New to the wonderful world of sushi? You’re likely to encounter many sushi-related Japanese words the further you go on your sushi journey, but let’s start with nailing down three of the most basic terms: sushi, sashimi, nigiri.
First up: Sushi. Many people see the word “sushi” and think “raw fish” - but sushi is actually defined by its rice, not fish at all! Sushi is a fairly wide umbrella term which means::
A Japanese dish with prepared vinegared rice (usually seasoned further with sugar and salt), with widely varying fillings, toppings, condiments and preparation.
The one key ingredient of sushi is the sushi rice! Common sushi dishes include makizushi (“rolled” sushi - the sushi rolls that most people are familiar with), chirashizushi (“scattered” sushi - sushi rice with a variety of raw fish and vegetables atop), inarizushi (a pouch of fried tofu filled with sushi rice), and nigirizushi (“hand-pressed” sushi - more on this one later).
Next up is Sashimi: a Japanese delicacy of raw fish or meat sliced into thin pieces and often served with soy sauce and wasabi. There is no rice in sashimi, therefore sashimi is not sushi at all! Sashimi is often the first course in a formal Japanese meal, and is cut into differing thicknesses to highlight the fish or meat’s delicate flavor as well as for texture.
Lastly, we have Nigiri. People often confuse sashimi with nigiri, and vice versa. As we already know, nigiri is a common type of sushi meaning “hand-pressed” sushi. A sushi chef presses an oblong mound of sushi rice into an oval-shaped ball, and a topping is laid over the ball. The topping is nearly always sliced fish, but can also be other ingredients such as octopus, eel, Japanese egg omelette, roe (fish eggs), uni (sea urchin), and more. With loose ingredients like sea urchin or roe, the presentation is a bit different - a hand-pressed mound of rice is wrapped in a short cylinder of seaweed and filled with the loose topping.
And there we have it: sushi, sashimi and nigiri! You are likely to come across many more sushi-related Japanese words, and we’ve touched on some today already (maki, roe, uni). But as with everything in life, it’s important to master the basics before moving onto the more advanced. We hope your love and appreciation for sushi grows along with your delicious knowledge of it!