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What Is Sushi? A Guide For Beginners

Everything you need to know about this delicious Japanese delicacy.

If you are a fussy eater, then you might never have tried sushi before. Even if you have wanted to try it, this might be something that you have put off doing, and now you don’t know where to begin. 

colorful assortment of sushi

When sushi first entered the mainstream US food market, a lot of people didn’t know much about it. But, if you didn’t try sushi at this time, you might now find yourself overwhelmed by the thought of visiting a sushi restaurant. After all, there is a long list of options to choose from, and even eating this type of food can be tricky. 

So, if you want to give sushi a try, but are overwhelmed by just the thought of this, you are in the right place. In this guide, we’ll be telling you everything you need to know if you are a beginner at eating sushi. So to find out more, keep on reading. 


Sushi: What Exactly Is It?

As you probably already know, sushi is a Japanese dish that dates back centuries. It is about as traditional as Japanese cuisine can get, but in recent years this dish has become Westernized. As it has become Westernized, sushi has changed a lot, but the basic design behind this food remains the same.

However, if you were to compare sushi in Japan to sushi in the USA, then you will notice lots of differences between the two. In essence, these two types of sushi have become two entirely different dishes. 

sushi ingredients ready to be rolled

Sushi is a dish that is predominantly made up of rice. A lot of people get sushi and sashimi confused, and because of this, some people expect sushi to consist entirely of raw fish. While sushi can contain raw fish, not all sushi does, and this is why sushi and sashimi are two different things.

In fact, some sushi doesn’t even contain seafood, instead, it is made using vegetables. So, sushi is a lot more versatile than you might have first expected. But, let’s find out a little more about the history of sushi. 


Where Does Sushi Come From?

We know that sushi comes from Japan, but let’s find out a little more about where sushi comes from specifically. It is thought that sushi was created in Japan during the 9th century. There is some debate about whether it was created in Japan or brought there, but regardless of this, it is definitely Japan that gained sushi its popularity.

Back in the 9th century, sushi quickly grew in popularity across Japan, and this is primarily because of the largely Buddhist population in Japan. But why was this? 

Traditionally, the Buddhist population in Japan followed the dietary practice of abstaining from eating meat. Like many cultures, in Japanese Buddhist culture, meat from animals was seen as a different food category to seafood. So, while they did not eat animal meat, they could eat seafood.

This is why sushi grew in popularity incredibly quickly. Back then, sushi was predominantly made using seafood, but since then vegetable sushi has also gained popularity. But aside from seafood and vegetables, what is made to use sushi? Let’s find out. 


What Is Sushi Made Of?

We have taken a basic look at the different ingredients used to make sushi, but now let’s take a look at this more specifically. Sushi begins with a base ingredient, and this is usually rice. On its own, rice consists of single grains, but before it is used in sushi, additional ingredients are added to it to make the rice sticky.

This is important as it makes sushi less messy to eat. To make the rice sticky, ingredients such as vinegar, salt, and sugar are added to it. Once the rice is prepared, additional ingredients are added to the rice to give it more flavor. 

freshly made sushi platter served at a sushi bar in San Francisco

Most of the time, the exterior of the sushi wrap is made using something called nori. Nori is a type of seaweed, and it is dark green/black in appearance. To make the sushi, a sheet of nori is laid out, then a thick layer of rice is added. In the center of the rice, the filling is added, this might be raw seafood, cooked seafood, or vegetables.

With the filling at the center, the nori is rolled, and then the sushi is chopped before being eaten. Depending on the type of sushi that you eat, this process might be a little different. But regardless, the sushi will always be delicious. 


How Do You Eat Sushi?

If you are planning on visiting a sushi restaurant, then the most intimidating thing about this cuisine will likely be eating it. If you are buying sushi from a store, and eating it in the privacy of your own home, then this will be a lot less important, and you will have a lot more freedom.

In most sushi restaurants, you will be given chopsticks to eat your sushi with as this is the traditional way in which they are eaten. However, eating with chopsticks is often very intimidating, especially if this is your first time. 

Thankfully, eating sushi with chopsticks is a lot easier than eating some other Japanese dishes with chopsticks. This is because, most of the time, sushi is wrapped tightly, so all you need to do is pick up the individual pieces of sushi in your chopsticks. You should take hold of the sushi roll between your two chopsticks, then eat it.

person holding piece of sushi with chopsticks

If the pieces are small, then you will likely be able to eat them in a single bite. But, if they are larger, then you might have to hold onto the sushi while you take a couple of bites. So, now that you know how to eat sushi, let’s take a look at what you should expect when you visit a sushi restaurant. 


What to Expect When You Visit a Sushi Restaurant

As you are a beginner at sushi, it is likely that you have never visited a sushi restaurant before, in which case you are probably wondering what you should expect. Of course, every restaurant will be different. But here are just a handful of the things that you should expect in a sushi restaurant.

upscale sushi restaurant interior
  • Your sushi will arrive at your table on a small plate. Any additional appetizers will be brought out separately, and soy sauce will usually be found on your table. 
  • Chopsticks will be supplied, and it is generally accepted that you eat your sushi using these. If you cannot use chopsticks, or do not feel comfortable using them, then you should eat your sushi with your hands instead. If you do not want to do this, you can request a fork. It is not frowned upon to use a fork, but it is rare for them to be supplied on your table in a sushi restaurant. 
  • Most sushi restaurants do not solely sell sushi. As well as sushi, you will be able to order a variety of other dishes, including egg rolls, soups, and lots more. Different sushi restaurants will offer different side dishes. 

There are some other things which you might expect from a sushi restaurant. For example, a lot of modern sushi restaurants now use conveyor belts to deliver sushi rolls to tables. But depending on what sushi restaurant you visit, the experience that you get will be completely different.

However, the things that we have said above are just a few that you should expect from a sushi restaurant. 


The Best Sushi For Beginners

Now that you know what to expect from a sushi restaurant, you might be wondering what you should order. Some sushi is better suited for those who have experience with this style of food, so if you are new to this, you should start with something simple. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the best sushi for beginners. 

California Roll 

This is the most basic type of sushi, and one that you have to try if it is your first time eating sushi. A lot of people are uncertain about sushi because some rolls contain raw fish, and this worries some people. But the California roll only contains cooked fish, so it is great for getting you started. With cucumber, avocado, and cooked imitation crab at its center, this roll is totally delicious. 

Philadelphia Roll

philadelphia roll on a plate

If you fancy something a little different, then the Philadelphia roll is another great option. A lot of people love cheese, and this is found in a Philadelphia roll, which is why this option is so popular. With avocado, cream cheese, and salmon in this sushi roll, there is something for everyone. 

Spicy Tuna Roll

Spicy Tuna Roll on a plate in a sushi restaurant

Finally, if you love spicy food, then the Spicy Tuna roll is likely the best choice for you. This roll is simple, consisting of just tuna and spicy mayo. It is very much an American type of sushi, but it is incredibly delicious, definitely one to try if you are new to sushi. 


What Sushi NOT to Order

But now that we have looked at the sushi which you should order, let’s take a look at the types of sushi that you should avoid. There are various reasons why you should avoid these types of sushi, from bad flavor to messiness. But in short, they simply aren’t the best options for when you are first trying sushi. So, if you are trying sushi for the first time, these are the options to avoid, and why you should avoid them. 

Shrimp Tempura Roll

shrimp tempura roll is safe sushi for kids

There is no denying that this option is tasty, but the health benefits of sushi are quickly lost with this type of roll. This is because tempura is fried, and the unhealthiness of this quickly overpowers the health benefits of the rest of the roll. So, it isn’t the best place to begin if you are new to eating sushi. 

King Crab Roll

king crab roll with cream cheese and crab inside

Again, this roll is very yummy, but it is also something else, and that is messy. The King Crab roll contains a lot of mayonnaise, and this makes it slick and messy. Especially if you are eating it with your hands. In addition to this, King Crab rolls are not the healthiest because they are high in salt. So, it might not be the best option if you expect sushi to be healthy. 


Final Thoughts

So, if you are a beginner at sushi, and you want to find out more, you are definitely in the right place. In this guide, we have taken a look at absolutely everything you need to know about sushi, from what it is to where it comes from, and also the best types of sushi for beginners.

Now that you have read all of this, you are fully prepared to go out and try sushi for the first time, so why not give your local restaurant a try?

What kind of sushi are you going to try first? Let us know down below in the comments!

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Written by Rocco Smith

Rocco is from Sanibel Island, Florida, and a recent graduate of Florida State University with a Bachelor’s in Editing, Writing, and Media. With seven years’ experience in the restaurant industry as a cook, server, bartender, and more, he is deeply passionate about intertwining his fondness for food with his love of language.