When talking about Japanese cuisine, you have to mention sushi. It is said to have originated in 4th century Southeast Asia, but had a unique development in Japan, and thus became the unique Japanese cuisine that is popular throughout the world today. There are, however, plenty of delicious varieties, as well as rules for how to eat them. Let's learn about traditional Japanese sushi, and the way to eat it like a pro.
What is Sushi?
Sushi is a type of cuisine that takes various ingredients and pairs them with vinegared rice. In the past, it was considered an expensive celebratory food to be eaten on special occasions. However, nowadays, it is very reasonably priced. There are plenty of places you can buy sushi, such as conveyor belt sushi restaurants, or supermarkets, which is why sushi is now considered an everyday food item.
The Difference Between Sushi and Sashimi
Although sashimi is fresh fish that is thinly sliced and served on its own, sushi refers to a small portion of various ingredients paired with vinegared rice. The reason we said sushi uses various ingredients is because there are types of sushi that have no fish in them. While sashimi is a very simple dish, sushi is a dish that requires quite a bit of preparation, and has various types as well, including nigiri-zushi, maki-zushi, chirashi-zushi, inari-zushi, and many other varieties. To learn more about sashimi, please check out our article about it below.
How Sushi Rice is Made
Let's take a look at the type of rice used in sushi, how it is made, and how different varieties of sushi are made.
There are three main variations rice: Japonica rice, Indica rice, and Javanica rice. The one best suited for making sushi rice is Japonica rice. It has a sturdy flavor when cooked that is retained even after the rice has cooled, and it also has a sticky texture.
How to Make Sushi Rice
The rice used to make sushi is both sour and sweet, and somehow makes for the perfect pairing with fresh fish. How is it made? Let's take a look at the three steps of making sushi rice.
Step 1: Combine the following in a rice cooker, and cook the rice.
- Rice - 450 g, polished
- Water - enough for the rice to be covered
- Konbu - a 20 cm strip cut into 3 to 4 smaller strips
- Sake - 1 tablespoon (whether you add it or not is up to you)
Step 2: Mix the following vinegar mixture together in a bowl.
- Rice vinegar - 1/3 cup
- Sugar - 5 tablespoons
- Salt - 1 tablespoon
Step 3: After the rice has finished cooking, transfer it to a bowl and pour the vinegar mixture over it. Use a rice paddle to mix in the vinegar mixture into the rice with a cutting motion. Once the rice looks like it has a sheen and it has cooled a bit, it's ready.
How Different Types of Sushi are Made
How sushi is made varies depending on the type. Let's have a look at the different types of sushi, their characteristics, and how they are made.
Nigiri-zushi is a rectangular-shaped, single-bite portion of rice with fresh fish or shellfish resting atop it. A small portion of wasabi is sometimes placed between the fish and rice. Most types of nigiri-zushi have a piece of sashimi (a thinly sliced portion of raw fish) on top, however, there are other types that use eel cooked in a sweet and sour sauce, boiled shrimp, and even Japanese omelets.
Gunkan is a rectangular-shaped, single-bite portion of rice wrapped in dried seaweed. It can have many different types of toppings, such as fish eggs, like salmon roe, sea urchin, and so on.
Norimaki takes a 20 cm rectangle of dried seaweed, which is then covered with a layer of sushi rice, over which ingredients such as fresh fish, cucumber, or eggs are then placed on and rolled up. The roll is then cut into slices and served.
Hosomaki is made in the same way as the above mentioned norimaki, but made thinner. Because it is thinner, less ingredients can fit inside. Some of the most common ingredients in hosomaki include tuna, salmon, cucumber, with wasabi and sesame seeds as secondary ingredients.
Temaki are similar to norimaki, but the way this type of sushi is wrapped resembles the shape of an ice cream cone. Common ingredients include tuna, salmon, and cucumber, with wasabi and sesame seeds as secondary ingredients.
Oshi-zushi is made by placing a layer of sushi rice in a wooden box, then layering fish on top and pressing it down tightly. If you take a trip on a shinkansen train or plane in Japan, you can often find oshi-zushi being sold as a lunch box as vendors in stations and airports.
Inari-zushi is made by placing vinegared rice in a pouch made of fried tofu that has been boiled in a sweet and sour sauce. Although this type of sushi is generally rectangular-shaped, there are also triangle-shaped varieties as well. Besides the simple vinegared rice filling, sometimes you can also find thinly-sliced carrots or lotus root used inside as well.
Chirashi-zushi is made by taking various ingredients such as fresh fish, mushrooms, and vegetables and scattering them over a bed of sushi rice. "Chirashi" means "to scatter" in Japanese. Because of the beautifully vivid coloring due to the combination of ingredients used, this dish is often made for house parties or special occasions.
How to Eat Sushi
A plate of sushi has been brought out and placed before you. How should you go about eating it? Should you just drizzle soy sauce over the entire plate and eat it? You should definitely refrain from doing that. Let's take a look at the correct way to eat sushi.
Step 1: Along with the larger plate that the sushi has been placed on, there will be a small sauce dish given to each person. This small dish is called a "sashi choko (さしちょこ)" and used for soy sauce. At high-end restaurants, the restaurant staff will pour soy sauce into the sashi choko for you, but regular restaurants require you to pour your own soy sauce.
Step 2: Pick up a piece of sushi with your chopsticks or your hand.
Step 3: Lastly, take the piece of sushi you picked up and gently dip only the topping of your sushi, not the rice, into the soy sauce in your sashi choko.
Speaking of the sashi choko, some people like to mix in wasabi with their soy sauce, but this is considered bad manners. Since many Japanese people do this as well, it isn't something to really worry about. After your meal is finished, ideally, your sashi choko should only have a bit of soy sauce left over in it and it should not be messy.
How Long Sushi is Good For
Since sushi uses raw fish, it is safest to eat it within the day it was prepared. If you buy sushi at a supermarket or fish market, make absolutely sure to keep it chilled in your refrigerator after returning home.
In Japan, it's quite normal to see sushi that has been bought at the supermarket, or ordered as takeout, placed on the table for dinner. Here are some of the general expiration dates for different varieties of sushi.
- Tuna, yellowtail, salmon, and other large fish: 2 to 3 days
- Sea bream, flounder, and other white fish: 1 to 2 days
- Squid and octopus: 1 day
- Horse mackerel, European pilchard, Pacific saury, and other blue fish: the day it was prepared
The Order to Eat Sushi
If it is your first time eating sushi, we recommend eating as much as you can of something you like. If you'd like to try eating sushi in an order that maximizes its flavor as suggested by sushi chefs, we recommend the following order.
- Start out by eating sushi made with white fish with a clean taste, or nigiri-zushi with fish that have been marinated in vinegar.
- Next, continue with nigiri-zushi made with richly flavored red fish. If you still have room in your stomach, go for an order of maki-zushi as well.
- Finish your meal off with something sweet, like Japanese omelet, and some green tea.
We are going to introduce you some sushi toppings here, and in detail in other article of ours. If you wonder which one to start or which one to eat at sushi shop, you can just say "Omakase (おまかせ)" which means "chef's choice" in Japanese so that they would pick and serve you the toppings at their best.
Different Varieties of Sushi Toppings
Here's a listing of the different types of fish used as sushi toppings as mentioned in The Order to Eat Sushi section above.
- Sea Bream (タイ)
- Squid (イカ)
- Octopus (タコ)
- Scallop (ホタテ)
- Mackerel (サバ)
- Oceanic Bonito (カツオ)
- Tuna (マグロ)
- Trout Salmon (サーモン)
- Yellowtail (ブリ＆ハマチ)
- Greater Amberjack (カンパチ)
- Salmon roe (イクラ)
- Urchin (ウニ)
- Sweet shrimp (アマエビ)
To learn more, check out The Delicious Varieties of Sushi and Sashimi article.