Sushi for Beginners | a little history & the best get started guides

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  June 9, 2020

Sushi (すし, 寿司, 鮨) is a world-renowned Japanese cuisine that has a variety of ingredients including vinegared rice (鮨飯 sushi-meshi), which is often accompanied by sugar and salt to balance the flavors, vegetables, seafood, and sometimes tropical fruits.

There is a variety of sushi preparations (styles), but the one thing that’s common between all of them is the shari (しゃり), or sumeshi (酢飯) or otherwise known as “sushi rice.”

Sushi for beginners guide

In ancient times sushi preparations and presentations were strictly made with medium-grain white rice, but in modern times people tried to variate it with short-grain or brown rice.

Seafood such as imitation crab meat, tuna, salmon, yellowtail, eel, or squid is essential meat side dishes for the sushi.

A significant number of sushi types lean towards vegetarian ingredients. These vegan sushi dishes are usually served with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger (gari).

Daikon radish or pickled daikon (takuan) are popular garnishes for the dish.

People often get confused between sushi and sashimi, although it is understandable as most of their ingredients look eerily similar.

If you want to take sushi making to the next level, I’ve found that this comprehensive video course on Udemy is great for getting started all the way up to getting more out of your knowledge for some amazing recipes.

It has over 40 videos to take you step-by-step through the sushi-making process. Go check it out!

And also read on for more on the different kinds of sushi and some other guides and resources to get you started.

Also read: these are the knives you’ll love when making sushi

History of Sushi

Sushi is a variation of an old Japanese cuisine called narezushi (馴れ寿司, 熟寿司 – “salted fish”) where the process involved in making it is to store the fish for months at a time in fermented rice.

The rice would undergo a process called lacto-fermentation, which preserves the fish and not spoil it; when the fish is ready to be consumed, the rice is discarded as it no longer has any use.

Sushi literally means “sour-tasting,” but this term is an old Japanese word that is no longer used to day in any context.

Sushi that has dashi stock in its seasonings or sauces enhances the overall sourly taste of the dish because it adds umami flavors to it.

In the Shiga Prefecture people still enjoy their regional specialty, narezushi, although it is called funa-zushi nowadays.

During the Muromachi Era (1336–1573) Japanese food experts thought that they had to add vinegar to the narezushi with the purpose of preserving and enhancing the dish – it became known as the “oshi-zushi” or “hako-sushi” which is commonly called today as Osaka-style sushi.

Aside from making the rice taste more sourly, the vinegar also aided in the longevity of the dish, causing the makers of sushi to first shorten the fermentation process and eventually abandoning it all together.

Over the centuries, Osaka is the place where the primitive sushi had undergone several improvements and the sushi rolls would first appear.

Osaka birthplace of modern sushi

It was not until the Edo Period (1603–1868) that fresh fish was served over vinegared rice and nori.

The modern nigirizushi had its origins in Edo (modern-day Tokyo) during the 1820s – 1830s.

According to a recurring story about the origins of nigirizushi, a Japanese chef by the name of Hanaya Yohei (1799–1858) either invented or perfected the sushi-making technique at his restaurant in Ryōgoku in 1824.

Nigirizushi was originally called Edomae zushi, because chefs would use freshly caught fish from Edo/Tokyo Bay (江戸江 Edo-mae in Japanese).

Chefs would still call it Edomae nigirizushi even to this day as it signifies the high quality of the sushi, regardless of where the fish or other ingredients come from.

Types of Sushi

Central to the sushi’s ingredients no matter where or when (the Japanese have a tradition of preparing meals with varying ingredients based on seasons) it was prepared is the vinegared sushi rice.

Fillings, toppings, condiments, and preparation vary widely.

The mutation of the consonants in Japanese language which is known as rendaku (連濁), sushi is then spelled with “zu” and not what the Western vocabulary designates it with the “su” when a prefix is linked to it (e.g. nigirizushi).


You can also read our in-depth post about the types of sushi.

Chirashizushi (sushi bowl)

Chirashizushi (ちらし寿司) also called barazushi or “scattered sushi,” placed the rice in a bowl instead of wrapping it around the different ingredients and garnishes it with fish and vegetable toppings.

Chirashizushi or sushi bowl

It is an annual dish eaten during Hinamatsuri in March and people love to eat it, because it’s easy to prepare and it can make you full with just 1 meal.

Edomae Chirashizushi (Edo-style scattered sushi) is a variation of the chirashizushi that is served with raw ingredients arranged in artistic rendering.

Gomokuzushi (Kansai-style sushi) is another variation of the chirashizushi that has raw or cooked ingredients mixed in a bowl or plate of rice.

Sake-zushi (Kyushu-style sushi) ferments the cooked rice with rice wine (mirin) instead of vinegar, and then garnished with shrimp, sea bream, octopus, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoots and shredded omelette toppings.


Inarizushi (稲荷寿司) is a type of sushi named after the Shinto god Inari and is packed in a pouch made out of fried tofu with rice in it.


In Japanese legends the foxes were the messengers of the god Inari and according to the tale they like fried tofu a lot.

This is the reason why the Inari-zushi roll has pointed corners in order to symbolize fox ears as a call back to Inari’s fox messengers.

Some regional variations of the inarizushi has puches that are made of thin omelette in place of the fried tofu, they are called fukusa-zushi (帛紗寿司), or chakin-zushi (茶巾寿司).


Makizushi (巻き寿司) is the famous rolled sushi with varying names like the nori roll (海苔巻き) and variety of rolls (巻物) that looks like a cylindrical piece of food that is reminiscent of an electrical tape in both shape and size, and is formed by using a makisu (巻き簾) or bamboo mat.


The makizushi is normally wrapped in nori (seaweed), but sometimes can also be wrapped with other elements incuding shiso (perilla) leaves, cucumber, soy paper, and thin omelette.

The chef would cut the makizushi into 6 – 8 pieces of two-thirds of an inch thick from a single roll order.

We’ve listed some of the most common types of makizushi that you can find in most Japanese restaurants; however, there are more kinds of makizushi than these:

Modern Narezushi

Narezushi (熟れ寿司) also called “matured sushi” is one of the well-known traditional fermented sushis in Japan.

Making the sushi starts with skinning and gutting freshly caught fish, and then stuffing them with salt.

funa-zushi fermented fish

They are then placed in a wooden barrel, drenched in salt a second time, then a pickling stone called “tsukemonoishi” is placed on top of the barrel to weigh them down.

Each day all the moisture is removed from the barrel.

The fish will be fermented for about 6 months time before it will be taken out and eaten.

Since it is now fermented, then it will last for another 6 months or more and will not be spoiled.

The funa-zushi is the most famous variety of narezushi which is a specialty dish of Shiga Prefecture.

Get your quick start in enjoying Japanese cuisine here with our top recommended tools

This sushi is made with the nigorobuna, a goldfish from the crucian carp genus and is endemic to Lake Biwa.


Nigirizushi (握り寿司, “hand-pressed sushi”) otherwise known as “hand-pressed sushi” the chef scoops a handful of rice and squeezes it in his palms to form an oblong/oval-shaped sushi rice with neta toppings.

Nigirizushi is one of the sushi types

The nigirizushi is commonly served with a tablespoon of wasabi and the neta could consist of tuna, salmon, other types of fish, or seafood.

Some toppings are also wrapped around the rice using a thin strip of nori, and they include sweet egg (tamago), squid (ika), sea eel (anago), freshwater eel (unagi), and octopus (tako).

One order of a given type of fish typically results in two pieces, while a sushi set (sampler dish) may contain only one piece of each topping.

Gunkanmaki (軍艦巻) also called “the warship roll” is an oval-shaped sushi rice that has a strip of nori wrapped around its external portion that it almost resembles a battleship.

The oblong sushi rice is filled with soft, loose or fine-chopped ingredients like quail eggs, scallops, corn with mayonnaise, sea urchin roe (uni), oysters, natto, and roe.

It’s significant as this type of sushi which is a variation of the nigirizushi was invented at the Ginza Kyubey restaurant in 1941.

It was also because of the gunkanmaki that the use of soft toppings in sushi was revolutionized.

Another variation of the nigirizushi is the temarizushi (手まり寿司) or “ball sushi” and this one is made into a spheroid shape unlike the oval-shaped gunkanmaki.

Also read: these are the different calorie counts for the 11 most popular types of sushi


Oshizushi (押し寿司) “pressed sushi,” also known as hako-zushi (箱寿司) “box sushi,” is a hand-pressed sushi that originated from the Kansai region and is a favorite and a specialty of Osaka.

Oshizushi block shaped pressed shushi

A wooden mold called oshibako is used to form the block-shaped sushi.

First the chef placed the toppings on the kitchen counter or baker’s table, then covers them with sushi rice and later presses the oshibako down in order to create a compact oshizusi.

The sushi block is then removed from the oshibako and sliced into bite-sized pieces.

Saba zushi (鯖寿司) or battera, pressed mackerel sushi (バッテラ) is particularly popular in Osaka region as this type of sushi has all of its ingredients cooked or cured and the chef never uses raw fish.

Western-Style Sushi

There are also Western-style sushis which ingredients have radically been changed to fit the taste of Westerners and are entirely created outside of Japan.

Well, to be precise they just actually borrowed the famous Japanese sushi dishes and evolved it with their own version of cooking and preparation techniques.

Here are the 2 most famous Western-style sushis:


Uramaki (裏巻) translated as “inside-out sushi roll” in English is a mid-sized circular sushi that has at least 2 fillings and is an analogue of the California roll (a sushi preparation method to conceal the nori).

Uramaki or inside out sushi roll

Although at first glance the makimono and uramaki may seem similar, they differ, however, in 1 way – the uramaki has the rice on the outer layer and the nori inside.

The uramaki’s fillings is in the center surrounded by a concentric rings of nori, rice and other ingredients like toasted sesame seeds or roe which serves as an outer coating of sorts.

The uramaki has versatile ingredients for its fillings that can include carrots, cucumber, mayonnaise, avocado, crab meat, or tuna.

American-Style Makizushi

In the U.S. the futomaki is the preferred sushi. This is a variation of the makizushi that adopts the names of the places where each sushi originated.

There are an array of sushi rolls and may include dozens of different kinds of ingredients that includes the tempura roll, where either the entire roll is battered and fried tempura-style, or the shrimp tempura is stuffed inside the sushi roll as its filling.

futomaki tempura roll

Other ingredients may also include assorted vegetables such as cucumber and avocado, okra, chicken or beef teriyaki roll, spicy tuna, and chopped scallions.

In the Southern United States, a lot of sushi restaurants prepare rolls using crawfish.

In some cases, the sushi rolls are made with black or brown rice that are akin to Japanese sushi recipes also.

Learn how to make Sushi for beginners

plate with plenty of sushi and a few bowl of black sauce

Now that you’ve learned a bit about sushi and the different sushi types, it is time to learn how to cook and prepare it yourself!

Unfortunately, if you genuinely want to prepare sushi like the Japanese do it, you will have to go through the basic, intermediate, and advance courses to be as good as they are.

The stuff you read in sushi recipes and blogs and articles are not the complete method of making sushi.

No, most of them are the shorter versions of how to prepare sushi properly.

There is plenty of sushi making online courses available and most of them are surprisingly affordable too!

We’ve listed 5 websites that we’re confident will give you the best lessons on how to prepare sushi cuisines.

Top 5 Online Sushi Training Courses

There are no shortcuts if you want to learn how to cook sushi dishes, so prepare yourself to enroll in any of the online sushi making courses below:

Most comprehensive sushi course on Udemy

Their “The Most Comprehensive Sushi Course Online” class over 247 ratings of 4.8 stars average and excellent reviews means they are living up to their promise.

This online sushi making course will take you through the loops in creating the perfect sushi every time!

You’ll start at the basic level and then you will advance as you go through the modules and you’ll learn things like the different cutting skills, ingredient preparation, sushi roll fundamentals, how to make nigiri and sashimi, how to break down multiple species of fish, and much more.

Sometimes Udemy classes offer huge discounts, but only for a limited time, so, go check them out and enroll in classes that give huge price cut offs!

You could get offers for as low as $20 on a 75% discount for a particular online class at Udemy just like the one we’ve mentioned above (take note that this offer expires within 4 hours from the time this article is published, so the pricing may change).

Still that is so awesome! Gaining a ton of information on how to make sushi for such a small amount is like getting a Christmas present.

You can take a look at the course here

Make Sushi
This website offers sushi lessons for free! All you have to do is watch the videos on how to make sushi.

Chef Devaux has prepared 9 separate videos on all the process involved in making sushis and this is only the beginning as he plans to upload more videos in the future.

The videos contain lessons on the things that you’ll need to cook, how to cut the meat and vegetables properly, preparing the garnish for the sushi, making the fillings, and many more!

You can also view the sushi making videos on his social media pages including YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

It’s time to become a modest sushi chef today! And, you know, the best part about it is that you’ve learned it all for free.

Sushi Courses on Skillshare
Skillshare is a US-based online learning community for people who want to learn from educational videos.

Right now there are 4 sushi courses being offered in Skillshare and all of them have talented world class sushi chef instructors to guide you in becoming a great sushi chef too!

Classes like “Sushi Express: Learn How To Make Sushi In 60 Minutes or Less” and “A Way of Japanese Cuisine: Make Your Own Sushi Rolls” are great choices to learn sushi making online.

From knowing the differences between dishes – complement to learning the tools of the trade you will be inundated with all the information you will ever need in making perfect sushi rolls.

Skillshare is available for free, for a premium subscription, and for teams – all of them are offered with a 1 month free trial.

The premium subscription cost $15 a month, but if you get an annual subscription, then you will only pay $8.25 for it, which will be billed on your credit card annually for $99.

The team subscription is also billed for $99 per student per year; however, there has to be a substantial number of students enrolled in the team in order for the class to proceed.

Yuki Gomi

Chef, food writer and teacher, Yuki Gomi offers sushi courses on her website (which is self- titled) via comprehensive video tutorials that are easy to follow.

She has weekday and weekend classes, as well as afternoon and evening classes that are all for your scheduling convenience.

This means that you can certainly attend any of her classes no matter the type of schedule you have in your life, so you don’t have to make excuses when learning sushi from her.

You have the option to book whichever class you prefer, for example there are the sushi classes, home cooking classes, street food classes, workshop classes, and you can also book all classes and courses at one time.

You can also get gift vouchers to get discounts on classes and courses that interests you, and enroll in more online courses/classes for a much lesser amount than what you’ve anticipated.

Here’s another website that offers free sushi lessons on demand! has around 8 how to make sushi lessons that you can read through and learn.

Although the course is short, you can learn many things from how to cook rice for sushi, to choosing the type of fish to make sushi, sushi rolls, nigiri sushi, sushi with meat fillings, sushi for vegans and vegetarians, making sauces and condiments, and how to sharpen the knives.

Plus you can also watch several of their YouTube videos posted on the site that shows you how to cut the fish, vegetables, and other ingredients.

Once again we would like to emphasize the greatest benefit about learning how to make sushi from websites like this – it’s absolutely free!

There’s nothing like getting something for nothing. You’ll instantly add new skills to your already impressive talent and become an even better person than you were before.

So learn the magic of creating perfect sushis from Sushi Magic now!

Honorable Mentions

Recommended Sushi books for beginners

Now that we’ve shown you the sites where you can learn how to prepare sushi dishes like a pro for either free or paid, it’s time to take some sushi “supplements” for your brain.

Becoming a modest sushi chef or cook requires 2 things, and those are a) learning by example (i.e. through video tutorials or blog posts) and b) learning by reading books about sushi.

Having said that, here are some books about sushi that we think you should read in order to become better at your trade:

The Book of Sushi

Author: Kinjiro Omae
Published: October 1, 1988
Long time chef and author, Kinjiro Omae, catalogued and displayed the ingredients, intricate preparation, and finished product of all the known Japanese sushi recipes.

He also discussed the “how-to’s” on the precision of making egg omelettes, where to place things for rolls & cones.

The final section of his book entails the regional history of sushi, kitchen utensils needed to make it, and recommended restaurants in Japan.

Check it out on Amazon

Sushi: Taste and Techniques

Author: Kimiko Barber
Published: August 29, 2002
A very comprehensive book by Kimko Barber that will help you understand, master and appreciate the art of sushi.

Barber details in his book Sushi: Taste and Techniques information on how to find the freshest ingredients, how to use the appropriate kitchen equipment for the different sushi dishes that you’ll prepare, and how to master the etiquette of eating sushi correctly.

It’s the quintessential book that any Japanese food enthusiast will need in becoming a great sushi chef.

Check prices and availability here

Sushi: The Beginner’s Guide

Author: Aya Imatani
Published: August 1, 2009
A one-of-a-kind beginner’s guide that has taken the exquisitely popular Japanese dish to the next level in terms of easy to digest presentation and stunning photography.

Expert sushi chef Aya Imatani takes would-be chefs by the hand through super clear close up photos, leading them through every delectable step of the sushi-making process.

She talks about all the tools, foods, and paraphernalia from experience and demonstrates new process to make sashimi that has not yet been introduced in sushi restaurants!

Even her vinegars and dipping sauces are not found on the internet.

You can check out the book here

Edomae Sushi: Art, Tradition, Simplicity

Author: Kikuo Shimizu
Published: June 1, 2011
“Edomae” means the Edo Bay or Tokyo Bay. During the Meiji Era local fishermen would catch fish and other seafood right off of Edo Bay and from this catch sushi was made, thus the term Edomae sushi was coined.

Over the years shipping lanes and pollution from factory refuse and sewage water being dumped into the bay area made fishing undesirable.

Edomae sushi – which was considered a unique and highly-esteemed cuisine -- gradually faded into obscurity, until Kikuo Shimizu revived it in his book.

Written records of Edomae sushi are scarce; however, the sushi preparation technique and soul was successfully handed down from generation to generation of premiere Japanese chefs and Shimizu is one of those chefs.

Check it out here on Amazon

Sushi at Home: The Beginner’s Guide to Perfect, Simple Sushi

Author: Yuki Gomi
Published: July 30, 2013
Seasoned Japanese chef Yuki Gomi published a cookbook about how to make sushi at home and she makes it seem easy.

Sushi at Home: The Beginner’s Guide to Perfect, Simple Sushi does indeed make sushi preparation east thanks to Chef Gomi’s streamlined approach in demonstrating it in her book.

Through the help of high quality images and simple to understand instructions you’ll be able to prepare your first sushi recipe just half-way through reading the book.

Get your quick start in enjoying Japanese cuisine here with our top recommended tools

Check this book out here

Check out these top rice cookers as well when getting into sushi

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.