"Let's get sushi!" Says your boss. Or your date. Or your family. You're sweating, it's a new concept to you and you're nervous because you've never tried it before. How do you even eat it? Maybe you're confused about what you’re supposed to do while eating sushi, or maybe the menu is overwhelming and you just don't know what to order. Regardless, sushi has become a staple food item in today's society. It's a go-to for after work outings, dates, and other events. It's time to give it a chance. This is our beginner's guide to sushi. Go ahead and bookmark this.

What Is Sushi?

When you hear "sushi" you may automatically think fish, but sushi itself means "vinegar rice" and is a general term for a Japanese meal that consists of either fish, rice mixed with vinegar, or both. It is generally a nutritious and non-fattening food, and is also high in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, all while being naturally low in fat. By adding veggies to the dish, there are even more vitamins and minerals. Serving seafood along sushi adds omega-3 fatty acids, which is extremely beneficial for cardiovascular health and brain function.

Sushi has been transformed into many modern dishes with varying ingredients, preparation, and condiments. Sushi also has its own subtypes, including handmade sushi, rolled sushi, pressed sushi, and scattered sushi.

cucumber roll

Types of Sushi

Sushi rolls: Even though sushi comes in various forms, sushi rolls are probably the most common. The most popular sushi rolls include the cucumber roll, the Philadelphia roll, the Alaska roll, the dynamite roll, the dragon roll, the tiger roll, the California roll, the rainbow roll, the spicy tuna roll, and the spider roll. Honestly though, there are way more sushi roll combinations out there to try. Each roll varies in ingredients but keeps it fairly simple with a combination of rolled rice, veggies and seafood.

Sashimi: As previously mentioned, sushi is all about the rice and is commonly served with vegetables and fish. Sashimi is a Japanese dish that is only thinly sliced raw fish or meat and doesn't come with rice. Sashimi can also incorporate raw vegetables or tofu, but sashimi is not technically sushi because there is never any vinegar rice involved. The most popular types of sashimi include salmon, tuna, horse mackerel, octopus, scallop, and sea urchin.

sushi plate

Nigiri: This form is a combination of sushi and sashimi. It consists of a dish of raw slices of fish (sashimi) served over oblong mounds of pressed vinegar rice (sushi). Since it uses the vinegar rice, nigiri is a type of sushi. Nigiri is always a variety of seafood, like fish, octopus, shrimp, or squid. The majority of the time, nigiri is raw fish, but there are certain types of nigiri in which it can be cooked or seared.

Chirashi: "Scattered Sushi". Essentially, this is a dish that reminds us of some sort of sushi salad. It is made from ingredients being scattered on top of sushi rice, sort of like how ingredients are scattered on salad leaves. Chirashi also typically contains ingredients that are not usually used in other types of sushi like fish cakes, soboro (meat, egg, or fish), bamboo shoots, lotus root and baby corn. The most popular forms of chirashi often don't contain meat as well.

Poke/Sushi Burrito: Poke is basically a raw fish salad that is commonly served with veggies and flavorful sauces. It’s originally from Hawaii but it's popularity certainly has spread. A sushi burrito is exactly as it sounds. A burrito filled with vinegar rice, vegetables, and of course: raw seafood or meat.

eating sushi

What types of fish are in sushi? Sushi's fish selections usually consist of sea bass, tuna, mackerel, blue marlin, swordfish, yellowtail, salmon, trout, eel, abalone, squid, clams, ark shell, sweet-fish, scallop, sea bream, halfbeak, shrimp, flatfish, cockle, octopus and crab. Certain types of tuna, including yellowfin, southern bluefin, and northern bluefin are excellent choices for serving raw because they are less likely to cause food-borne illnesses and don't need to be frozen first.

How To Eat Sushi

Good news: there isn't a wrong way to eat sushi. There's no wrong way to order sushi, either. Don't let sushi snobs make you feel inferior. But there are different methods of ways to eat sushi.

Chopsticks: Out here in the West, we're not particularly big on eating meals with our hands (finger food excluded). Using chopsticks is also sanitary, helping you avoid cross contamination by accidentally getting rice and raw fish on your glassware or other items. However, chopsticks can be tricky to get the hang of.

Hands: We may not like getting our hands messy, but eating sushi with your hands is also a traditional method of sushi consumption, especially for traditional sushi dishes like nigiri.

sushi rolls

Forks: Maybe we should meet somewhere in the middle for starters. Seriously though, bless the inventor of forks for we would be lost without them. If your course is particularly too messy for you hands, but you're not quite comfortable using chopsticks yet, there is absolutely no shame in using a fork.

Add ons: For more flavor, ask for an add on of a complimentary sauce to your course. Sauces such as soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger can be served on the side or drizzled on for some extra kick.

Sushi Starters

Now that we've tackled the basics of sushi eating, it's time to tackle the menu. For a true beginner, the extremely fishy sushi is probably more of an acquired taste. So, let's dive in with something simple.

  • Start with something cooked --- if you're nervous about the "raw fish" aspect of sushi, there are cooked options. Sushi served with eel, imitation crab meat, squid, octopus, shrimp, and clams all have cooked options available. Look for things that say "tempura" on the menu to guarantee cooked meat.
  • Try a roll --- sushi rolls are more approachable, and are available with cooked ingredients. We previously mentioned some of the best and most popular sushi rolls to try and still stick by those. In case you need a refresher though, check out our top rolled sushi choices.
sushi bar

Is Sushi Healthy?

The nutritional range of sushi can be quite healthy or unhealthy depending on the ingredients that are used, how it is prepared, and how much is consumed. Fresh fish (like salmon, trout, and tuna) can have a lot of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Some types of fish can also have varying amounts of Vitamin A and D, calcium, and magnesium. Fresh vegetables are common additions in sushi and also have important vitamins and minerals. However, for sushi to truly be considered healthy, one must limit the amount of sauces added and be aware that deep fried sushi is exactly that --- deep fried. It's also important to be aware of additional ingredients and to regulate the rice intake.

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