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Different Sushi Types Explained

To beginners, a sushi menu can be difficult to decipher – especially when there is a lack of descriptions next to each name.

It can be intimidating when you have to order without knowing exactly what you’re getting and if you’re actually going to enjoy it or not. 

Today we’ll be looking at the different types of sushi that you can get so that you feel more prepared when entering a sushi restaurant. 

What is sushi? 

To understand what you’re about to be eating, you must first know the basics of what sushi is.

Sushi is now a common cuisine found in many countries, both in grocery stores and restaurants. It originated in Japan and is considered to be a highly artistic and skilled type of food from the country. 

Sushi uses fish, both raw and cooked, vegetables, and vinegared rice. Common side garnishes include soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. 

The sushi that we know now is much different from how it originally was when first created.

In Asia, sushi used to describe salted fish dishes in fermented rice. This was common in Japan until the Edo period. 

After this period, sushi evolved into Edomae zushi which is much more similar to the style of sushi that we know and love today. 

Contemporary sushi uses meat, fish, vegetables, and vinegared rice. This combines the best parts of both traditional and modern ingredients.

There is also a difference between Japanese-style sushi and Western-style sushi, so you might find that you prefer one style over the other. 

Six main types of sushi

There are six main types of sushi found in restaurants. If you know the basics about these, then you should be able to interpret a menu much easier than if you were to try without this knowledge.

Below are the six different types of sushi and what their basics consist of. 

  1. Sashimi
  2. Nigiri
  3. Chirashi
  4. Maki
  5. Uramaki
  6. Temaki

Sashimi

Sashimi is a very popular dish at sushi restaurants. Sashimi is raw fish, served in long rectangular slices known as hira-zukuri.

Wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger are also commonly served as garnish. Essentially, sashimi is deconstructed simple sushi rolls.  

Nigiri

Nigiri is a type of sushi made up of molded structures of vinegared rice topped with slices of raw fish. Nigiri is long and thin so that you can eat it with your hands.

Not all nigiri is made with raw fish, although the simplicity of this sushi is loved by many and allows you to enjoy the most flavors from the fish. 

Chirashi

Chirashi means ‘scattered’ and is similar to sashimi in many ways. You will be served a bowl of vinegared rice topped with raw fish slices and different garnishes.

The fish is typically chosen by the chef to offer you a surprise element. Fruit and vegetables are sometimes also included in this dish. 

Maki

Maki is one of the more commonly known types of sushi that you might find in grocery stores and restaurants. Maki is rolled sushi cut into bite-size pieces wrapped in a thin layer of nori.

Fillings will be within the Maki and wrapped in vinegared rice within the nori. The filling is made up of vegetables, fish, or other meat. 

Uramaki

Uramaki is similar to Maki, although the rice is on the outside of the nori rather than the inside. The nori will be wrapped around the filling.

This type of sushi often comes with lots of toppings and sauces that you can dip the pieces into. 

Temaki

Temaki is another type of sushi rolls, although they are made by rolling the nori into a cone shape. This cone is then filled with rice, vegetables, and fish. Also known as hand rolls.

Temaki is too large to be eaten with chopsticks and therefore are commonly eaten with your hands.  

Sushi Rolls

Sushi rolls have been more westernized than other types of sushi, perhaps for their aesthetically pleasing look or that they’re easier to eat.

The United States have created their own unique take on Maki sushi, which are very tasty yet not too traditional.

Below we have listed the most popular sushi rolls found in grocery stores and restaurants. 

California Roll

California rolls are a type of Uramaki with rice on the outside of the nori. The vinegared rice will commonly include sesame seeds.

Within the nori is traditionally avocado, imitation crab, and cucumber. Tobiko, or flying fish roe, is also sometimes found within California rolls. 

Spicy Tuna Roll

Spicy Tuna rolls are also a type of Uramaki with rice on the outside of the nori. Inside the nori is raw tuna mixed with spicy mayonnaise.

Avocado and cucumber are often paired with these rolls for the vegetables. 

Spider Roll

Spider rolls have a filling of deep-fried soft shell crab with other optional fillings of avocado, cucumber, lettuce, roe, and spicy mayonnaise.

These filings are wrapped with vinegared rice and a sheet of nori. 

Tempura Roll

Similar to California rolls and Spicy Tuna rolls, Tempura rolls have rice on the outside of the nori. The filling is made up of tempura-fried shrimp with various different vegetables.

The shrimp is often served with the tails still on to make them more impressive on the eyes. This makes Tempura rolls a little more difficult and messier to eat. 

Dragon Roll

Dragon rolls are very similar to Tempura rolls with tempura-fried shrimp, cucumber, and avocado. The rice is also on the outside of the nori, mixed with sesame seeds.

Dragon rolls don’t just stop there, though. They are also covered in a thin slice of avocado and drizzled with spicy mayonnaise and unagi sauce. 

three pieces of a dragon roll sushi

Choosing the right restaurant

You only get one shot at a good first impression, so choosing the right restaurant for your first sushi experience is important. First and foremost, you need to choose somewhere to dine that has a great reputation and high-quality dishes. 

Sushi is traditionally eaten with the fish still raw. This makes the most of all of the flavors and textures available from the raw fish.

However, some sushi restaurants offer it cooked rather than raw, which could signal that they’re using lower quality ingredients. Cooking the fish will make this less apparent. 

The sushi should also be made to order rather than served after sitting out for a long time.

An easy way to determine whether your sushi is fresh or not is if the nori is crispy with a toasty flavor. If it’s soggy, it’s likely that the sushi has been sitting around for too long. 

Types of Sushi

Despite our best efforts, this article is not going to teach you every single thing you need to know about ordering sushi.

Due to this, you need your server to be knowledgeable about what’s on offer. If the server cannot tell you what is in each dish, you should find somewhere else. 

Finally, the smell of the restaurant will tell you everything you need to know.

A sushi bar should never smell of fish. Much like in the grocery store, fresh fish should never smell off, as this could be a sign of bad hygiene or not fresh produce. 

Ordering sushi

Ordering sushi can be a stressful experience when you’re a beginner because you don’t want to look like a fool. However, try to take the pressure off of yourself and just ask your server if you need help.

You’re not the first, and you certainly won’t be the last. It’s much better to swallow your pride and order something you’ll really enjoy rather than hoping for the best and it failing miserably. 

You can also leave your order up to the chef. This is called an omakase-style of ordering and allows the chef, who knows the food best, to order for you.

This allows you to try something that you’ve never tried before and gives you the best chance of receiving the best quality of food. 

sushi chef serves omakase style to customers

To get the most from your sushi ordering experience, it’s best to order a few dishes rather than only one. This allows you to try a variety of sushi rather than just one dish at a time.

However, don’t go too crazy with it and order the entire menu – otherwise, you might just be wasting money on things you don’t enjoy. 

If you can get a seat next to the sushi bar, you’ll be able to see what the chef is doing to create your meal. Not everyone loves this position, but we think that seeing the food being made enhances the sushi experience even more.

You can also ask the chef questions about the dishes to see whether it’s something you’re going to enjoy or not. 

Summary

We hope that you’ve learned something valuable about the types of sushi out there and feel more confident ordering at a sushi restaurant.

While it’s not an issue to ask the server or chef any questions you might have, going in with a basic amount of knowledge will certainly make you feel more comfortable and the experience will be more enjoyable.

Now get out there and enjoy your sushi! 

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Written by Ryan F.

Ryan is a Philadelphia local who enjoys checking out Philly's restaurant scene every chance he can. He grew up in South Jersey and now lives in Philadelphia's Point Breeze neighborhood.