Japanese food is all the rage now, and for good reason. They taste amazing, balancing delicate flavors with bold condiments, and have beautifully seasoned and fresh ingredients. At the same time, Japanese cuisine is known for being immensely attractive and pleasing to the senses.
But many newbies and those venturing into foreign dishes are pretty confused by the names and similar dishes can leave you at a loss. Different kinds of ramen, bite-sized appetizers, and even soups can confound you if you aren’t familiar with Japanese cooking.
Take the sushi vs sashimi vs nigiri scenario. How can you tell which is which? Well, I’m going to tell you. And by the time you’re through, you will be able to order these dishes off the menu like a pro!
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Sushi at a Glance
Let’s start with sushi. You may have seen colorful rolls displayed artistically on gorgeous serving dishes in most Japanese joints. This dish is made with fish or seafood, usually raw but sometimes steamed, sauteed, or even fried.
Because fish is the focal point of the dish, most people assume that sushi means fish. However, sushi refers to seasoned rice which is the key ingredient. The sushi rice is cooled and then flavored with rice vinegar, salt, and sugar. Regardless of the toppings or seafood choices, sushi will always have this seasoned rice.
Sushi is typically rolled up in bamboo mats. The fish is at the center of the roll, followed by the rice, and is usually wrapped in sheets of nori or seaweed. The rolls are then garnished with sesame, pickled ginger, scallions, and sauces. They are generally eaten with soy sauce and wasabi.
Besides this, sushi can also contain vegetables like cucumber, carrots, or even avocado. What is cooked sushi called? Sushi that contains eel (unagi and anago) cooks the seafood first, as well as California rolls, which have cooked crab meat.
The most common kinds of sushi found in restaurants are temaki and maki rolls, while uni sushi is made from sea urchins. But what is sushi without rice called? They are known as nigiri, but we’ll get into that in a bit. For now, we are going to compare sushi with its sibling, sashimi.
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How is Sushi Different from Sashimi?
If you aren’t familiar with Japanese cooking, the difference between sushi and sashimi can seem almost nonexistent. However, the two are not the same. Sashimi is a very thinly sliced piece of extremely high-quality fish or seafood, meant to be eaten raw.
While sushi has meat and vegetables, and sometimes nori wrappers, sashimi is eaten plain, with just soy, to enjoy the flavor of the fresh fish. It is prepared in a way to preserve quality and freshness, so eating sashimi will not make you sick.
Sashimi is also used to make sushi, especially if the fish in your sushi rolls are raw. Does sashimi have rice? Nope, and that’s how you can figure out which is which.
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A More Detailed Look at Sashimi
Sashimi may just be the ultimate Japanese delicacy that you can easily find. But sashimi is striking because of the freshness of the fish─ it can not be frozen. The thinly cut slices require skill and technique, which takes chefs years to master.
This dish is eaten plain, to enjoy the flavor of the fish. However, the fish is sometimes garnished with ribbons of shiso leaves, daikon, and ginger. They can also be dipped into soy sauce, or topped with a bit of wasabi.
Salmon, tuna, sea bream, and mackerel are commonly used to make sashimi. Besides this, shellfish like clams, shrimp, and scallops can also be used. Some restaurants also serve squid, octopus, and urchins as sashimi. Other types of sashimi include salmon roe (ikura) and abalone.
Another difference between sushi and sashimi is how they are eaten. While sushi is generally eaten with your hands, sashimi is meant to be eaten with chopsticks.
Sashimi or Nigiri?
At the first glance, sashimi and nigiri look very similar, almost identical. But closer examination will show you the difference between nigiri and sashimi. While sashimi is a simple cut of fish that is eaten plain, nigiri is a little different.
So, what is nigiri? Nigiri is a kind of sushi, like maki rolls. It is an oval bit of seasoned rice, topped with a thin slice of seafood. The fish is usually as fresh as sashimi cuts, so it is mostly raw, although fermented fish/shellfish is also used.
Nigiri: Sushi, But Simpler
The word nigiri comes from nigiri-zushi which means hand-pressed sushi. Unlike maki sushi, nigiri isn’t presented as neat rolls. Instead, the rice is shaped in round or oval mounds, and the slice of fish is pressed into the rice by hand.
Because the rice is starchy and sticky, the fish sticks to it and won’t slide off. Nigiri seems a lot like a cross between sushi and sashimi: more elaborate than sashimi, but plainer than maki sushi.
Chefs often garnish the bites of nigiri with wasabi, daikon, and ginger, as well as minced scallions and sesame. While the fish is almost always raw, shrimp sashimi is made with boiled and butterflied shrimp, and eels are usually grilled first.
Albacore, halibut. salmon, fatty tuna, and yellowtail are commonly used to make nigiri. Like sashimi, nigiri is meant to be dipped in soy sauce and eaten with chopsticks. The nigiri is meant to be dipped into the soy sauce upside down, so that the fish is seasoned, and not the rice.
Nigiri vs. Sushi
Nigiri is a kind of sushi, so they aren’t all that different. While sushi rolls are made with vegetables and seaweed wrappers and various toppings. Nigiri has a splendid simplicity, allowing you to enjoy the seafood and the rice acts to balance things.
While sushi is rolled or hand-rolled, nigiri is simply bite-sized and easier to make. The combination of seasoned rice and fresh fish results in an amazing mouthfeel. For many foodies, nigiri is more authentic than sushi and is preferred for its flavor and texture.
Here you will find answers to questions people have about sushi, sashimi, and nigiri.
01. What are the Healthiest Sushi Rolls?
Sushi rolls with plenty of veggies and lean cuts of fish are the healthiest options. Salmon avocado, edamame and salmon, tuna and cucumber, and mackerel rolls are lower in calories and unhealthy fats. Nigiri is also quite healthy.
02. Why is Sashimi More Expensive Compared to Nigiri?
Sashimi uses the most expensive cuts of fish, which are caught fresh and served right away. Moreover, the fish is not farmed and is of very high quality, making sashimi rather pricey.
03. How Healthy is Sashimi?
Because sashimi is raw fish, it has a high protein content, as well as essential fatty acids. There are very few carbs and unhealthy fats, so sashimi is actually quite good for you.
04. How am I Supposed to Eat Sashimi?
Sashimi is generally eaten with chopsticks, but if you don’t know how to use them, you can use a fork as well.
05. Is Nigiri a Kind of Sushi?
Nigiri is a category of sushi and is made differently from maki/temaki sushi which are rolls.
06. Why is Nigiri So Expensive?
Nigiri is expensive because the fish is extremely fresh and of high quality. Besides this, you can’t use just any part of the fish to make nigiri-only specific parts of the fish and certain cuts can be used.
In a Nutshell
When you break things down to the basics, the sushi vs sashimi vs nigiri comparison is really quite simple. The only similarity between the dishes is that they all make use of fresh, thinly sliced, usually raw fish or seafood. However, now there’s a good chance that you will be able to differentiate each on sight.
Since you won’t be fidgeting over menus and or trying to discreetly google the difference between nigiri and sashimi, why not hit up a sushi bar tonight?