Sashimi Vs. Sushi: What’s the Difference (And Which One Should I Order If I’m a Newbie)?

Japanese food is fresh, healthy and delicious—but ordering sushi for the first time can be a little nerve-wracking. Should you get maki or nigiri? What if you want something without fish? And what’s the difference between sashimi vs. sushi? Don’t worry, we’re here to answer all your burning questions. Here’s how to navigate the menu at your local Japanese spot.

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sashimi vs sushi
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What Is Sushi?

Sushi is any ingredient (not necessarily fish!) paired with vinegared rice that’s served in a bite-size portion. Wait, no fish? Yep, that’s right. The word “sushi” actually refers to how the rice is made and has nothing to do with fish, our friends at Benihana tell us. Specifically, sushi rice is a type of short-grain rice that’s prepared with rice wine vinegar, which gives it a unique flavor and the ability to clump together. While there are plenty of sushi options for fish lovers, you can also enjoy sushi made with non-fish ingredients like vegetables or egg. In general, there are two types of sushi: nigiri and maki (but more on that below).

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What Is Sashimi?

Sashimi, loosely translated, means “pierced body,” and refers to thinly sliced pieces of raw fish that are eaten plain (i.e., without rice), say the chefs at Lionfish restaurant in San Diego. Some people like to dip their fish in a little bit of soy sauce or add some pickled ginger or wasabi (a spicy green paste made from the wasabi or Japanese horseradish plant), but that’s really all the flavoring you need, since sashimi is all about letting the flavor of the sashimi-grade fish shine. Chefs tend to use salt water fish for sashimi over freshwater fish (since the latter may contain parasites), so you’ll typically see offerings like salmon, fatty tuna and yellowtail sashimi on a menu, often served on a bed of daikon. While you might think that chowing down on raw fish might be tough, in terms of texture it’s actually very silky and creamy, practically melting in your mouth.

Need an easy way to remember the difference between sushi and sashimi? Sushi has rice, whereas sashimi does not.

And What Is the Difference Between Nigiri and Maki?

Nigiri (“two fingers” in Japanese) is a bite-sized rectangular mound or rice topped with a piece of raw or cooked fish. There may be some wasabi between the fish and the rice to hold it together or a strip of seaweed to tie them.

Maki, on the other hand, are sushi rolls that have been sliced into round bite-sized pieces and rolled in a sheet of seaweed. Maki can be made using cooked or raw fish or vegetables.

Nervous about trying sushi? Start with a veggie maki roll like cucumber or avocado. Then work your way up to cooked fish sushi, then raw sushi before finally trying sashimi.

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