Sushi, a traditional Japanese dish, showcases vinegared rice combined with fresh fish, seafood, or vegetables. Somehow, it’s one of those things that is so much more than the sum of its parts. While sushi used to be an ‘exotic’ dish, it’s now commonplace across the world.
Moreover, there are numerous types of sushi. You might be a confirmed salmon roses or California roll fan, but the variety available is huge. They can vary due to regional influences, the creativity of chefs, and evolving culinary trends. From the classics to rare types of sushi, here’s our guide to the renowned Japanese dish. Next time you’re trying to decipher a sushi menu without photos, maybe this will help!
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Overview of Sushi Types
All around the world, people admire Nigiri for its delicate simplicity; it’s a traditional, common form of sushi which lets the ingredients shine. The name “nigiri” translates to “two fingers,” which doesn’t describe how the nigiri sushi looks, but the way they are made by hand with two fingers shaping them. Sushi rice is expertly shaped into an oval and topped with a thin slice of fresh, high-quality fish or seafood. The fish is often brushed with a touch of soy sauce or garnished with wasabi to enhance the flavors.
Onigiri is a beloved Japanese comfort food. It sounds like nigiri, but they’re not quite the same! It is triangular-shaped rice balls typically wrapped in nori. These portable and versatile treats are often enjoyed as quick snacks, lunches, or picnic essentials.
Onigiri’s core consists of salted or seasoned sushi rice, which is then compacted by hand into a triangle which is easy to hold. Rather than being topped with fish, the fillings are usually inside the triangle. The filling can vary, but some common ones are umeboshi (pickled plum), tuna mayo, tempura, grilled salmon, and more. The nori wrapping not only adds flavor but also serves as a ‘handle’ so you can hold the onigiri without getting your hands sticky. It’s a favorite option in bento boxes, convenience stores, and even home kitchens.
Amaebi Sushi showcases the flavor of raw sweet shrimp. The term “amaebi” translates to sweet shrimp, so the dish is named for exactly what it is! Although Western food lovers are often unsure about raw shrimp, this is one of the most popular and common sushi varieties in Japan for a reason – it’s delicious!
In Amaebi Sushi, a small bed of seasoned sushi rice is topped with raw sweet shrimp. Usually, the tail served with attached for the visuals. Some places also deep fry the head and serve it alongside the Amaebi. The shrimp’s natural sweetness and tender texture create a delicious contrast with the rice’s vinegared seasoning.
Maki sushi, the traditional rolled sushi covered in seaweed, is popular across the world. It involves wrapping ingredients in a sheet of nori (seaweed) along with vinegared rice. Importantly, the nori is positioned on the outside, while the fillings offer a wide range of variations. Usually these include fish, vegetables and sometimes even cooked items. Maki sushi is usually cut into bite-sized pieces and elegantly served with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger.
Some popular Maki Sushi varieties include:
|A classic sushi roll featuring cool, crunchy cucumber as the star ingredient, wrapped in nori and rice.
|A traditional sushi roll highlighting bold flavors with a filling of fresh tuna wrapped in nori and rice.
|Shrimp Tempura Maki
|A delightful sushi roll that combines crispy tempura-fried shrimp, nori, and rice.
Futomaki in Japanese translates to “thick roll,” reflecting its size. It’s similar to normal maki, but much bigger and with more fillings. It is a substantial and visually appealing type of sushi, great for Instagram photos!
Futomaki is crafted by wrapping a sheet of nori around a sizeable portion of seasoned sushi rice, then filling it with a variety of ingredients. Common fillings include cooked vegetables, tamago (sweet omelette), seafood, and sometimes even tempura.
Uramaki, also known as an inside-out roll or “reverse roll.” It features the rice on the outside and the nori on the inside, distinguishing it from traditional maki sushi. This style often features creative combinations of fillings and toppings.
Sounds familiar? There are quite a few types of Uramaki. Some of the most popular Uramaki Sushi types include:
|California Maki, a well-known Uramaki Sushi variety, is characterized by its composition of crab meat (real or imitation) or fish, avocado, and cucumber wrapped in nori and sushi rice. Furthermore, the roll is frequently coated with sesame seeds or tobiko (fish roe) for added texture and flavor.
|The Rainbow Roll indeed stands out as a type of sushi that has extra fish on top of a California Roll. The “rainbow” name comes from the assortment of thinly sliced fish and avocado on top of the roll. They’re usually arranged laying slightly over one another, giving the top a rainbow appearance.
|The Dragon Roll is an Uramaki Sushi variety which usually includes eel, avocado, and cucumber as its core components. What sets it apart is its distinctive decorative topping. The thin slices of avocado are arranged to resemble scales or the texture of a dragon’s skin.
Temaki sushi is also referred to as hand-rolled sushi or simply a ‘hand roll.’ As you might have guessed, this sushi is made by hand. A sheet of nori is rolled up into a cone shape, filled with sushi rice and other fillings. When it’s done, it looks a little like a savory seaweed ice cream cone.
Some Tekamaki Sushi kinds you can try include:
|Spicy Tuna Temaki
|Spicy Tuna Temaki’s filling is diced tuna combined with zesty mayo and seasonings.
|Smoked Salmon Temaki
|Smoked Salmon Temaki is a Temaki variety that highlights the rich and smoky flavors of smoked salmon.
|Spicy Shrimp Temaki
|A Spicy Shrimp Temaki is typically prepared with diced shrimp mixed in spicy mayo.
Sashimi, a traditional Japanese culinary delicacy, is possibly one of the most famous sushi varieties there is. It involves the skillful slicing of fresh, raw fish or seafood. Because there’s nowhere to hide with rice or other ingredients, good sashimi is all about highlighting the inherent flavors and textures of the seafood. This foodie tradition honors and celebrates the purity and excellence of seafood within Japanese cuisine.
Some sashimi varieties include:
|Sake Sashimi highlights the exquisite flavors of raw salmon.
|Maguro Sashimi is all about the essence of raw tuna.
|Hamachi Sashimi is a Japanese culinary delight that focuses on raw yellowtail.
Chirashi, a beloved Japanese dish, translates to “scattered” in English. When you see a bowl of Chirashi, you’ll understand why! It’s this dish which modern sushi bowls are reminscent of – almost like a deconstructed sushi roll. Much liked rolled up sushi, there are a few varieties of Chirashi available, all showcasing different seafood and toppings.
|Tekka Chirashi is a type of sushi made up of seasoned sushi rice topped with sliced raw tuna. The name “tekka” signifies the tuna’s vibrant red color. It is often served with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger.
|“Gomoku” in Japanese refers to a mixture of different ingredients. Gomoku Chirashi is therefore a type of Chirashi Sushi that consists of a bowl of seasoned sushi rice topped with a variety of colorful ingredients. The ingredients typically include vegetables, seafood, and tamago (sweet omelet).
|“Bara” translates to “scattered” or “mixed.”, which essentially makes Bara Chirashi extra scattered! It’s a bowl of seasoned sushi rice adorned with an assortment of scattered, colorful, diced ingredients. Its toppings can vary, but they often include a medley of finely chopped and seasoned elements such as fresh fish, cooked seafood, vegetables, tamago, and sometimes even flower petals for added visual appeal.
Inari Sushi is a delicious, slightly sweet sushi with a somewhat chewy texture. It’s unique from a lot of other varieties thanks to the aburaage. These sweet fried tofu pockets hold sushi rice, and are sometimes topped with fish or shrimp. Notably, the aburaage is often marinated in soy sauce, mirin, and sugar beforehand. This is what gives Inari the textbook sweet, savory mixture. Because it’s easy to hold and popular with everyone, Inari Sushi is often found in bento boxes, picnics, and casual meals.
Here are some Inari Sushi types that you may want to try:
|Sesame Inari Sushi
|Sesame Inari Sushi is a delightful variation of the traditional Inari Sushi, enhanced with added toasted sesame seeds.
|Seafood Inari Sushi
|In Seafood Inari Sushi, the traditional filling of sushi rice is accompanied by an assortment of seafood, like shrimp, salmon, fish roe, and canned or fresh crabmeat.
Oshizushi is a unique style of sushi that originates from Japan and stands out for its preparation technique. It involves creating sushi by pressing layers of seasoned rice and various ingredients into a special wooden mold, known as an “oshizushihako” or “oshihako.” After compressing the mold, it creates a compact block of sushi which is sliced into bite-sized pieces before serving.
There are many varieties of Oshizushi. The most common type of is Hako-zushi which features layers of rice, fish, and sometimes vegetables. Toppings can include seafood like mackerel, salmon, or sea bream.
Temari Sushi draws inspiration from traditional Japanese handball toys known as “temari.” These toys showcase intricate designs and vibrant colors and are very pretty! Temari Sushi copies this by crafting small, spherical sushi creations that look very similar to the ornamental handball toys. Each one is handcrafted into small, bite-sized balls decorated with pretty, edible toppings.
Different varieties of Temari Sushi showcase a range of creative fillings and toppings and they include fresh fish, seafood, tamago, and different kinds of vegetables.
Gunkan Sushi is also called “battleship sushi” because of its distinctive shape, similar to a battleship. It involves a small, hand-formed oval of sushi rice, wrapped with a strip of nori to create a ship-like base. This “ship” is then filled with ingredients that would be hard to add directly on the rice due to their texture.
This sushi style reflects Japanese culinary ingenuity and is a great example of the balance between taste and presentation.
Gunkan Sushi allows for creative and appetizing sushi varieties design. It’s a dish ideal for ingredients like roe, sea urchin (uni), seafood, and other delicacies. The nori strip holds the toppings securely. It prevents the ingredients from falling apart while providing an easy way to enjoy different flavors in one bite.
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“Ikura” translates to salmon roe in Japanese. This type of sushi features a small bed of seasoned sushi rice, generously topped with freshly harvested salmon roe. Each roe gives a burst of briny flavor, which pairs really well with the delicate rice. Because roe is so intensely flavored, the rice is a perfect vessel – not too overpowering, and not too weak in taste or texture either.
Kani Salad Roll
Kani Salad Roll is a delightful fusion of Japanese flavors, combining the concept of sushi with the refreshing elements of a salad. In a Kani Salad Roll, a layer of seasoned sushi rice is encased in nori and filled with a mixture that often includes fish or imitation crab meat, cucumber, avocado, and even lettuce. Sometimes, these are called bamboo rolls. They’re usually wrapped with cucumber.
This combination is more crunchy than regular sushi thanks to the bigger amounts of cucumber. There’s also creaminess from the avocado, and a hint of seafood flavor from the crab or fish. Carefully assembling, tightly rolling, and slicing the roll into bite-sized pieces gives a sushi roll that combines both sushi and salad. A win-win situation, if you ask us!
Shiso Leaf Roll
The Shiso Leaf Roll is a unique sushi creation which combines sushi with the unique qualities of shiso leaves. “Shiso” refers to Japanese mint or perilla leaves, and this roll is known for it’s herbal, refreshing flavors.
The Shiso Leaf Roll involves encasing a layer of seasoned sushi rice in nori, with a key feature of including whole or julienned shiso leaves. The leaves give the sushi a distinct peppery and minty note. Usually, chefs add complementary fillings like cucumber, avocado, or seafood to create a balanced taste with the strong flavors of the herbs.
The Kanpyo Roll presents a unique and flavorful sushi option that features kanpyo. What is “kanpyo?” It’s a Japanese term which refers to dried gourd strips that are rehydrated and seasoned.
In the Kanpyo Roll, a layer of seasoned sushi rice is wrapped in nori, while the filling consists of the tender, marinated kanpyo strips and unusually – not fish or seafood. The roll is carefully assembled, tightly rolled, and then sliced into bite-sized pieces. These strips give the sushi a satisfying chewiness and a subtle sweetness.
You can easily differentiate sushi types in a few different ways including ingredients, preparation methods, presentation styles, and cultural influences.
Yes, you can creatively repurpose leftovers for sushi. Cooked fish, vegetables, or grains can find new life in rolls or bowls.
Indeed, modern culinary trends have propelled fusion sushi to the forefront. Sushi experts apply innovative twists to traditional ingredients, resulting in ‘fusion sushi’ using Greek, Middle Eastern, or even Indian ingredients.
Sushi, a revered Japanese cuisine, often carries misconceptions. Contrary to beliefs, sushi isn’t solely raw fish; it encompasses a variety of ingredients, including cooked seafood and vegetables. Also, not all sushi contains raw fish; options like tamago (sweet omelette) or vegetarian rolls are popular. Another myth is that sushi must always be dipped in soy sauce. Instead, soy sauce is meant to accentuate flavors, so it’s best to use it sparingly. Moreover, sushi doesn’t necessarily mean “spicy”; many traditional rolls are mild. Lastly, sushi doesn’t equate to high prices. Affordable options do exist!
Wrapping it up
The world of sushi types is a captivating one. From nigiri’s simplicity to maki’s compactness, and from temaki’s creativity to sashimi’s purity, each sushi type brings a unique experience to the table. Sushi’s evolution is a blend of tradition and modernity. So, whether you’re a sushi novice or an enthusiast, this variety of choices ensures there’s something for everyone to try and enjoy.