What Is Sushi: The Not So Raw Truth

The story behind a favorite Japanese delicacy

Sushi Rolls
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Sushi is popular around the world, but that doesn't mean everyone understands what this dish is. For one, sushi isn't the same thing as raw fish, which it is often described as. Rather, raw fish, known as sashimi in Japanese, is the most popular ingredient in sushi.

So what is sushi? It surprises Westerners to find out that the term actually refers to foods that use a type of rice seasoned with vinegar.

Many have no idea.

If you're traveling to Japan or just want to learn more about the cuisine, better your understanding of sushi with this guide.

The Different Types of Sushi

There are several types of sushi, making it an appealing food to people with a wide range of tastes. One form of sushi, nigiri-zushi, are hand-pressed mounds of rice with a dab of wasabi and parts of various ingredients on top. Popular nigiri-zushi include all of the following:

  • maguro (tuna)
  • toro (belly of tuna)
  • hamachi (yellowtail)
  • ebi (shrimp)

Maki-zushi are sushi rolls wrapped by nori seaweed, such as tekkamaki (tuna rolls) and kappamaki (cucumber rolls). These rolls are also called norimaki. Additionally, inari-zushi are deep-fried tofu pouches stuffed with sushi rice. They are brown and oval-shaped. And chirashi-zushi are sushi served on a plate or bowl with different ingredients on top of rice.

Sushi Seasonings

The key seasonings used in sushi are soy sauce and wasabi (Japanese horseradish).

Soy sauce is used as dipping sauce, and wasabi is put in nigiri-zushi. It may also be mixed with soy sauce for dipping. Also, pickled ginger called gari is commonly served with sushi. Green tea (it's called agari in sushi restaurants) is the best drink with sushi. Filled with antioxidants and cancer-fighting chemicals, green tea is a healthful drink to have on a regular basis, whether you're eating sushi or starting your day on an empty stomach.

Is Sushi Expensive?

In traditional sushi restaurants in Japan, sushi can be expensive depending on what you eat. You can usually order a set of sushi with a fixed price, which comes in handy for group outings. Alternatively, you can order your favorite sushi pieces as you eat.

For reasonably priced sushi, there are places called kaiten-zushi, where the sushi plates circle around the eating area on a conveyor belt. There are kaiten-zushi restaurants everywhere in Japan. When you go to such a restaurant, you wait until your favorite sushi comes near you, and then pick up the plate from the moving table. If your favorites aren't available on the moving table, you can also order them. Prices for this inexpensive kind of sushi vary.

Wrapping Up

Once considered exotic outside of Japan, sushi restaurants can now even be found in small American towns. If you'll likely never visit Japan, the most authentic sushi can usually be located in cities with large Japanese populations, such as Los Angeles, Seattle or Honolulu.