Sushi & Sashimi: The Basics 1: Definitions


Rainbow Roll at Sushi Ko, Shizuoka City

I already have wrtitten a lot in bits and pieces on Sushi and Sashimi, including in my other blog, Shizuoka Sushi, but I felt it was time to post an article that could be used as general reference by my blogging friends.
This first article will describe the different kinds of sushi in a basic manner.


Kawahagi sashimi/Leatherback at Sushi Ko, Shizuoka City

Sashimi or thin slices of fish when put onto some rice could be called “sushi” as long as rice vinegar, salt and sugar have been added to season the rice beforehand.
On the other hand it does not have to be sashimi as almost anything could be used for making sushi: fish guts, roe, shellfish, meat, vegetables. etc.
Even the word “sashimi” does not actually apply to fish only as its meaning is “thin slices” (debatable).


Sakura/Horsemeat Sushi at Sushi Ko, Shizuoka City

There are 3 basic kinds of sushi:
“Nare Zushi”, or pickled fish sushi.
“Nigiri Sushi” or “Edomae Zushi”,or sliced Fish et al onto small balls of rice.
“Oshi Zushi” or “Osaka Zushi”, or sliced fish et al pressed onto rice inside a wooden box or mould and then cut into equal-sized pieces.
Of course the three above kinds can be divided into numerous sub-varieties.


Home-made Chirashi Zushi

One important variety is “Chirashi Zushi/散らし寿司”, basically all kinds of (available) ingredients, preferably small, strewn on a layer of rive inside a bowl or shallow Japanese dish. This last variety is commonly encountered at home meals when it is more practical for a housewife to serve to a whole family.



Nare zushi in Wakayama Prefecture envelopped in Bamboo leaves

Nare Zushi (熟寿司, or 馴れ寿司 in Japanese) is the original form of sushi in Japan. One way to preserve fish was to gut it, slice the meat with or without the skin and pickle it (ferment it) in rice. The fish could then always be presented at meals after having taken it out of the pickle jar, cleaned it and served it on a dish as an accompaniment (or main dish) to the usual Japanese fare of rice, miso (fermented beans) soup and pickles.


Funa Zushi/鮒寿司

Funa Zushi is a typical example.

Then one day, somebody selling fish in Edo (old Tokyo) struck on the idea to serve it wrapped around balls of rice to which vinegar, salt and sugar had been added for preservation. These balls were 2 or 3 times as big as nowadays and
3 balls would be enough for a meal.
This form of sushi is rarely encountered or availabe these days. One modern extension of this technique is “Zuke” whereas tuna (“maguro”) or other fish has been first dipped in hot water for a while, then transfered into iced water to stop it cooking and finally marinated into a pickle brine (“tsuke shiru”) for a while. When cut, the surface is cooked and slightly harder while the inside is still soft and comparatively raw. If it is not dipped in brine it becomes “tataki”.
(Note: “Zuke/漬け” also means leaving the fish slices in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin ans sake for about a certain amount of time begore making any kind of sushi. Each restaurant has its own original secrets and recipes.)



Kujira Nigiri/Whalemeat at Sushi Ko, Shizuoka City

“Nigiri Zushi/握り寿司”, arguably the most popular kind of sushi, consists of a small hand-formed ball of rice, or more commonly called “shari/シャリ”, seasoned with rice vinegar, salt and sugar covered with a slice of fish or other ingredients (defined as “neta/ネタ” in Japanese).
Moreover, before covering the “shari” with the “neta”, a small portion of grated Japanese green horseradish (“wasabi/山葵”) is applied on top of the “shari” to be in contact with both the the “shari” nad “neta”. But this is not always the rule. Grated ginger and chopped chives can be applied on top of the “neta” or the “neta” could be seasoned with sauce (“tare/タレ” or “tsume/ツメ”) or the horseradish could be applied on top of the “neta” (as in for “anago”=conger eel). In some cases, I myself like the “neta” sprinkled with a bit of salt and lemon juice as for “hirame” ( sole/flatfish).
The “nigiri zushi” can be then be dipped or not, according to your preference, into a small dish of soy sauce before eating it.
A “nigiri zushi” seasoned with “tare” or salt and lemon juice should not be dipped into soy sauce.


Negi-toro Nori Maki/leeks and toro nori maki at Sushi Ko, Shizuoka City

“Edomae Zushi/江戸前寿司”, apart of “nigiri zushi” comprises “te-maki zushi/手巻き寿司” (a sushi made inside dry seaweed in the form of a cone served in one piece),”ha-maki/葉巻” (the same as “te-maki-zushi” but with lettuce instead of dry seaweed), “nori-maki/海苔巻き”
(a long thin roll usually wrapped in dry seaweed, then cut in 2, 3 or 6 portions), “futo-maki/太巻” ( a thick roll wrapped in seaweed cut into thin slices), “inari zushi/稲荷寿司” (plain or mixed with some finely-cut ingredients seasoned rice wrapped inside fried toofu pouch, also known as “0-inari San”) , or “chakin zushi/茶巾寿司” (seasoned rice plain or mixed with other ingredients inside a pouch made of thin omelette).
The possibilities for “edomae zushi” are almost limitless.


Te-mari zushi, kyoto style


Te-mari zushi, home-style

Ome more variety made in Kyoto called “te-mari zushi” (small round “nigiri zushi”) ought to be mentioned as its shape is particularly beautiful and its size is popular with diet-conscious ladies!



Oshi Zushi out of it press box

This type of sushi is made from rice (“shari”) seasoned as in “edomae zushi” and then stuffed inside small wooden boxes, smeared or not with horseradish (“wasabi”). Finally thin slices of fish or else are carefully arranged on top usually so as to form a pattern. A wooden lid will then be pushed on top of the sushi to press it evenly and firmly. The sushi will be then slid out out of the box and cut into regular rectangular portions to be served accordingly to the chef’s taste and skill.

Next to come: Sushi & Sashimi: The Basics 2: Questions and Answers

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17 thoughts on “Sushi & Sashimi: The Basics 1: Definitions”

  1. When I was attending the University of Hawaii in the early ’50s, we use to be able to get what seems to have been the inari form of edomae, the fried tofu cones filled with seasoned rice, at the student coffee and sandwich shop. I really liked this form of sushi, but have never been able to get excited by the various rolled forms that are popular in North America today.


  2. Dear Robert,
    Such a detialed write out on this sushi & sahimi. It surely widen my horizon on japanese sushi…thank you so much for the enlightenment :)) CONGRATS on Today’s Top 9…you deserved it * wink

    Best Wishes,


  3. I like Sushi. Especially, I like maguro toro(tuna).
    But, maguro’s fishery is decreasing.
    The near future. We cannot eat maguro !!


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