Sushi vs Zushi | Same Same or Different? We’ll Explain

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You may have noticed the word zushi replacing sushi on the menu at Japanese restaurants. This is because of a certain grammatical rule in the language. WAIT, what? When do you use sushi instead of zushi?

The ‘z’ replaces the ‘s’ in sushi when referring to specific dishes where a prefix is attached e.g. makizushi. ‘Maki’ is the prefix that makes the ‘su’ become ‘zu’ because of a rule called the rendaku consonant mutation, whereby certain words (consonants) change when something is added in front.

In this article, I’ll look at this rule further, as well as dig deeper into the types, origins, and traditions of this well-loved dish.

Is it sushi or zushi

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The origin of sushi

Sushi is commonly found in South East Asia, but it originated in Japan. It is believed to have been invented to help preserve fish.

The original sushi dish narezushi translates to ‘salted fish’ and could be stored in fermented or vinegared rice for up to a year.

The fermentation of the rice would prevent the fish from spoiling. Traditionally, the rice would then be discarded before consumption of the fish.

The more familiar term sushi means ‘sour-tasting’, however different variations of sushi offer all sorts of flavors from salty and fishy to sweet, mild, or savory.

Also be sure read: Sushi for Beginners | a little history & the best get started guides.

Types of specific sushi Dishes you can refer to with zushi

The most common ingredient in all types of sushi is vinegared sushi rice, also referred to as sumeshi or shari.

Fillings, toppings, and presentation can vary widely depending on the type of sushi dish.

Sushi is typically served cold and can be brought out as an appetizer or a main course.

It is sometimes confused with sashimi, another popular Japanese dish that is typically made with raw fish and an optional serving of rice.

Here are some of the most common types of sushi dishes.

Also read: these are the popular Japanese and American sushi types


Narezushi, often referred to as the original sushi, still exists today as a regional specialty. It has a distinct sour and strong fishy taste.

Modern narezushi still uses the traditional fermentation process. This typically takes 6 months.


Chirashizushi translates to ‘scattered sushi’. The sushi rice is served in a bowl with a topping of raw fish and vegetable garnishes.

It is bright and colorful sushi that is eaten on Japanese special occasions, such as Hinamatsuri in March.

Also read: these are the differences between chirashi and donburi bowls


Makizushi, or ‘rolled sushi’ is a type of sushi where rice and other ingredients are wrapped in a sheet of nori (seaweed), and then cut into smaller pieces.

The makimono (cylindrical piece) is usually rolled with the help of a bamboo mat, known as a makisu.

Other wrappings beside nori include soy paper, shisho (perilla) leaves, or even a thin omelet.


Inarizushi doesn’t contain any meat and is made of fried tofu, served in a pouch typically filled with sushi rice.

It is believed to be named after the Shinto God Inari, whose fox messengers supposedly had a fondness for fried tofu.


Oshizushi translates to ‘pressed sushi’ and is a specialty of Osaka. It is made by pressing the sushi rice and toppings with an oshibako (wooden mold).

The rectangular shape this creates is then cut into smaller block-shaped pieces.

Raw fish is never used in this type of sushi, and all ingredients are either cooked or cured.


Nigirizushi, or ‘hand-pressed sushi’ is made using, you guessed it, a hand-pressed rectangular block of sushi rice with rounded edges.

You then put the neta (or topping) right on top of the rice block. This is typically fish such as salmon or tuna.

Certain toppings are bound to the rice using a thin strip of nori (seaweed).

The best chefs use the Best Sushi Knife | 10 best for Sashimi, meat & fish cleavers.

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.