Sushi 101

Because sushi is so much more than raw fish wrapped in rice, here are some common terms you may encounter:

American-Style Sushi: adapting to American palates, this type of sushi began in the early 1960s with the California Roll. Typical are the place-naming of futomaki-type rolls based on ingredients, but there are no hard-and-fast definitions. American-style sushi is often uramaki-style.

Six examples are:

Alaska/n Roll – typically consists of cream cheese, crab (sometimes imitation crab), raw or smoked salmon and other ingredients like cucumber.

Boston Roll – typically consists of avocado, shrimp, mayonnaise and Boston (also called Bibb or butter) lettuce. 

California Roll – first crafted by Japanese chefs in Los Angeles looking to make a dish attractive to their Southern California clientele, one of the state’s signature ingredients—avocado—was substituted for a more traditional fatty tuna (toro) in rolls due to similar mouth-feel. Other components often include crab or imitation crab, cucumber and carrot matchsticks. The American palate also preferred the rice on the outside, so the roll became uramaki.

Philadelphia Roll – typically consists of cream cheese, raw or smoked salmon and other ingredients like cucumber and/or onion.

Rainbow Roll – a colorful uramaki-style California roll with avocado and thin slices of varying hued-fish (often including flounder, salmon, tuna, and yellowtail) wrapped around the outside.

Tempura Roll – an offering where either an ingredient such as soft shell crab or shrimp is tempura fried and featured in the roll, or a roll that is lightly battered in its entirety and then fried tempura-style 

sushi condimentsCondiments: condiments are a common element to sushi, but, like many things, tempering with moderation is best. Here are some typical sides:

Ginger – thin slices of ginger, also called gari, are included to take a tiny nibble between pieces of sushi as a palate cleanser.

Mayonnaise – especially a yolk-rich, Japanese-style mayonnaise is often drizzled on top of rolls. Sometimes the mayonnaise is infused with other flavors.

Soy Sauce – this salty sauce, also called shoyu, is used to gently dip pieces of nigiri—fish side down—into. If you dip rolls into soy sauce, use caution as the rice will quickly absorb the liquid. Get more tips for eating sushi the proper way here.

Vegetables – as much a garnish as a condiment, often grated daikon radish, carrot matchsticks, pickled roots and seaweed salad come along side sushi.

Wasabi – use this green-tinted Japanese horseradish paste sparingly. The heat helps give sushi a little more kick; dab a tiny amount on each piece, and do not mix with soy sauce to form a slurry.

sashimiSashimi– thinly sliced raw seafood with no accompanying rice or other elements beyond condiments

Sushi – What began as a dish of fermenting fish mixed with rice eons ago in Asia has evolved into one of our favorite foods. The main types today are:

Chirashi – a bowl of sushi rice topped with ingredients. Barazushi serves the ingredients mixed in with the rice. In Korean chirashi, the rice is warm.

Futomaki – roughly translated as “fat rolls,” these are girthier pieces of maki and contain a multitude of ingredients.

Hosomaki – roughly translated as “thin rolls,” these are thinner pieces of maki usually with a single piece of seafood or other ingredient only.

Maki – this is what you think of when you think of sushi; the classic Japanese sushi roll. Seafood and/or other ingredients are laid on a rice-topped sheet of nori, rolled into a log shape, and sliced into round pieces.

Gunkanmaki – roughly translated as “warship/battleship roll,” a round piece of nori holds softer ingredients, such as oysters, roe, uni, in place. Gunkanmaki is often topped with a raw quail egg.

Nigiri – roughly translated as “hand-formed,” these are thin slices of seafood and/or other ingredients placed on top of a (usually) rectangular piece of hand-pressed sushi rice and often held in place with a thin strip of nori.

Temaki – roughly translated as “hand roll,” nori is rolled into a large cone shape and filled with ingredients. Eat this roll with the fingers and not chopsticks.

Uramaki – roughly translated as “inside-out” roll, this sushi is similar to maki, except ingredients are first wrapped in nori and then in rice, with the rice being the outside ingredient. Many times sesame seeds garnish the outside.

making sushiSushi Ingredients: Typical ingredients in sushi are:

Neta – roughly translated to “fresh ingredient” meaning one of the components in sushi. Here are some of the most common with their traditional Japanese names:

- Capelin Roe; masago (medium fish eggs)

- Eel; unagi

- Egg/omelet; tamago

- Flying Fish Roe; tobiko (small fish eggs, often colored)

- Flounder; hirame

- Mackerel; saba

- Octopus; tako

- Salmon; sake

- Salmon Roe; ikura (large fish eggs)

- Sea Urchin; uni

- Shrimp; ebi

- Squid; ika

- Surf Clam; hokkigal

- Toro; fatty tuna

- Tuna; maguro

- Yellowtail; Hamachi

Nori – pressed seaweed, typically used in varying degrees on the outside of sushi rolls as in maki and temaki (and often nigiri), but sometimes on the inside as in uramaki

Other – as the definition of sushi expands, so do the variety of ingredients used. Typical now is the use of avocado and occasional (usually tropical) fruits like mango. Also used: cooked seafood, other proteins (like beef), and different types of vegetables (cooked, pickled and/or raw).

Sushi rice – also called sumeshi, is cooked short-grained white rice seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar and salt. A perfect balance is the goal, creating a complementary but mostly neutral backdrop for other ingredients. 

Here are our top picks for sushi restaurants in Hampton Roads.

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