Origins & Information - (A-Z) Sushi

*Extensive information about sushi would end up turning this post into a novel so for any very specific details, I will defer to one of the sources I consulted to get information about sushi.

Contrary to popular belief, "sushi" does not actually refer to or mean raw fish; it actually is from the combination of the Japanese words su and shi (from meshi) which mean vinegared rice. Therefore, sushi refers particularly to the rice used (also called shari) which is a short-grain Japanese rice with glutinous traits and is mixed with rice vinegar, sugar, salt, and sometimes kombu/sake. The other things that go along with the rice are referred to as neta, and the most common type is raw seafood. Historically the mixture of fish and rice in such a way involved fermented fish and was not anything similar to how sushi is enjoyed today. What we call sushi today was made contemporary by Hanaya Yohei at the end of the Edo period and meant to be fast finger food. For the purpose of this post, I will refer to the general cuisine with which we are familiar as "sushi."

Types of sushi
  • Chirashizushi - Not found often outside of Japan, this is a bowl of sushi rice topped with sashimi and other garnishes.
  • Inarizushi - One of my favorites, this is basically fried cold pouches of tofu that have been stuffed with sushi rice.
  • Gunkan - Small seaweed cup of sushi that has rice at the bottom and seafood above such as pieces of roe and other caviar.
  • Makizushi - The most common of sushi types in the Westernized world, it is a roll of rice, seaweed, fish, and vegetables that is put together with a bamboo mat before being sliced. Variations to it are called so depending on width; Futomaki are thick rolls while Hosomaki are thin. Uramaki are the "inside-out" rolls where the rice is on the outside.
  • Nigirizushi - The second most common of sushi types in the Westernized world, this is vinegared rice which is topped with a slice of fish, egg, or seafood. A variation would be Gunkanmaki which has a strip of seaweed wrapped around the rice and topping. These are usually meant to be eaten with soy sauce but only dip the top side into soy sauce; dipping the rice will break it apart.
  • Sashimi - This is raw seafood that has been chilled and sliced appropriately; it is best served fresh from the water and/or refrigerated but not frozen. It may be served with soy sauce or another dipping sauce to help with consumption.
  • Temakizushi - You will probably recognize this best as a hand roll. Similar to makizushi, this is only different because the seaweed which wraps the contents is shaped into a cone, and the entire thing is consumed by being held in one's hand.

Sushi will usually be presented, in America, with wasabi paste and pickled ginger. The wasabi paste is meant to be eaten with the sushi but the ginger is to be eaten between bites in order to cleanse the palate. Generally the amount that is given should be adequate at nice restaurants but if you must add more, do so appropriately with fish going into the soy sauce only and wasabi not being mixed with the soy sauce. Sushi should be eaten with your fingers unless it is sashimi which is easier to be picked up with chopsticks. It is also a lot better if you are able to sit at the bar and watch the chef make your sushi not only because it is entertaining but because you can get a look at what the fish look like (are they fresh? are they dry? etc). Nutritionally, traditional sushi is quite healthy because it is low in fat and high in protein but Westernized versions can end up being quite bad with the inclusion of tempura, cream cheese, and mayo. If you are interested in learning more about sushi in extensive detail, check out for lists abound and how-tos about sushi!

This post is part of an A-Z series I am running for my blog category "Origins and Information" while I am in Vietnam with my family for July. Many of the posts in the series answer questions that were posed by friends/readers. If y'all enjoy the series, I will gladly run another in the future!