Many of us are quite familiar with sushi, it is one of Japan’s most well-known culinary exports after all, or at least we think we are.
The iconicnigirshi sushi, with its simple slice of fish nestled atop a ball of rice, andmakizushi,rolls of ingredients wrapped up in rice andnoriseaweed, are fairly common nowadays, but those two styles of sushi don’t capture the full range of preparations and styles of sushi in Japan.
Familiar and lesser-known sushi
Arguably the most recognizable form of sushi,nigirigets its name from the way theitamae,or sushi chef, gently squeezes the fish or other topping onto the ball of rice it rests upon. These toppings, known asneta, run the gamut of seafood from fish to shellfish, and even a special roll made from egg. In Japan when one refers to sushi, they are usually talking aboutnigiri.Contemporary iterations can include things like beef, chicken, and buttered corn as well.
Another icon of sushi, makizushi,or rolled sushi, come in different styles and include a wide variety of fillings from pickles to vegetable to seafood and meat. The basic Western type ofmakizushitakes the form of the infamous California roll, where the ingredients are wrapped up within a sheet ofnori with the rice on the outside.
When thenori is placed down first and the rice and ingredients added next, you haveuramaki,urameaning the opposite side as thenori is now on the outside. One popular style ofuramaki arefutomaki, roughly meaning fat sushi or thick sushi. Generally speaking, these are what one is referring to in Japan when talking aboutmakimono, sushi rolls.
Sharing a resemblance to an ice cream cone,temaki are quite simple to prepare and can also be quite filling. They get their name from the way one holds and wraps them in their hand, ortein Japanese. To do so, all one does is wrap a sheet ofnoriinto a cone shape and fill it with rice and other toppings.
Another recognizable style of sushi,gunkanmaki are named such because they resemble a battleship, orgunkan. They are made by surrounding a ball of rice with a small sheet ofnori that stands up over the top of the rice, creating a space to add the fillings. Ingredients likeuni (sea urchin) andikura (salmon roe) need the support ofnori so they don’t spill over the edge of the rice.
Similar tonigiri,temari (literally hand ball) are small, round balls of rice with a thin layer of fish or other ingredient pressed upon the top. They are highly decorative and less common thannigiri, usually being served at festive occasions or on picnics.
Chirashizushi (chirashi meaning scattered) is one of the simpler yet more decorative styles of sushi. It consists of a bowl of seasoned sushi rice, known asshari, topped with an array of ingredients. These ingredients change based on the season and the region, though they generally include a local seafood.
Hailing from Nara in the western part of Japan,kakinoha zushi, or persimmon leaf sushi, is a unique style similar to others throughout Japan. In these styles, ingredients are set atop seasoned rice and firmly pressed into rectangular molds. They are then cut into bite-sized pieces and individually wrapped in leaves. In the case ofkakinoha, these leaves are from persimmon trees, and the typical ingredients are cured mackerel, trout, or salmon.
Also known as box sushi,oshizushi, or pressed sushi, is a type of sushi made using a mold, just likekakinoha zushi, in which the ingredients are pressed together before being cut into pieces. The toppings can either be quite simple, like cured fish, or can be decoratively arranged into stunning designs.
Named after the humbleinaka, or countryside,inakazushi is a unique style of sushi that replaces the raw fish and seafood ofnigiri with pickles and vegetables. Toppings usually includemyoga(Japanese ginger),menma (bamboo shoots),daikon radish,konnyaku(a jelly-like dish made from the root of the konjac plant),shiitake, and a special roll known asinarizushi in which a ball of sushi rice is stuffed into a pocket of fried tofu known asaburaage.
Considered by many to be the centuries old origin of modern sushi,narezushiis an ancient dish of fermented fish. While the tradition of fermenting fish in this way has mostly been abandoned, one type ofnarezushi calledfunazushi can still be found in Shiga Prefecture. Each year fresh carp are caught, descaled, gutted, and de-gilled. High quality salt is then packed into the gill cavities before the fish are placed in containers, traditionally wooden barrels, and left to ferment for sixth months. They are then removed and thoroughly rinsed and dried before returning to the barrel with freshly cooked rice to ferment for at least another year.
About the author: The spark that lit Kevin Kilcoyne’s interest in Japanese culture began in elementary school through a friendship with his then classmate Keisuke. Since then, that passion has evolved and bloomed to encompass more than just video games and manga, leading Kevin to live in Japan as a participant of the JET program. During his time in Japan, Kevin sought out as many foods as he could, the experiences and taste memories lingering long after they had gone. Now he is forging a path to link his passions for Japanese food, history, and visual culture and is planning for his return to live in Japan once again. For now, you can find Kevin on Instagram (@waruishouten) where he posts his photography and illustration work. Keep an eye out for more posts and updates as Kevin delves more deeply into his passions for writing and food.