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Whether ordered as an appetizer or enjoyed as the main event, sushi is as diverse as it is delicious. Ordering it for the first time, however, can be a bit intimidating. Understanding the different varieties can help you to order something that you’ll like. In general, every item on the menu will be either sushi or sashimi. Sushi is further divided into maki, which is sold in rolls, and nigiri, which is sold in pieces. Understanding the difference between sushi and sashimi can make it easier to order something you know you’ll enjoy.


Any pairing of ingredients with vinegared rice and served in bite-size pieces is considered sushi. Contrary to popular belief, sushi has nothing to do with fish at all. Instead, the word “sushi” describes the specific preparation of the rice used in sushi-making. Sushi rice is a specific variety of short-grain rice prepared with rice wine vinegar. The vinegared rice has its own unique flavor and clumps together to enable the creation of sushi rolls and other preparations.
Sushi is often made with fish and other types of seafood. It is also sometimes made with egg or vegetables like cucumber and avocado.


Sashimi, loosely translated, means “pierced body,” and it refers to a delicacy of thinly sliced fish or other types of meat. Sashimi is eaten plain without accompaniments aside from soy sauce. This is to allow the flavor of the meat to shine.
Sashimi-grade fish is some of the highest quality seafood. It is caught on a single line rather than a net and is killed and iced immediately upon being landed, allowing it to stay fresh with minimal degradation or build-up of lactic acid. Sashimi-grade fish is the safest and highest quality fish available.
Some of the most popular varities of sashimi include salmon, fatty tuna, yellowtail and squid. In Japan, other types of meat can be served sashimi-style, including chicken, beef and even horse, but these are rarely offered in the U.S.


There are two types of sushi: nigiri and maki. They differ primarily in the way they are prepared and presented. Nigiri is a bite-size rectangular mound of rice topped with a piece of sashimi. There may be a small amount of wasabi between the fish and rice to hold the two together, or a thin strip of toasted seaweed might be used to tie them. The word “nigiri” means “two fingers,” which describes the size of the rice.
Although most nigiri is made with sashimi-grade fish laid over the top of rice, not all nigiri contains raw fish. Some types of seafood, including eel (unagi) and shrimp (ebi) are cooked before being combined with the rice. Tamago nigiri is made with a special kind of sweet egg, similar to an omelet, combined with rice and nori (seaweed).
Maki, on the other hand, is the type of sushi you are probably most familiar with. Maki is made in rolls and sliced into round bite-size pieces. In a maki roll, the fish, vegetables or other ingredients are rolled up inside of seaweed (nori) and vinegared rice. The outside may be sprinkled with fish roe, sesame seeds or other ingredients.
Maki may contain pieces of raw or cooked seafood. However, there are fish-free varieties such as the cucumber roll and avocado roll. If you’d like to try sushi but are nervous about raw fish, you may want to try one of these cooked or vegetarian rolls as a delicious introduction to sushi. Later, if you’re feeling bold, you can try sampling some nigiri or sashimi to see the amazing flavor possibilities of top-quality seafood.