Introduction to Sushi

Sushi from A to Z


Ridofranz/Getty Images


Sushi is perhaps the most famous Japanese food in the world. Sushi is defined as any dish that is made with vinegared sushi rice. Although you can make sushi without using any fish or raw fish, many kinds of seafood are used in sushi dishes.

Since Japan is surrounded by ocean, seafood has always been widely consumed as well as rice. Originally, sushi was fermented fish with rice preserved in salt, and this was a staple dish in Japan for a thousand years until the Edo Period (1603 to 1868) when contemporary sushi was developed. The word "sushi" means "it's sour," which reflects back to sushi's origins of being preserved in salt. Contemporary sushi was developed to be a type of fast food and remains so to this day.

Sushi vs. Sashimi

Is it sushi or sashimi or are they the same? Some people use the terms interchangeably, while they are actually two totally distinct and separate items.

Sashimi means "pierced body", where sashi = (pierced,stuck) and mi = (body, meat). Generally, Sashimi can be identified or defined as a piece of meat, not necessarily only seafood and not necessarily raw, typically draped over a garnish like daikon (Asian white radish shredded into long strands) and possibly accompanied by one perilla leaf per slice.



The most well-known sushi is the oval-shaped sushi, called nigiri-zushi which means hand-pressed sushi. Nigiri-zushi can be made with various toppings and is commonly served in sushi restaurants. Sushi chefs in Japan go through extensive training to learn to make nigiri sushi.

Nigiri-zushi or "hand-pressed sushi" involves a slice of raw fish atop an oblong, compacted oval-shaped mound of rice. Nigiri is generally served in pairs, with a little dab of wasabi between the rice and the fish, and sometimes with a small strip of nori (seaweed) belting it all together.


Gunkan-maki is oval-shaped sushi wrapped with a strip of nori seaweed and topped with various ingredients.


Makizushi or "rolled sushi" involves strips of fish and vegetables laid in rice and rolled inside nori to make a long cylinder. It's then typically served cut into six to eight pieces.


Temaki, which translates literally as "hand roll". Temaki involves a nori cone that holds the fish, rice and other ingredients inside.  It's a fun menu for a home party.


Chirashi-zushi or "scattered sushi" is simply a bowl of sushi rice with the fish and other ingredients mixed in.


Uramaki is the "inside-out" roll with fish in the center, then nori and finally the sushi rice as the outer layer. These are, like the regular maki, created as long cylinders then sliced.


Inari-zushi is encased in a pouch of fried tofu, and typically has no fish, only sushi rice. 


Oshizushi means "pressed sushi". It is also known as hako-sushi which means "box sushi". A wooden mold called an oshibako is used to make this form of sushi. Vinegared rice and ingredients are shaped into a block with this mold. This is then cut into bite-sized pieces and eaten with chopsticks.


Narezushi closely resembles the original form of sushi and is fermented fish with rice and salt, which is preserved for a few months before being eaten. The rice is discarded after the fermentation process; only the fish is eaten.

Zushi or Sushi

The word sushi, when given a prefix, undergoes consonant mutation to become zushi, which you can look at as just a different way of "voicing" the s. Consonant mutation happens in many languages, and in Japanese, this particular phenomenon is termed rendaku.