It seems like there are more types of sushi than islands on the Japanese archipelago itself – not that we're complaining. But knowing what to order as a first-timer can be confusing. There are even some seasoned sushi-veterans who struggle to tell one type of sushi from another. When people hear sushi, they often think of raw fish; but there’s so much more to this intricate Asian delicacy than that.
This handy guide will have you ordering like a pro – from nigiri and maki rolls to donburi and chirashi bowls. Read this before your next order so you can truly experience the wide world of sushi.
Makizushi (or maki) is what most people associate with sushi. Translated from Japanese, maki literally means “to roll”. These bite-size wonders are made with seafood, vegetable or meat filling wrapped in thin omelettes, soy paper, nori (seaweed) or cucumber.
The main difference between uramaki and maki is that uramaki gives rice the spotlight. The rice is the outer layer of the roll, with the seaweed in between and the filling in the center. Uramaki is also often garnished with a coating of toasted sesame seeds or roe (fish eggs). Surprisingly, this type of roll was actually an American invention. At the time, sushi was considered an adventurous food for Americans, and some were apprehensive about the seaweed as an ingredient. So it was hidden inside the roll to encourage more Americans to enjoy its wonders. Now, of course, uramaki is eaten around the world, with the most popular variation being the California roll.
Temaki (hand roll)
While they may not be as easy to share as a typical maki roll, the cone shape of the temaki roll provides the perfect excuse to do away with the chopsticks and get a bit more hands on. With all the usual fillings, it’s the shape and size of temaki that truly sets it apart from the rest.
Nigiri consists of raw fish or other seafood sitting atop a mound of vinegared sushi rice, with a thin strip of seaweed in between. While often spiced up with a layer of wasabi paste or the addition of a delightful kick of sweet omelette, nigiri is best known for accentuating the flavors of raw fish or shellfish.
Chirashi and donburi
The chirashi dish is a tasty alternative to sushi rolls and sashimi. Chirashi literally means “scattered sushi," and it's essentially a bowl filled with sushi rice and toppings, usually a variety of fish. Chirashi dishes are the closest you will get to an all-in-one sushi experience. A close variation is donburi, an ovesized rice bowl that's topped with fish, meat, vegetables and sauce like dashi or soy sauce. The variations of chirashi and donburi are endless, and there's something for every palate.
Although not technically sushi, sashimi is one of the most popular eats at sushi joints. Unlike maki, sashimi is super fresh raw fish flying solo without the rice, served in long rectangular slices and accompanied by soy sauce, ginger or wasabi (if you can handle the heat).
Finally, we come to our crave-worthy, deep-fried friend. Known for its clean and delicate taste, tempura means ingredients (like shrimp or sweet potato) are coated with a flour blend and fried for a delicious crunch. For a tempura roll, this method is applied to the whole sushi roll, so that the standard uramaki roll is encased in a crispy outer layer. Yes, it's totally worth it!
Whether you prefer the filling of maki rolls or clean and classic sashimi, now you know there's something for everyone. And you don’t need to move anything but your chopsticks – just review our list from the comfort of your own home and decide what to try!