Sushi is so popular in the United States, it's almost hard to believe that it wasn't always a part of American culture. But thanks to sushi's introduction in the 1950s, we now enjoy sushi whenever we want -- on an evening out with friends or even for a quick work lunch from the corner deli. But even with sushi's wide availability, many people are confounded by it. It's easy to feel lost in a sushi restaurant, not knowing what all the different types are -- whether it has raw fish or not, and how to even begin to eat it. For the beginner sushi eater, we've put together a glossary of all the popular pieces of sushi, how they're made and what ingredients they usually contain. Then scroll below the slideshow to read more about the basics of sushi.
Makizushi is sushi rolled up using a bamboo mat. It is typically wrapped in nori (dried seaweed), but sometimes in a thin egg omelette, soy paper or thinly sliced cucumber. The sushi is cut into six or eight pieces. Maki rolls are easier to eat with the fingers. Fillings include cucumber, carrot, avocado, tuna, salmon, crab, etc. You will find a wide variety of rolls in American-style sushi. There are four main types of maki rolls: futomaki, uramaki, temaki, and hosomaki (pictured), which is about 1 inch in diameter and has one filling with nori on the outside.
Futomaki is about 2 inches in diameter and has two or more fillings of raw vegetable and cooked or raw fish with nori on the outside. Image courtesy of FotoosVanRobin, Flickr.
Uramaki is like futomaki in that it has two or more fillings, except the nori is on the inside with the rice on the outside. Uramaki was developed in the United States at a time when Americans didn't like to see the seaweed. Image courtesy of Geoff Peters 604, Flcikr.
Temaki is a large cone of nori filled with ingredients spilling out of one end. Temaki is best eaten with your hands as soon as it is made, since the nori gets soggy quickly. Image courtesy of Geoff Peters 604, Flickr.
Nigiri is hand-formed sushi using a mound of rice topped with a slice of fish or seafood, called the neta. Typically the sushi chef will put a dab of wasabi in between the rice and fish, so no additional wasabi is needed. Nigiri is traditionally eaten with the fingers. Only the fish side should be dipped into soy sauce. Do not mix wasabi into the soy sauce when eating nigiri. Popular nigiri include salmon, tuna, cooked shrimp, mackerel. Certain toppings might be attached to the rice with a strip of nori -- you will find this with nigiri made with octopus, eel, squid, and egg omelette. Image courtesy of photoskate, Flickr.
Sashimi: sliced raw fish served without rice. Sashimi should be eaten with chopsticks. Wasabi can be mixed into the soy sauce. Chirashi: or "scattered sushi" is a bowl of rice topped with sashimi and vegetable garnishes.
Gunkanmaki is a type of nigiri. It's a hand-formed clump of sushi rice wrapped around with a wide strip of nori and filled with roe, oysters, sea urchin, etc. Image courtesy of takaokun, Flickr.
Put together hand roll sushi that looks like it was done by a professional.
Rice is the basis for much of sushi -- a special short-grain variety of rice is seasoned with a mix of rice vinegar, salt and sugar, called awase-zu. The rice mixture, called shari, is somewhat sticky so it can be formed into the shape needed for nigiri, which is topped with fish, or rolled to make maki. You can even find sushi made with brown rice. Learn about all the different types of sushi in the gallery.
How To Eat Sushi
Most people assume that sushi must be eaten with chopsticks (see our tutorial on how to use chopsticks), but it's actually recommended to eat certain sushi, like maki rolls and nigiri with your fingers. And you shouldn't use wasabi on all sushi -- typically nigiri is already seasoned with it. But if you prefer your sushi with a bit more wasabi, dab a bit of it onto the sushi -- never mix wasabi into soy sauce (shoyu), unless you're eating sashimi, thinly sliced raw fish without rice. Use pickled ginger (gari) as a palate cleanser between bites, not as an additional topping. The ginger can also be used as a tool to brush your sushi with soy sauce using your chopsticks. (Watch a video here to see how you should be eating sushi.)
Sushi For The First-Timer
If it's your first time eating sushi, go with a friends who understand it better than you, or sit at the bar and get recommendations from the sushi chef. They're always willing to help you understand the territory.
Once you've gotten adventurous you can ask for omakase, which means "to trust the chef" and gives the chef carte blanche to make you anything he likes -- but be sure you're ready to try anything and pay for just about anything. And with regards to fugu (the blowfish that's poisonous if it's cut the wrong way), check to see if the sushi chef is licensed to serve it.
What's your favorite sushi? Leave us a comment below.