Sushi is one of Japan’s most iconic dishes and has grown in popularity worldwide. With over 29 million tags, it is the 5th most tagged food on Instagram, which says a lot about its huge popularity.
The standard nigiri sushi and makizushi can be found almost everywhere, but there are many other types of sushi that people may not be aware of. Sushi ranges from high-end to very affordable and is surprisingly easy to make at home.
Nigiri is the most iconic image of sushi. It originated in the early 1800s in the Kanto region and was given the name Edomae sushi: Edo refers to Tokyo’s previous name, and mae translates as for. The name is thought to refer to fishing around Tokyo Bay. During that time, food had to be stored because there was no refrigeration. The fish was marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, salt and vinegar. Today, however, fish is eaten raw.
There are a few ingredients that make up nigiri sushi and each one is just as important as the other. The first is the rice (known as sumeshi), which sushi chefs can take years to master. The rice is washed, drained, soaked, boiled and then mixed with vinegar, sugar and salt.
The perfect combination and balance of these components is extremely difficult – that’s why it takes so long to get it right! The most important aspect is the texture of the rice – how it balances with the fish and how it holds. This may seem simple, but it is one of the most challenging aspects of sushi.
Next up is the topping or neta, which can range from vegetables to fish. While seafood is more common, newer toppings like beef can be found in many conveyor belt restaurants and sushi shops. The most popular toppings are salmon, tuna and shrimp. However, you will find many other ingredients in top restaurants. Sea urchins, abalones and even cod semen are available all over Japan.
The next ingredient is wasabi, a type of spicy green paste made from the rhizome of the Wasabia japonica plant. Freshly grated, wasabi is crisp and tart, with a slight tinge of heat. It’s not too overpowering, so it pairs perfectly with raw fish. In cheaper places you may not eat real wasabi! This can contain horseradish and mustard, which is why it is sometimes a lot spicier.
Nigiri sushi can be eaten with chopsticks or fingers. In more expensive restaurants, the sushi is placed in front of you one at a time and you are encouraged to eat it with your fingers. An accompaniment of gari (pickled ginger) is also offered, again to be eaten with your fingers. Finally, the sushi should be dipped in soy sauce, not the rice on top – the soy sauce will spoil the texture of the rice, which will fall apart!
Makizushi is the next most available sushi. The rice and ingredients are rolled in nori (seaweed) and cut into small pieces. Hosomaki (thin roll) consists of only one ingredient, such as tuna or cucumber. Futomaki (fatty roll) is made with a variety of ingredients, such as eggs, shrimp, and salmon. These are not as common in restaurants but can be found in supermarkets.
Another variant is uramaki, an inside-out version of the typical makizushi. It is thought to have started in California in the 1960s, where the California roll was invented. The rice is placed on a bamboo roll and then covered with a sheet of seaweed. Then the topping is placed in the center and then rolled. California rolls contain cucumber, crab, and avocado, which are then coated with sesame seeds or tobiko roe.
Ingredients such as avocado are not very common in Japanese cuisine and can usually be found elsewhere in the world.
3. Gunkan Makic
Gunkan is another type of wrapped sushi, similar to makizushi, where a ball of rice is wrapped in nori. There is just enough space at the top to put the toppings in. The name translates as battleship, named for its shape, which resembles a small ship.
The most popular toppings are sea urchin, salmon roe or tuna. Tuna gunkan maki is usually made from the fat belly of the fish or scraped along the bones, the part that cannot be used for nigiri sushi. Vegetarian options are also available, such as cucumber or even corn.
Temakizushi is sushi in the shape of an ice cream cone. The rice and ingredients are packed in a square sheet of nori in a conical shape. While the previous sushis are strict in shape and form, temakizushi is more casual, making it great for sushi parties at home!
A wide variety of ingredients can be used, making it ideal for using up any leftovers in the fridge. It is usually dipped in soy sauce and wasabi and eaten with your fingers.
The last most common sushi is Inzarizushi, which is made from sushi rice stuffed in a fried tofu pouch called Inari age. The tofu is simmered in a sweet and salty dashi broth, which adds fantastic umami and depth of flavor. They are sweet and slightly salty and are great as a small snack or even to finish your sushi meal. Sometimes other ingredients are added, such as shiso or salmon roe.
Inarizushi is dedicated to the Inari deity, who is known for protecting crops. The Japanese worshiped this deity by offering aburaage (fried tofu) to the fox statues on the shrine’s grounds. The foxes are messengers of the Inari deity and people believed that they love aburaage. Over time, people added harvested rice to the aburaage in thanks to the Inari god for a successful harvest.
The following three sushis are commonly found in Japan, but not so much worldwide.
Chirashizushi resembles a deconstructed makizushi. It is a beautiful, brightly colored dish that is usually eaten on special occasions.
A mix of ingredients such as salmon roe, egg and cucumber are all scattered over rice. The result is a stunning array of colors that look like a festival. Chirashizushi is so easy to make at home because no specific techniques are used.
The sushi can be eaten as is, or a soy sauce can be poured over it.
Hakozushi is a traditional version of the regular nigiri sushi. It is pressed together in a wooden box (oshibako), creating a compact, beautifully sculpted piece of sushi. The bottom of the oshibako (sushi mold) is coated with the desired topping and then filled with sushi rice.
Finally, with the lid pressed down, it is cut into bite-sized pieces. Compared to the regular hand pressed nigiri sushi, the ingredients used are pre-seasoned so that it can be eaten as is. Cooked and salted fish is used instead of raw so that they can be stored and eaten later.
Yoshino Torazo developed the famous hakozushi in the 19th century.
To preserve the sushi’s shelf life, Torazo decided to dry and box the fish to make it more compact.
A variety of seafood can be used from mackerel to eel, all of which are perfectly square and delicious. The ingredients are flavored as they are prepared, so no soy sauce is needed.
Today, hakozushi can be found in department stores and can be purchased as a gift or souvenir. They come in small wooden boxes and are a colorful array of ingredients arranged like a puzzle. It originated in Osaka, where there are restaurants that sell hakozushi, but it’s not as widely available as nigiri sushi.
Another type of pressed sushi is kakinoha-zushi, which comes from Nara. Kakinoha translates as leaves of persimmon and dates back to the Edo period. Before refrigeration, fresh seafood was often wrapped in persimmon leaves to preserve it.
The antibacterial compounds of the leaves helped prevent the fish from spoiling and their delicate and sweet aroma provides a delicious taste. Like hakozushi, it is often bought as a gift or souvenir, so it can usually be found in department stores or specialty stores.
There are so many different types of sushi, with different styles depending on where you eat them. Sushi chefs take years to perfect their craft, but sushi can also be a casual dish, eaten off a conveyor belt or prepared in your own home!
There are no strict rules for topping ingredients, so feel free to use whatever you like! If you feel like eating out, there are conveyor belt restaurants that are widely available and offer a wide selection of sushi with all different types of toppings.