Sushi Basics: Know Your Sashimi from Your Nigiri

Whether you’re a long-time sushi fan or a beginner when it comes to Japanese cuisine, with its high-popularity, chances are you’ve tried a piece or two. Sushi is a relatively recent arrival in the U.S. food scene, having first been served in the 1950’s. Now its wide availability ranges from plastic trays at your corner store to the hands of our professional sushi chefs at the Oyster Bar. It’s never been easier to consume this delightful specialty for a special occasion or a quick lunch. Even with soaring demand, it’s easy to be perplexed by all the sushi choices, not knowing the different types of fish and whether or not they are served raw. We’re here to help the rookie or seasoned sushi eaters with useful information and a glossary of sushi eating terms.

Common Terms
Maki – sushi rolled up using a bamboo mat. It’s normally wrapped in nori (dried seaweed), but it is sometimes served in soy paper or thinly sliced cucumber. The maki rolls are cut into six or eight pieces. This particular type of sushi is acceptable to eat with your fingers or chopsticks and can be dipped in soy sauce or topped with wasabi.

Nigiri – sliced raw fish with a molded ball of rice underneath. Most sushi chefs add a dab of wasabi in between the rice and fish, so no additional sauce is needed. Only the fish side of the nigiri should be dipped into soy sauce and it can be eaten with your hands.

Sashimi – sliced raw fish served without rice. Sashimi should be eaten with chopsticks and can be eaten with wasabi mixed into the soy sauce.

The base of most sushi is a special variety of rice called awase-zu. The short-grain rice is seasoned with rice vinegar, salt and sugar. The mixture itself is called shari and is a bit sticky so it can be formed into shapes for nigiri or rolled to make maki.

Not all sushi has to be eaten with chopsticks. It’s actually recommended to eat maki and nigiri with your fingers. But, it’s proper to always use chopsticks for sashimi. Whenever you’re eating sushi, a plate with pickled ginger, wasabi and soy sauce is always presented. The ginger is used as a palate cleanser between bites while the wasabi can be used for additional spice on maki and sashimi (nigiri typically comes seasoned with it already). Wasabi should only be mixed into soy sauce when eating sashimi. Plain soy sauce can be used with nigiri, but only the fish part of the sushi should be dipped. These are just the traditional sushi eating techniques. Feel free to eat and season your sushi any way you please.

For the First-Timer
If you’re getting ready for your first time eating sushi, we recommend going with friends who have tried it before. Sitting at the sushi bar will allow you to talk directly to the sushi chef and get their personal recommendations. Our chefs at Oyster Bar are always happy to help the experienced or novice eaters. If you’re adventurous, you can ask for omakase, meaning “to trust the chef”. Our sushi chefs will make anything they like and send it your way!