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An introduction to sushi and sashimi

Updated on February 27, 2013


What are sushi and sashimi?


Sushi and sashimi are aspects of a specialty Japanese cuisine witch is traditionally called "sushi." In its most basic form, sushi is raw seafood on rice, but that description really does the food no justice. While these days, sushi can be found pre-made at many grocery stores and other non traditional outlets, a true sushi experience can only be found at a great sushi restaurant. While in this era, sushi is abundant and a great go-to food for convenience, it was not always this way, and in this article I would like to talk about what makes sushi such an incredible food, as well as how and why it evolved into the food we know it as today.

The History of Sushi

Sushi originated centuries ago in, of all places, China, where fish was places inside a ball of rice in order to preserve it. It eventually began to ferment, which prevented it from spoiling, and was eaten later with the rice thrown away. As with many ideas, the concept traveled to Japan, where different methods of food preservation were tried, as well as this one. As time progressed, the technique was refined, and eventually given up as a method of preservation in favor of other, more efficient methods. But the idea of seafood with rice was already a common meal in Japan. One day, during the "Edo" period in Japan, a type of food called haya-zushi was created and a man named Matsumoto Yoshiichi popularized the dish by selling it from a cart in the busy streets of Edo (now called Tokyo). This "fast food" was simply a piece of fresh fish placed on a piece of rice (nigiri sushi) and eaten at the time of purchase. So the world's first fast food was actually sushi, invented in Japan during the early 17th century.

Modern Sushi

The sushi of today still resembles the original Japanese version in many ways. But it has also continued to evolve in a great many ways. In Japan, there is a limited adoption of western sushi modifications, such as food items like avocado, which are not a part of traditional sushi. But in the West, sushi has taken off like nothing else, and the fusion culture has embraced it and made a classic work of food art into something that has never been seen before.

Examples of various sushi and sashimi items.

Sushi - The Basics

Different types of sushi

While there are many different styles of sushi that can be broken down into sub categories, nuances, etc, there are really only a few basic categories that a diner really needs to know. There are really five basic categories of sushi and they are:

Nigiri sushi - translated as "finger sushi" this is the standard type of sushi you will see, a piece of seafood on top of a little bed of rice. it is usually served in units of 2 pieces at a time, traditionally.

Maki sushi - "Maki" means roll, so this is the sushi rolls that are cut up into pieces, usually 6 pieces per roll however some thinner rolls may be cut into 8 pieces, and the thick rolls may be cut into 4 or 5 pieces, depending on how well it holds together. Maki sushi is further broken down into types depending on the thickness of the roll or the presentation. They are:
Futomaki - Thick rolls
Hosomaki - Thin rolls
Uramaki - inside out rolls, where the rice is on the outside instead of the nori (seaweed)

Sashimi - Sashimi is just thinly slices pieces of raw fish without the rice. This is a low carb dieter's dream as you get all the yum and none of the carbs!

Chirashi sushi - This is a bowl of sashimi (slices of raw fish) over a pile of rice. It translates as "scattered sushi" and is really just that, though it is usually artfully presented. Ordering this way allows you to choose how much rice you want to eat with your fish, and allows for a large variety of different fish, which can make for an interesting meal for those of us who like to order the same thing over and over again.

Temaki Sushi - When sushi is wrapped up in a cone shape, with all the food items inside it is called temaki sushi, which means "hand roll" basically. This is a very convenient way to eat your sushi in fact, and, while not as popular in Western countries, it is beginning to catch on and can be quite visually appealing.

One More Type of Sushi

While there is some discussion about if this is really a "type" that fits in with the others, there is a style of serving the same items in a pouch of tofu, so that the product is almost like an egg roll that has not been deep fried, but if sometimes soaked in mirin, a sweet sake. This pouch style of sushi is called Inari Sushi and can be quite good when the ingredients compliment each other well.

Sushi and health

Sushi has two things going for it that make it such a great food. It is lean protein (particularly if you eat it as sashimi) and can be surprisingly low in calories. While The Sushi FAQ has much more detail in terms of sushi calories and other nutritional information, in general, sushi is low in calories and high in protein, low in fat, and is very nutritious. While the rice can add a number of carbs to the equation, you have a lot of choice in terms of how you food will be served, and you can still eat sashimi, which is an incredibly good food for low carbohydrate diets.

In addition to that, the fat that sushi does contain is the "good for you" omega 3 fatty acids from fish oil, which have been shown to have cardiovascular protective properties as well as helping with your overall health. That combination of good, nutritious food coupled with a positive effect on your health should be enough to convince anyone that sushi is a wonder food, and is as good for you as it is beautiful.

Making sushi at home

Making sushi at home is surprisingly easier to do than you would think. While you won't be making perfect rolls like the sushi masters, it will taste the same, and with practice, you will get better and start making more intricate and interesting rolls. The easiest way to learn hot to make sushi would be to review the materials at, where good instructions for making sushi at home are given. As for the food items, often if you can find a local Japanese grocery store they will carry some seafood items that are sushi grade quality, or you may purchase seafood online from one of the many reputable sushi grade fish purveyors such as They have sushi kits available if you aren't sure what you will need.

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