How to Order Sushi

Sushi for Beginners

The Japanese sushi craze has hit America hard, with sushi restaurants popping up all over the country, and “roll you own” sushi parties becoming more popular. If you haven’t yet embraced the raw food movement and are reluctant to try sushi without learning more about it, you’re in luck. The following is an overview of basic sushi terms, designed to show you that when sushi is done right, it is quite the delicacy! Not into raw food but want to bond with your sushi loving friends? No problem. There are plenty of options that do not include raw fish.

Maki Rolls

One of the more common types of sushi, Maki, means “rolled” sushi. Simply put, this refers to the sushi being rolled into various items, the most common of which is Nori (seaweed). We’re not talking about kelpy, thick strings of seaweed here, but rather, razor thin seaweed paper.

There are several variations of sushi rolls that appeal to new and seasoned sushi lovers alike. These include tempura rolls, California rolls, Philadelphia rolls, spicy shrimp rolls, dragon rolls and rainbow rolls, to name a few.

Hosomaki is a thin sushi that includes only one ingredient that has been rolled into the rice and Nori. That ingredient is typically a sushi grade fish such as tuna, crab or shrimp. While it is simple in its ingredients, it can be challenging to roll due to its thinness. Hosomaki makes a great snack or appetizer. Some Hosomaki is rolled into Japanese cucumbers. This variety is typically used to cleanse the palate between other varieties, especially those that include fish.

Chumaki is a medium roll that is about 1 ½ in in diameter when rolled, as compared to the 1 inch Hosomaki. The added circumference comes from additional ingredients. As compared with the one ingredient Hosomaki, the Chumaki includes between 2 and 4 ingredients rolled into the rice and Nori. In addition to sushi grade fish, a Chumaki might include items such as cream cheese, smoked salmon, green onions, cucumbers, carrots or other freshly cut vegetables.

Futomaki is the largest of the Maki rolls at a whopping 2 to 2 ½ inches in diameter and typically includes 4 or more items rolled into the rice and Nori. Like the Hosomaki, this roll can be a bit more challenging to prepare due to its large size. It can also be more challenging to eat and most people cannot consume the pieces in one bite, as traditional sushi etiquette would normally require.

Some Maki rolls actually feature the rice on the outside of the Nori. These are referred to as Uramaki, or “inside out” rolls. The rice is typically dressed by sprinkling or rolling the sushi in white or black sesame seeds and it can often be topped with roe, or fish eggs. The popular California Roll is one type of Uramaki.

Sushi Vs. Sashimi

It is important to know the different between sushi and sashimi when ordering so you are certain to get what you’re expecting. Many people believe that sushi is basically raw fish wrapped in some type of roll, but this is not necessarily the case. Sushi may contain raw fish, but it may not contact fish of any kind. There are several varieties of sushi and many are vegetarian options. Sushi doesn’t refer to fish at all. The word sushi literally means, “it’s sour.” This is because sushi rice contains rice vinegar that enhances its flavor. The more rice vinegar added, the easier it is to separate the sticky rice for ease in rolling. It is the rice and rice vinegar that are integral to a dish being referred to as sushi.

Sashimi actually refers to raw fish or other types of raw meat and will be served sliced without a roll of any kind and without rice. It is often served over a bed of daikon, which is a shredded Japanese radish.

One type of sushi that is often mistaken by novices for sashimi, is the Nigiri. This type of sushi features a slice of raw fish pressed on the outside of the rice. It is often served with the same accompaniments as sashimi such as wasabi, soy sauce or pickled ginger.

Non Raw Options

Not necessarily a vegetarian but not ready to dive into raw fish just yet? Don’t worry. There are several options that do not feature raw fish or meat of any kind. California rolls feature imitation crab meat and fresh vegetables.

Tempura shrimp rolls feature batter fried shrimp instead of raw shrimp and is absolutely delicious!

Asian fusion restaurants feature several varieties of ceviche style sushi. Ceviche is a method of preparing raw fish by marinating it a variety of citrus juices and other items. The meat will actually cook in the citrus juices without ever requiring heat.

Some varieties of sushi feature Japanese fried eggs (Tamagoyaki), fried tofu (Inarizushi), or vegetables. Most sushi menus are good at describing what’s in the roll, but if you aren’t sure, just ask.

Tips for Dining in Sushi Restaurants

If you’re new to the sushi craze and aren’t sure which types of sushi will appeal to you, here are a few things to know before ordering in a sushi restaurant.

Many sushi bars feature a chef’s choice option. While this may include several more popular varieties of sushi, it often includes more exotic choices. If you’ve not had sushi before, you may prefer ordering off the menu to have more control over the items you consume. Often times, even the wait staff has no idea what the Chef’s Choice menu will feature and each plate ordered might be different that the other.

Sushi is traditionally eaten with chopsticks. If you want to fit in, resist picking up your knife and fork! In fact, at most high-end sushi restaurants, you probably won’t even be offered a set of utensils, but that’s part of the fun!

Sushi etiquette requires that each piece be consumed in one bite. This might not be possible if you’ve ordered a Hosomaki roll. In that instance, you may be forgiven for taking more than one bite. Just remember that the Nori can be somewhat chewy, so taking a bite isn’t necessarily as easy as it sounds.

Sushi rolls can be filling as they typically come in serving sizes of 6 to 8 pieces. That’s why it is a great meal for sharing. By ordering 2 or 3 varieties you can share with friends and still feel satisfied. Be careful not to order more that you can eat in one sitting. Sushi best when eaten fresh, in part because the Nori often absorbs moisture from the food and becomes prone to tearing or sogginess.

Enjoy your sushi!


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