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Sushi, Sashimi, Nigiri, Maki: Japan’s Diverse Delicacies
As a blanket term, sushi is often used to refer to any of the three traditional styles of serving raw fish. Know the difference with our breakdown of Japan’s greatest culinary art.
The thing that makes sushi sushi isn’t raw fish, it’s shari—rice infused with vinegar for added flavor. Often taken for granted, good shari can be the true test of an expert sushi chef: to mold the bite-size blocks (or fingers) of shari, dexterous hands must apply just the right amount of pressure, convincing the grains to cling together without squashing them into hot snowballs. However, not everything on a sushi restaurant’s menu is served with shari, and the dishes that are served with it aren’t all the same. Here’s how to tell them apart:
Sashimi: Technically not sushi proper, sashimi is simply thin slices of raw, high-quality (or sashimi-grade) fish—such as salmon, yellowtail, or fatty tuna—served without the rice. Chefs often layer the slices on a bed of garnishes (collectively called tsuma) such as sprouts, baby cucumbers, or even ice cubes, though they may sometimes arrange the sashimi to mimic a blooming flower.
Nigiri: When shari is added to the equation, sashimi becomes nigiri—bite-size morsels of raw fish served atop fingers of shari and often secured with a thin band of crisp seaweed. Nigiri is often paired with two condiments: wasabi paste (much like horseradish) for an added kick and slices of vinegared ginger for cleansing your palate between bites.
Maki: By far the most common form of sushi, maki is the familiar assortment of fresh ingredients rolled into delicately sliced cylinders. First, chefs layer shari, fish, and veggies over a sheet of seaweed. They then roll it together with a bamboo mat before cutting it into segments—usually six—for a table to share. Popular varieties of maki include the crab-anchored california roll and the philadelphia roll, a Western concoction of smoked salmon and cream cheese, though the motley nature of maki allows for a virtually limitless array of flavors and combinations.