Find out what makes nigiri different from sushi and if musubi is the same as inarizushi! Here’s a quick guide to understanding Japanese sushi-related terms!
What would you do if I gave you the option of having either nigirizushi, inarizushi or hand roll? Which one would you pick?
Scratching your head? You’re not the only one.
Ordering sushi can get a little confusing if you are not familiar with the terms.
When I first moved to Japan I couldn’t understand the difference between the word sushi and, well, everything else! To me, sushi was fish over rice and inarizushi was a fancier version of nigiri. The only thing I knew for sure was that sashimi was raw fish without the rice.
Then one day, as I was on my way to visit my mother, she called to tell me that “we are having sushi for dinner tonight”.
“Sounds amazing! Can’t wait to see you mom!” I replied excitedly. As I stood a few feet away from my gate at Narita airport, I had visions of colorful pieces of oily fish floating all around me. I boarded the plane with an empty stomach, lit up a cigarette and dreamed about sushi. I’m kidding! Not only do I not smoke, I’m not from the 50s either.
90 minutes later, I was in Fukuoka, land of the tonkotsu ramen (pork based broth), world famous green teas, volcanoes and hot springs. By the way, if you’ve never been to Fukuoka, Kyushu (the southwesternmost and third largest island in Japan), add it to your list next time you go to Japan. Its subtropical weather and smiling faces alone will make you want to move there!
But let’s get back to my story…
To my surprise, I didn’t see sushi.
Well, let me rephrase that – I didn’t see what I thought was sushi. You know, the individual pieces of fish sitting atop small mounds of rice? That was my definition of sushi. Instead, I saw tuna rolls, cucumber rolls, a couple of hand rolls and some inarizushi. Don’t get me wrong, I was still very happy about dinner! I just felt a little confused.
Okay, I was more than a little confused. I was so confused that I asked my mom for a thorough explanation about sushi. My mother sat down and as she lightly dipped a piece of maki in nikiri (traditional sushi soy sauce), signaled to me that the lesson was about to begin.
That evening I learned about the meaning of every term and what classifies as sushi versus what doesn’t. By the end of the lesson, I knew exactly what was on my plate.
And as you are about to see, It’s really not that complicated!
I’ll try my best to explain each meaning the way my mother did – by keeping it simple and to the point. I’ve also made an infograph you can save on your phone or computer should you ever need a quick refresher.
Are you ready to soak up some knowledge? Let’s get started!
Nigiri (にぎり) vs Musubi (おむすび)
Nigiri, or onigiri (the o- being an honorary prefix) is the same thing as musubi. The preferred term varies by household or region. For example, I use the word onigiri 95% of the time while my mother prefers the term musubi. Nigiri are rice balls molded by hand into a triangle or other shape, and flavored with various ingredients. The literal meaning for nigiri is to grasp or hold something. You can insert ingredients such as pickled plums, Japanese pickles, bonito flakes, tuna mayo or even your own teriyaki chicken in the center of the nigiri, and wrap it with a nori sheet. Other nigiri/musubi types can be served seasoned with just salt or some sesame seeds, and without any nori.
Conclusion: Nigiri and musubi are the same thing.
But what about Nigiri sushi (pronounced nigirizushi)?
Nigiri sushi (握り寿司) is vinegar flavored rice shaped into small oblong mounds and topped with either raw fish, eggs or vegetables. They are usually served in pairs or can come on wooden trays as part of a set meal. It’s what we think of when we hear the word sushi – the classic one bite dish we’ve all come to love so much.
What is sushi then (寿司, 鮨)?
Sushi is rice seasoned with salt, sugar and vinegar. The literal translation of the word sushi is vinegar rice. It comes in many different varieties. Basically, sushi is a general word for any food that comes with vinegared rice. Therefore maki is sushi, nigirizushi is sushi and inarizushi are also considered sushi.
Nigiri and musubi on the other hand are not sushi.
What is maki 巻き, uramaki and temaki 手巻き (roll vs hand roll)?
Maki are sushi rolls with nori (dried seaweed sheets) wrapped on the outside. There’s futomaki (太巻き), which are fatter rolls containing more than one ingredients in the center. For example, California rolls are futomaki rolls. Then there’s hosomaki rolls (細巻き) which are mini maki rolls with only one filling. Popular hosomaki rolls include tuna rolls(tekka maki), salmon rolls and cucumber rolls.
Uramaki rolls (裏巻き) on the other hand are inside out rolls where the nori is placed between the rice and ingredient of choice (fish, veggies). Most dragons rolls are served uramaki style.
Temaki (手巻き) are hand rolls. They look like cones made with nori (dried seaweed) and stuffed with sushi rice and fish, cucumber, avocado and/or other ingredients.
What is inari sushi (pronounced inarizushi)?
Inarizushi are fried tofu pockets filled with seasoned sushi rice. Unlike other sushi, inarizushi is sweeter than savory, and somewhat wet in texture. That’s because the fried tofu pockets, called inariage, are soaked in a mixture of dashi, soy sauce and sugar. They are then squeezed until most of the liquid is out and then filled with sushi rice.
What is sashimi (刺身)?
This one is the easiest to remember because there is simply never any rice involved. What most westerners know as sashimi are pieces of raw fish served with a side of pickled ginger and wasabi. But sashimi can also be raw meat, chicken, tofu skin or even vegetables (as long as they are served raw).
The term sashimi literally translates to “pierced body/meat”. It may derive from the culinary practice of sticking the fish’s tail and fin to the slices in identifying the fish being eaten.
How to make the best sushi at home
Here’s a quick help guide on how to make the best sushi at home so you can impress your guests at the next dinner party!
Japanese Short Grain Rice
Here in the US there are two types of Japanese rice available; there’s Japanese short grain rice called japonica, and medium grain California rice. When making sushi, short grain is recommended because it’s stickier than medium grain. Popular brands like Nishiki, Botan and Kokuho are medium grain rice. So instead of going for one of those, look for brands like Tamanashiki or Koshihikari for high grade Japanese short grain rice.
Find some fresh wasabi to grate
Did you know that most wasabi pastes served in American restaurants aren’t actually made with real wasabi? Chances are you have been eating mashed horseradish this entire time thinking it was wasabi.
Real wasabi is yellowish green and instead of being hot, it’s sweet! Finding fresh wasabi can be hard but if you can get your hands on a piece, grate it right before serving. Fresh wasabi can only hold its strong flavor for about 15 minutes!
Good soy sauce
Most of the soy sauces sold in North America are the dark kind. That’s bad news for us because the flavor is way too bold for many delicate Japanese dishes, sushi included. Dark soy sauce lacks not only refinement but the subtle complexity of flavor found in artisanal soy sauces sold across Japan. In order for a beautiful piece of toro tuna to shine, you need a good nikiri sauce. Nikiri is not the same as general soy sauce in that it is sweeter and milder. It’s also slightly thicker in consistency, like a thin glaze. Nikiri sauce can be purchased at Japanese supermarkets or on Amazon. You can also make it yourself! Here’s a quick an easy recipe for you to try.
Quick and easy homemade nikiri (sweet sushi soy sauce) recipe:
- 2 tablespoons sake
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 6 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon water
Add sake and mirin to a small pot and bring to a boil. Add soy sauce and water, lower the heat and simmer until liquid has reduced by half. Let cool to room temperature before serving. Store in the fridge for up to a month.
What About Sushi-Grade Fish?
Well, because fish isn’t always needed to make sushi, I’m skipping that part. I’m giving you the basics to good sushi making – what you use as a filling is up to you. The filling you choose will of course have an impact on the overall taste of your dish, so always make sure to buy the freshest ingredients!
Tools to make sushi at home
If you are an avid sushi lover you know that good rice is the cornerstone of good sushi. Making rice on the stove can be tricky but with a rice cooker, it’s a no brainer! Honestly, at this point in my life I cannot imagine life without a rice cooker. Especially since the one I have can also slow cook and steam! This little machine has simplified and changed the way I cook in the kitchen and my rice has never been more perfect! Plus, most of them come with a rice paddle, a ladle (I make soups and stews all the time) and a cookbook!
A hangiri is used to fluff and season the rice once it’s cooked. It’s made of hinoki (Japanese cypress) and soaked in water before being used. The rice is then spread, seasoned with rice vinegar and mixed with a paddle. Once the rice is evenly seasoned, it’s covered with a towel to prevent it from drying. What makes hangiri so special is the ability to absorb the excess moisture from the rice and give it the perfect texture for sushi.
This is essential if you like maki/rolls as much as I do! Covering the mat with plastic wrap prevents the nori from sticking to the mat, making the rolling process easier. That’s a trick I learned from my mother 😉
You will need a rice paddle to fluff the rice and to transfer it from pot or rice cooker, to bamboo mat or the palm of your hand (if you make nigiri sushi). If you buy a rice cooker, it will come with a rice paddle. If not, you can get one on Amazon or purchase one at your local grocery store.
These are amazing! And by the way, I know a lot of Japanese people who use sushi molds, so don’t feel like this is an amateur western chef’s move! They are so useful and make the whole maki making process literally pain-free!
Nigiri is similar to sushi in that it contains rice and is similar to sashimi in that it contains raw seafood. However, unlike sushi, nigiri does not contain extra ingredients or seaweed, and unlike sashimi, it contains vinegar rice. It is only raw seafood served over rice.What is the difference between nigiri and musubi? ›
Nigiri, or onigiri (the o- being an honorary prefix) is the same thing as musubi. The preferred term varies by household or region. For example, I use the word onigiri 95% of the time while my mother prefers the term musubi.What is the difference between musubi and sushi? ›
It's only considered sushi if the rice is vinegared and sugared; musubi rice often is not.Why is it called maki? ›
Maki is the diminutive of “makizushi”, which means “sushi rolls”, they were born naturally in Japan and are made from a roll of white rice in sweet vinegar, garnished with raw fish or raw vegetables, all, rolled up with a sheet of black seaweed.What is sushi without fish called? ›
Maki-zushi Vegan Sushi
The sushi is then sliced evenly to reveal its fillings. Kappa Maki. Kappa maki-cucumber roll-is a safe bet for vegetarians and vegan sushi-eaters, with a slice of cucumber wrapped in a thin roll of rice and seaweed. This is a popular starter or palate cleanser for the regular sushi diner.
Sushi always contains rice, while sashimi is just slices of meat or fish. Sashimi could be considered “no-rice sushi.”What is sushi with avocado called? ›
It was invented by Ichiro Mashita in the 1970s. He was looking for a way to make sushi more approachable for American diners and came up with the idea of using avocado as a substitute for raw fish. The name "California roll" likely came about because California was known for its avocados.
Nigiri is the original form of sushi that we know today. Also called edo-mae (meaning “in front of Edo”), the name refers to its birthplace of Tokyo (formerly Edo). It's made up of a hand-pressed rice cylinder (shari) topped with any number of ingredients (neta).What is the difference between sushi and maki? ›
Sushi refers to food made with cold boiled rice moistened with rice vinegar and shaped into bite-sized portions. Maki is a type of sushi that is made by rolling the rice around strips of vegetables or raw fish and then slicing the resulting tube into bite-sized pieces. It comes from the Japanese word maku "to roll up."Is maki cooked or raw? ›
Maki is traditional sushi, and it can be served cooked and or raw. Additionally, if rice is on the outside, it is uramaki.
Sushi combines various fresh fillings with vinegared rice. It's often wrapped in seaweed and cut into small pieces. Meanwhile, sashimi consists of thinly sliced cuts of raw meat or fish. Sushi is more versatile than sashimi from a dietary perspective because vegetarians and vegans can eat versions made without fish.Is Spam Musubi Japanese or Hawaiian? ›
Spam Musubi is an Asian (Japanese) Hawaiian fusion. Just like handrolls, the musubi begins with a sheet of seaweed. Next a scoop of fresh rice is pressed into a rectangular block and a teriyaki marinated slice of SPAM goes on top. The seaweed is wrapped around, blanketing the creation in goodness.What is the difference between roll and maki? ›
The main difference between these two types of sushi is that maki rolls are rolls that are cut into bite-size pieces and temaki are hand rolls kept in a cone or log shape that's meant to be bitten into.What is the triangle musubi called? ›
A rice ball shaped triangle or bale shaped is called omusubi or onigiri in Japanese, and they are exactly the same food. The name onigiri comes from the Japanese verb nigiri, which means to grab or hold with one's hands. Omusubi comes from the verb musubu which means to connect something.What is maki called in English? ›
Its real name is Makizushi
However, “sushi's” real name is Makizushi, or “Maki.” Maki refers to “rolled” sushi rice. The rice is rolled in a sheet of dry seaweed, called “nori.” It could occasionally be wrapped using other media, such as omelet, thin cucumber, and even soy paper.
Maki (まき, マキ) is a very common feminine Japanese given name which can also be used as a surname.What does maki mean in Hawaii? ›
Name of a fish; a dolphin.What is it called where you eat fish but not meat? ›
The benefits of being a pescatarian might get you hooked. Pescatarians have a lot in common with vegetarians. They eat fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, whole grains, beans, eggs, and dairy, and stay away from meat and poultry. But there's one way they part company from vegetarians: Pescatarians eat fish and other seafood.Is Mahi Mahi a sushi? ›
Mahi Mahi is a type of fish that is often eaten raw. When properly prepared, it has a mild flavor and firm texture, making it ideal for sashimi and other sushi dishes. The flesh is white and flaky, with a mild taste that pairs well with various flavors.Is tilapia a sushi fish? ›
A popular choice for white fish (shiromi) sushi! Sushi grade tilapia, known as Izumidai or Izumi-Dai, is high quality, firm fish with a mild, clean taste. It is commonly used in sushi bars as shiromi, a generic name for any kind of sushi that has a piece of white-fleshed fish as the topping.
Kappa maki is one of the most popular sushi rolls! It's also one of the easiest kinds to make. This simple dish only requires a handful of ingredients and is a great recipe for beginners who want to practice rolling their own sushi!What is sushi called with just vegetables? ›
Futomaki (Maki Sushi / Ehomaki) Learn how to make Futomaki, a traditional thick sushi roll typically filled with vegetables. You can easily prepare it ahead of time. It makes a great sushi roll to bring to festivals, potlucks or picnic.What is cooked salmon sushi called? ›
Although cooked salmon is known as “sake” (pronounced “sha-keh”) in Japanese, when ordering sushi it's typically referred to as “sahmon”.What is Plum sushi? ›
It's a simple maki roll with two fillings; umeboshi pickled plums and fresh shiso leaves. The saltiness of the plum contrasts nicely with the freshness of the shiso. It's also very easy to make at home.What is a sushi burrito called? ›
Here you can score the namesake “buredo,” or sushi burrito, in 10 different varieties, all of which are hand-rolled and bursting with bright vegetables and fresh fish. One standout in this sea of tempting sushi rolls is the Beatrix.What is the sushi with egg on top called? ›
Tamago Sushi is a type of nigiri sushi featuring a rolled Japanese omelet, and it's simple to make at home.What is deep fried sushi called? ›
Tempura rolls are basically deep fried maki or uramaki rolls. Tempura itself is basically a method of frying fish or vegetables in a light batter made of flour, water, and eggs. In other words, the western love of deep fried everything has even made it to the sushi world.What is sushi that is cooked called? ›
|What it is:||A traditional sushi roll consisting of fish, veggies and rice, rolled up in seaweed.||Thin slices of raw fish served atop rice.|
|Cooked or raw?||Either one||Raw|
|Does it count as sushi?||Yes||Yes|
Sushi at its core is made with three simple ingredients: raw fish, a nori sheet, and sushi rice.What does maki mean in Japanese? ›
maki. / (ˈmækɪ) / noun. (in Japanese cuisine) a small segment cut from a long roll of cold rice and various other ingredients wrapped in a sheet of seaweed.
If you've never eaten raw fish, start with uramaki or maki. These rolls—many of them Americanized—will likely already fit what your palate is used to, plus make the transition to more traditional sushi like nigiri and sashimi easier. Here are a few rolls that are just right for first-timers.What is the opposite of maki? ›
Uramaki is the opposite of Maki, the rice is the outer layer while the nori (seaweed) is on the inside. You can imagine it as an inverse Maki rolls.Can you eat maki with your hands? ›
Some Americans are surprised to learn that sushi is traditionally a finger food, eaten with one's hands. Chopsticks aren't necessary when eating maki rolls or nigiri (raw fish atop rice). However, sashimi—sliced raw fish—is eaten with chopsticks.Is lobster in sushi cooked? ›
The lobster is gently cooked and mixed with a touch of mayonnaise, then, along with our signature warm rice, it's wrapped up in a crispy sheet of nori.Can I microwave maki? ›
Yes, reheating sushi in the microwave is safe. In fact, doing this trick can save leftover sushi rolls. But be wary of not putting your sushi in the microwave for long. Microwaving your sushi rolls for a prolonged amount of time can result in soggy sushi, making you ill.Why is sashimi not sushi? ›
Because sashimi is not, technically, a form of sushi at all. Yes, it involves raw fish – but it does not include rice of any kind. Rice is an essential component for sushi. Sashimi, on the other hand, translates to “pierced body” or “pierced meat”.Is sashimi with rice or not? ›
The first difference is that sashimi is thinly sliced raw meat, typically fish that is served without rice. Typically, sashimi is some type of salmon or tuna. Other popular types of sashimi are mackerel, yellowtail, shrimp, scallops, clams and octopus. Translated, sashimi means “pierced fish.”Why is it OK to eat sashimi? ›
When bought from reputable sources, sashimi is a healthy and safe option that features lots of protein, healthy fats, minerals and vitamins, and is a relatively low calorie food. Sashimi is healthy when you know how some basics about its origin and capture method.What is spam called in Hawaii? ›
Spam musubi is a perfect on-the-go snack. Spam musubi – A slice of Spam perched atop a block of rice and wrapped in seaweed – is perhaps the most popular Spam dish in Hawaii, and it's available almost everywhere. Statistics show that Hawaii 7-Eleven stores go through approximately 70,000 Spam musubis each week.What is spam called in Japan? ›
|Spam musubi made from Spam and rice|
|Serving temperature||Hot or cold|
|Main ingredients||Spam, rice, nori, soy sauce|
|Media: Spam musubi|
Spam Musubi is a local Hawaii snack. It's a small, handheld treat made from three key ingredients: Spam, rice, and nori. A slice of Spam is placed on top of a block of rice, and the whole thing is wrapped in nori. It's affordable, convenient, and super onolicious.What is the difference between sushi and gimbap? ›
Sushi usually features raw fish, seafood, vegetables and rice seasoned with vinegar. The name 'sushi' refers to this vinegared rice. Whereas, kimbap rice is seasoned with sesame oil and doesn't contain raw fish. Instead, kimbap fillings include meats like grilled bulgogi, or cheese, kimchi, ham and eggs.What is cali roll? ›
California roll (カリフォルニアロール, kariforunia rōru)) or California maki is an uramaki (inside-out makizushi roll) containing crab (or imitation crab), avocado, and cucumber.What is the difference between maki and uramaki? ›
The names: Maki is sushi rolled with the seaweeds outside, and Uramaki in Japanese means inside out, meaning the seaweed is inside the roll. Nigiri is made only with rice and fish, and Sashimi is only the fish.What does Oni Giri mean in Japanese? ›
Etymology. Borrowed from Japanese お握り (おにぎり, onigiri, “rice ball”).What is the meaning of Oni Giri? ›
See all related content → Onigiri takes its name from the Japanese word nigiru, meaning “to grasp” or “to squeeze,” so called because it is pressed by hand into a ball. The snack has also been called nigirimeshi, another term from which the name onigiri is derived.What is the meaning of Oniri? ›
noun Japanese Cooking. cold boiled rice, formed into a palm-sized ball and stuffed with fish or pickled fruit, then shaped, usually into a triangle, and wrapped or decorated with dried seaweed. WILL YOU SAIL OR STUMBLE ON THESE GRAMMAR QUESTIONS?What is the difference between sushi and sashimi sashimi? ›
Unlike sushi, sashimi is not served with rice or accompanied by sauces or toppings. Sushi combines vinegared rice, various fillings like veggies or seafood, and seaweed. Sashimi is made from thinly sliced raw meat or fish and served without rice or other accompaniments.What is maki sushi vs sushi? ›
Sushi refers to food made with cold boiled rice moistened with rice vinegar and shaped into bite-sized portions. Maki is a type of sushi that is made by rolling the rice around strips of vegetables or raw fish and then slicing the resulting tube into bite-sized pieces. It comes from the Japanese word maku "to roll up."Is sushi the same as maki? ›
“Sushi” 寿司 as it is commonly known, refers strictly to a form of sour rice that is mixed with vinegar. However, “sushi's” real name is Makizushi, or “Maki.” Maki refers to “rolled” sushi rice.
You'll either see it as maki (which means roll), where the seaweed is on the outside, uramaki, where the seaweed is on the inside and rice is on the outside, or temaki, a cone-shaped piece of sushi that's rolled by hand.What is the difference between Maki roll and nigiri? ›
Like maki, nigiri is another type of sushi. However, unlike maki, nigiri sushi is not rolled. Instead, the thinly sliced fish—either raw or cooked—is set atop a mound of vinegared rice. In between the rice and fish, sushi chefs will often place either a small amount of wasabi or toasted seaweed.What is the word maki mean? ›
(ˈmækɪ ) (in Japanese cuisine) a small segment cut from a long roll of cold rice and various other ingredients wrapped in a sheet of seaweed.What is fried sushi called? ›
Tempura rolls are basically deep fried maki or uramaki rolls. Tempura itself is basically a method of frying fish or vegetables in a light batter made of flour, water, and eggs. In other words, the western love of deep fried everything has even made it to the sushi world.Are California rolls real sushi? ›
"The California roll is not Japanese sushi because it was created for the convenience of American diners," she said. "We call it 'sushi,' but that's another dish."What is small sushi called? ›
Hosomaki are smaller rolls made with a sheet of nori, rolled up with a layer of rice, but contain only a single filling, such as cucumbers, tuna or carrots. Temaki are hand rolls, which are made by rolling a sheet of nori into a cone shape, then filling with rice and vegetables and fish.