Sushi is categorized to be highly skilled and artistic Japanese cuisine, which has become very popular and common in the western countries. Today, it is possible to walk into your local retail or grocery store and get a take-away sushi package that you can enjoy at the comfort of your home as you watch Netflix. 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, which has popularity throughout the entire world.
But first, 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 far much 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. The 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 eating with bare hands.
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.
So, what’s the difference?
Type of rice used (brown rice vs. sushi rice)
The Japanese are very specific with 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.
The western restaurants, on the other hand, they use brown rice, rather than the 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
The 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. The American sushi, on the other hand, is rolled inside out, where the nori is on the inside, and the sushi rice on the outside.
The 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 only one bite. The 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.
Here are the main types of sushi
As highlighted earlier, there is a bigger difference between traditional Japanese sushi and American sushi. The traditional Japanese sushi is much simpler, not dressed much, and it mostly focuses on the fish. The American sushi, on the other hand, focuses more on the sushi rolls, and it is topped with a lot of sauces and garnishes. 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.
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 served as it 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.
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.
The basic Japanese definition of chirashi is “scattered.” So what it 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 this 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.
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 – which is a bit larger sized sushi rolls, and they are stuffed with several ingredients.
- Hosomaki – these are smaller sushi rills, 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.
- 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.
- Gunkanmaki – 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).
Common 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.
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).
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
These sushi rolls have a sheet of seaweed on the inside and rice on their outside. The sheet of nori is wrapped around raw tuna, which is then mixed with seasoned and spicy mayonnaise.
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 thin avocado sliced on the top of the sushi roll, together with tobiko, and then they are drizzled with spicy unagi sauce and mayonnaise.
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.
This is basically a sushi roll that has been topped with different varieties of sashimi. Mostly, the sushi roll that’s covered by the sashimi is a California roll, which consists of a crab and avocado. To prepare a rainbow roll, the sushi chef first makes a California roll, and then adds the toppings after that.
This is one of the most common sushi variety 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.
If you were worried about people who don’t like seafood and meat, then there is something for them. Almost every other sushi restaurant usually offers a vegetarian sushi roll. The sushi roll contains different varieties of veggies, including cucumber and avocado.
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.”
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:
- There is always one general rule—always eat in restaurants that have a good sushi reputation. It’s important to understand that the price doesn’t mean that that you will get quality sushi.
- Some restaurants have the “all you can eat” sushi-style, which is a bit tempting, but it doesn’t mean that you will get quality sushi.
- When you notice that the majority of the items in the restaurant’s menu are cooked, instead of raw, then that might be an indication that the fish uses is either of poor quality or old.
- Always check whether the rice used is cold or at room temperature—never eat sushi made with cold rice.
- Don’t eat sushi with soggy seaweed. If the sushi rolls are truly fresh, then the seaweed will be crispy, as well as have a nice and toasty flavor.
- The restaurant’s display case, where the fish are placed should always look organized and pristine—avoid eating in restaurants with messy display cases.
- The server should have a good knowledge of the menu and should be able to answer all your questions without struggling.
- If the restaurant smells fishy, leave immediately. It’s like when you get a fish from the market or store, if that restaurant has a funny smell, then there is a possibility that you will not eat fresh sushi, or the restaurant is not cleaned well.
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
- In the event you are confused about the type of sushi you want to order, it’s always a good idea to ask for help from the server. Never feel ashamed to ask any question. Are you unfamiliar with things? Ask for help! Do you want to know what’s best? Ask too! The server will be willing to assist you to choose the best sushi for the ultimate sushi experience. If you are dining in a good restaurant, the server will have the knowledge to assist you whenever you are stuck.
- Leave everything to the sushi chef. In Japanese, this is known as omasake dining style, where you give your chef the powers to choose whatever he wants to serve. So, is this a good idea? Yes, and you should always follow it since the chef will always serve the best deal for the day. However, you shouldn’t be afraid of alerting the chef of any preferences or food allergies before allowing him to take control.
- It’s always a good idea to order at most two items each time rather than ordering everything at once. With this, in case you get something that doesn’t impress you, you can alter your order the next time. One way to have a good sushi experience is to mix different varieties of sushi.
- Sit at the sushi bar—if you can. Even though not everyone loves sitting at the sushi bar, it’s one of the best places to sit in a sushi restaurant. The sushi bar allows you to see what the chef is doing, as well as the artistry and skills that are used in preparing your sushi. In addition, it gives you the opportunity to communicate directly with your chef, in case you have questions, or you are looking for recommendations.
What’s the best way to eat sushi?
- You can use chopsticks when enjoying your sushi. Also, it is never wrong; you use your hands, particularly when eating hand rolls or nigari. If you are picking sushi from a shared plate, make sure that you use the back end of the chopsticks when picking the roll.
- Whenever you are not using the chopsticks, place them on the chopstick holder on the table. If there is no holder at that table, you can opt to create a makeshift holder by folding the paper wrapper of the chopsticks or the napkin at the table.
- You should eat the pickled ginger in between the servings as it assists indigestion, and also cleanses your palate.
- If you want to dip your sushi in the soy sauce, just dip the fish part of the sushi. You should never dip the rice in the soy sauce since it’s seasoned with vinegar. In addition, the rice can become soggy and break when it absorbs the sauce. If the sushi is served alongside a sauce, like spicy mayonnaise or unagi sauce, then you won’t need the soy sauce.
- When eating sushi in a traditional Japanese restaurant, you won’t need to add any soy sauce or wasabi since the chef applies these sauces while preparing your sushi. However, it has become a common thing for dinners to add wasabi, either to the fish or mixing it to the soy sauce—this is a common practice in the American restaurants.
- Every piece of sushi requires one bite. Although it might be a mouthful, taking several bites can make the pieces to fall in the table, and you don’t want that to happen since it is considered to be rude by the Japanese.
- Most Japanese sushi restaurants will give you a hot towel before you start dining—you should clean your hands using that towel.
- When you decide to sit at the sushi bar, order your appetizers, and drink from the server. Your chef is responsible for handling all your sushi orders.
- Never order wasabi and soy sauce if they are not offered. It’s important to note that sushi should be enjoyed, not soaked under other sauces. In a traditional sushi restaurant, the chef makes sure that he adds the required amount of seasoning needed to make the fish stand out. If that’s the case, never add anything to your sushi—just enjoy it without any additional sauces.
- In case the chef provided soy sauce, pour it into the bowl or dish offered for the sauce.
- Never ask the chef whether the fish is fresh—this is considered to be rude. Rather, ask the chef what he recommends for that day.
- When dining at a traditional sushi restaurant, always start with the sashimi, and then sushi.
- Always eat the pickled ginger as a palate cleanser. Take a small bite of the ginger in between sushi bites—never eat the ginger together with the sushi.
- When you order nigiri, make sure that you eat the rice that accompanies it. Never leave the rice balls behind. If you needed sashimi, then go ahead to order it, rather than leaving the rice balls behind.
- Every piece of sushi should be eaten in one bite. Taking several bites is considered to be poor 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.
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. From the shelves of supermarkets and convenience stores to home-prepared sushi rolls, not to forget sanding sushi bars, upmarket sushi restaurants, and conveyor belt sushi restaurant. 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, putting 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.