Sushi means “marinated rice”, but the term is now used to refer to a whole food tradition from Japan. You do not have to know the words to enjoy the delicious taste. However, it can be fun to learn the basics of sushi terminology which will enhance your experience when eating out in restaurants, as well as when serving sushi at home to friends and family.
Three important words
Most of the sushi you make or eat is called nigiri, maki or sashimi. If you learn to know the difference, you have mastered the essence of the sushi language.
Maki means “roll” and is a round piece of sushi with nori rolled around rice cooked with vinegar, and various fillings, such as seafood, fruit and vegetables. Maki comes in several shapes and forms.
Hosomaki are thin rolls consisting of sushi rice and one or two ingredients rolled tightly in a sheet of nori. The roll you get is then cut into small slices before serving. Cucumber rolls and salmon rolls are common types of hosomaki.
Futomaki, which means “fat roll,” is usually made with several ingredients, and is thicker than hosomaki. It is normally cut into bite-sized pieces.
Temaki are cone shaped sushi rolls that are rolled tightly into conical shapes. Temaki rolls are made of nori sheets cut in half, and can be held in the hand and dipped in different sauces. These hand rolls have a fun appearance, with ingredients overflowing from the top of the cone like an exotic ice cream.
Uramaki is an inside out roll, meaning that the sushi rice is on the outside. The roll may then be topped with garnishes like sesame seeds or fish roe. This type of maki includes the popular California roll.
Gunkan, also known as battleship maki because of its shape, consists of nori rolled around a pad of nigri rice to form an oval shaped cup. The roll is topped with fish eggs and so is quite salty.
Nigiri sushi is a type of sushi made with sushi rice that is hand formed into a small oval ball and served with sliced fish on top. Norwegian salmon is often used, which is not so strange since it is the original salmon on sushi. Depending on the type of fish, it may be served raw in thin slices, grilled, marinated or flambeed.
Sashimi is raw fish sliced thin and can be served with soy sauce, but no rice. As sushi means marinated rice, sashimi is not sushi by definition. Even so, it is included in the sushi family because it is a traditional Japanese dish. It is very easy to make sashimi at home, and Norwegian Salmon is commonly used in this dish.
Wasabi is a green paste made of a Japanese plant that tastes like strong horseradish. It is very spicy, so be careful with the amount if you are not used to it. It is common to mix the wasabi directly to the soy sauce to get the desired strength. You can purchase wasabi as a powder to be dissolved in water or as a ready-made paste.
Nori are dark green wafer-thin sheets of dried or toasted seaweed used for maki. Nori has been eaten in Japan and China for centuries, and is important in Japanese cuisine.
Gari(pickled ginger) is a ginger root that is marinated in a solution of vinegar and sugar. It is traditionally served with sushi and sashimi. The pickled ginger is consumed after the sushi and sashimi, usually in between bites. Pickled ginger is said to cleanse the palate and prepare your taste buds for the next piece.