All About Sushi: Types, Ingredients, And Tips For Eating

All about sushi""the main types and their ingredients as well as tips for eating and advice on Japanese table etiquette.

Sushi, the choice food of the Japanese people, is about more than just raw fish. As a matter of fact, there is a distinct and complicated culture behind this delicacy that many Americans are unfamiliar with.

There are three main types of sushi, and hundreds of possible combinations within them. The three most well-known types are rolls (maki), hand rolls (temaki), and nigiri.


You probably have seen or tasted at least maki if you're ever had Japanese food: they are the small round rolls of rice surrounded by seaweed (nori). Maki sushi is popular outside of sushi bars as well, being available pre-made in some supermarkets and corner stores. The most common type you'll find is probably the California maki, which is a roll filled with cucumber, avocado, crab, and sometimes topped with sesame seeds and/or salmon roe. (The California maki is usually inside-out or "yukiwa", with the nori layer on the inside, making it unique but difficult to prepare at home.) Other common fillings found in maki sushi are cucumber, salmon, eel, crab, combinations of vegetables, and tuna. There are also two different categories of maki--futomaki (thick rolls) and hosomaki (slender rolls). Whether or not your rolls will be thick or slender depends on the number of fillings (1-3 fillings go in hosomaki) and how the sheet of nori is rolled (if the longer side is rolled in, you will produce hosomaki, and the shorter side will produce futomaki). "Inside-out" rolls are generally of the futomaki type.

Here are some tips for enjoying maki:

Hosomaki can usually be eaten with a single bite. Don't be afraid to put it all in your mouth at once! However, it is not always recommended to try this with futomaki (depending on the size of the roll), even though the nori may be difficult to bite through. Take bites and hold your chopsticks at an angle so filling does not fall out. Remember that the taste combination was in mind when creating the sushi, so try not to take too many bites, or the meal will not be as the chef had intended.

Wasabi is usually optional with maki, along with pickled ginger. Put a dash of wasabi into your soy sauce and dip the roll into it, and then eat a slice of the ginger. Yum!


Nigiri sushi is quite different from maki. Usually raw fish and rice are its ingredients, with a dash of wasabi. The tané (topping) be prawn, salmon, eel, tuna, flounder or any other non-white raw fish (ask your fishmonger!), and you can also try topping the nigiri with avocado or rolled egg. The other component is always rice, and the two ingredients are simply molded together in two distinct layers. These are probably the easiest type of sushi for you to make at home.

Tips for enjoying nigiri sushi:

Hold the sushi with your thumb and middle finger to eat it, and dip tané-side-down into soy sauce if you wish. Do not tip the sushi rice-first into the soy, as the rice will fall apart. Also, only dip as much as you intend to bite off--dipping the entire piece is not socially acceptable.


Temaki, or hand rolls, are the least-common type of sushi found outside of Japan. They look somewhat like an ice cream cone made of nori, with rice and fish filling inside. Salmon is a very popular filling, as is the American-invented California Hand Roll. These rolls are made by placing long pieces of the filling (crab sticks, cucumber, etc) on a quarter sheet of nori with rice and rolling into the cone shape. In Japanese restaurants they are usually served via a small wooden stand with two or three holes in it to hold the temaki upright. Hand rolls are often garnished with colorful ingredients sliced in creative ways, as one of the principles behind sushi is the desirable outward appearance. Roe and sesame seeds are popular garnishes for both temaki and maki.

There are no rules for eating temaki sushi--dip in soy or garnish with pickled ginger, add some wasabi--anything goes!

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