
Kappa maki (Cucumber roll)
The cucumber roll is every vegan’s dream because it tastes like sushi without any animal products. It is made of thin strips of cucumber, rolled in nori sheets, and covered in tasty vinegared sushi rice.
Some may say it tastes a bit bland, but it’s one of those perfect light, healthy, and low-calorie maki options that tastes great paired with soy sauce and wasabi.
It’s also popular with kids and those who don’t like the fishy taste of sushi.
Unagi maki (Eel roll)
The eel roll is one of Japan’s most popular makis but it’s also considered quite a delicacy.
In some cases, the eel is served fresh, but usually, it is first marinated in a savory and sweet soy sauce, then cooked and add to the sushi roll.
Then, some chefs add some cucumber slices too, and the roll becomes known as unakyu or anakyu.
But most people who love eel like the soft texture and earthy taste of this delicious sushi maki roll.
Oshinko maki (Pickled daikon roll)
Daikon is a type of radish and in this case, it is pickled with salt and then wrapped in salty nori and vinegared rice.
This sushi roll is great for those who like the taste of pickled foods. The roll has a bright yellow color as a result of the daikon and it is a bit crunchy.
Natto maki (Fermented soybean roll)
This sushi roll is filled with fermented soybeans.
It has a very distinct taste and it’s one of those love it or hate it types of sushi. The fermented soy has a pungent taste and smell but it’s very healthy.
The texture is sticky, slimy, and brown but if you like soybeans, you might enjoy this authentic roll.
Negitoro maki (Tuna and scallion roll)
I already mentioned the basic tuna roll, but the Japanese love to combine the taste of fishy tuna with the strong flavor of chopped green onion (scallion).
The onion gives a nice crunch and complements the fresh tuna perfectly. It is also garnished with sesame seeds and served with pickled ginger, wasabi, and soy sauce.
Negihama maki (Yellowtail and scallion roll)
This maki roll is a combination between yellowtail fish sashimi and crunchy scallions.
Yellowtail is a fatty fish but its texture is soft, tender, and chewy so it goes well with the green onion.
Kanpyo maki (Dried gourd roll)
This one isn’t as popular but it’s an interesting one to try nevertheless.
It is made with a dried gourd (calabash fruit). before it is added to sushi rolls, it is rehydrated and seasoned with some soy sauce, and sweet rice wine, and sugar. Then, it’s cut up into pieces and added to the nori and rice.
The taste is the perfect combo between sweet, savory, and sour.
Umekyu maki (Pickled plum and cucumber roll)
Umeboshi is Japanese pickled plum and it is paired with cucumber slices for the ultimate refreshing maki roll.
The plum has a sweet flavor but combined with the fresh crunch of the cucumber and the vinegared rice, it is a delight for vegans and carnivores alike even though it’s vegan.
Avocado maki (vegan)
Like the salmon sushi maki, the avocado roll is highly popular too. Except, this one doesn’t contain fish or seafood so it’s vegan.
Fresh pieces of avocado are rolled with nori seaweed and vinegared rice.
It’s the ultimate sushi roll for those who don’t like seafood. Oh, and not to mention it’s healthy and low-calorie.
This roll isn’t authentic Japanese cuisine as there were no avocado’s in Japan, but it’s a Western invention.
These are a bit larger-sized sushi rolls, and they are stuffed with several ingredients. This type of sushi is called the “fat” roll because it is thicker than others.
Futomaki is not traditional Japanese but it did originate in Japan. It came from the celebratory ehomaki that was popularized by a convenience store chain in the 1960s.
Ehomaki is a type of maki roll that is traditionally eaten on Setsubun, the day before the start of spring in Japan. The name ehomaki comes from the Japanese words for “lucky direction” and refers to the fact that the roll is eaten facing the lucky direction of the year.
Ehomaki is typically made with nori (seaweed) wrapped around sushi rice and fillings such as fish, vegetables, or eggs. It is usually quite large, but people try to eat the roll as a whole on the festival day.
Uramaki is the “inside out roll” because the rice is on the outside instead of in the middle. The sheet of nori seaweed is used on the inside of the rice to hold the ingredients together.
Uramaki is a type of futomaki because it’s a large roll with multiple ingredients, but it was invented in the West and not a Japanese invention.
Popular types of uramaki are the California roll, the spider roll, the Philly roll, and the rainbow roll. All of which are American sushi inventions.
Temaki 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.
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).
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.
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 is 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.
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.
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)
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
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.
Funazushi is a type of sushi where a whole fish is preserved with salt and fermented then placed on beds of cooked rice. It’s not really your classic sushi type.
The most common type of whole fish funazushi is made with a carp species called nigorobuna fish (from the goldfish species). This nigorobuna fish is also known as the perfect carp for sushi.
In Japan, there’s another interesting type of sushi known as edomae zushi.
It is a type of nigiri sushi that is fish served on a bed of vinegared rice. In fact, it’s the precursor to what we call nigiri today and it’s called ‘Edomae’ because it originated many years ago in the Edo period.
But, today the edomae sushi is different from nigiri sushi in one major way. It is made with red vinegar called akasu, not regular vinegared rice.
This akasu vinegar is made from sake lees and has a reddish color.
You probably won’t find this kind of sushi at all restaurants because it is specialty sushi served at traditional restaurants only.
Why use red vinegar?
Also, there’s lots of prep work that goes on to bring out the flavors of the fish.
Red vinegar is still a hallmark of authentic Edomae Sushi. The difference is that Edomae sushi’s red “akasu”, or vinegar, has a stronger flavor than modern rice vinegar.
However, it is still mild and not overpowering. It is perfectly matched with the flavors of the fish in Edomae sushi so you don’t need to be worried about a strange or unfamiliar taste.
Bringing out the flavors
Today’s nigiri sushi mainly consists in placing fresh fish on top of sushi rice and then serving it to customers. A lot of the time the fish isn’t the best grade you can find unless you go to established Japanese sushi restaurants.
Edomae sushi requires a lot of preparation before the fish is applied to the rice. This prep work is similar to how red vinegar was used for rice flavor. It is also done to enhance the fish’s natural aromas and flavors.
The classic tuna, for example, is marinated in soy sauce before being cooked. Pre-cooked eel and white-meat fish like flounder can be preserved with kelp. Broiled fish may be used for oily fish. Broiled fish may be a good option if they are particularly oily.
Edomae sushi is best when it combines stronger flavors of red vinegar with the “pre-prepped” fish and seafood.
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.
Why is sashimi not sushi?
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 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.
Sashimi is thin slices of raw fish and fresh fish is expensive. It also has a shorter “shelf-life” and needs to be eaten as soon as it’s prepared. Rice is much cheaper so adding that to sushi makes you full faster at a lower cost.
What does sushi mean?
Sushi is a Japanese term meaning “sour rice,” referring to the origin of sushi, a Chinese way of preserving fish in fermented rice.
This “narezushi” would be pressed for a period of months to years, and the rice would be thrown away.
The technique eventually made its way to Southeast Asia and then to Japan, eventually evolving into a staple of Japanese cuisine called Edomae-zushi (sushi from the Edo period), a kind of sushi that is more similar to what we eat today.
Hanaya Yohei developed Edomae sushi in Tokyo Japan and is considered the grandfather of modern sushi.
Sushi rice is not fermented anymore but it still has vinegar added to it to give it that signature flavor.
Common sushi 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.
When you visit Japan, or any sushi restaurant, make sure that you try out as many sushi varieties as possible.
Some of these Japanese sushi varieties are hard to find in other parts of the world, but you can eat most almost anywhere.
Want to know more about making sushi? Then this guide for beginners is for you.
Check out our new cookbook
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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.