If you believe sushi is just about raw fish and vinegared rice, think again! This famous and delicious Japanese staple contains so many varieties that may confuse you when looking at menus without any explanation.
This article aims to explain all must-try sushi types that can give you authentic Japanese cuisine experiences. From Nigiri and Maki to various sushi rolls, these varieties will help refresh your sushi knowledge and expand your sushi palette.
After reading, you can confidently plan on hosting a sushi party in no time. Or, you will gain confidence in placing your next order at a sushi restaurant. So, let’s begin this delectable journey!
Sushi 101: A Quick Glance At The Japanese Staple
The first stop of this adventure is to grasp sushi’s basic knowledge. Typically, sushi comprises vinegared rice, veggies, and seafood (raw or cooked) as toppings or fillings. The Japanese enjoy sushi with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger.
Modern sushi is vastly different from its initial version. It was formerly salted fish prepared with fermented rice, prevalent in Japan prior to the Edo era (before 1603). After that, sushi gradually developed into the contemporary version consumed today.
Many individuals are used to seeing sushi rolls cut into neat bite-sized pieces. Yet, not all sushi is rolled. Sushi chefs (Itamae) have modified the basic sushi recipes and created various versions, even for non-fish eaters.
In addition, sushi preparation requires highly-skilled and creative endeavors, even for the most basic type. Some sushi menus may spell “sushi” as “zushi” when referring to different types. For example, Makizushi means Maki Sushi or Nigirizushi is Nigiri Sushi.
1. Nigirizushi (Hand-Pressed Sushi)
Originating in the Kanto area around the 19th century, Nigiri is probably the simplest sushi form, with an oblong structure of hand-pressed vinegared rice topped with a fresh fish slice.
Thanks to its thin and lengthy shape, it is easy to enjoy with your hands. Indeed, this way of eating is how many Japanese consume Nigiri. Remember to dip your Nigiri invertedly in soy sauce with a dab of wasabi to prevent it from becoming crumbled!
Besides raw fish, plenty of other toppings can help spice up your Nigiri. Let’s discover some of the most popular Nigiri variations below:
Tamago Nigiri/ Tamagoyaki (Omelette Sushi)
Tamago Nigiri is undoubtedly the most recognizable sushi ever with the egg’s beautiful yellow hoe. Tamago used in this sushi type is special thanks to the addition of soy sauce, sugar, and mirin. Thus, it delivers a sweeter taste than regular eggs.
Sake Nigiri (Raw Salmon)
Sake Nigiri is widely considered the synonym phrase for traditional Nigiri. The image of salmon slices lying on vinegared rice is iconic to all sushi fans. Enjoy its soft texture and fresh taste with a dab of wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger.
Maguro Nigiri (Raw Tuna)
This sushi type is similar to Sake Nigiri above. However, it replaces salmon with tuna, giving the food a richer texture and milder flavor. People who are new to the sushi world find Maguro Nigiri a great dish to start.
Hamachi Nigiri (Japanese Amberjack)
This particular sushi variation utilizes Japanese amberjack (or yellowtail tuna) topped on a bed of hand-pressed vinegared rice. Compared to Sake Nigiri and Maguro Nigiri, this Nigiri version is softer in texture and milder in taste.
Amaebi Nigiri (Sweet Shrimp)
If you love enjoying raw shrimp, Amaebi is your ideal choice. Also known as sweet shrimp, this species is perfect for raw enjoyment as its sweetness will go away after cooking. Placing it over a bed of sushi rice is all you need to do before consumption.
Kani Nigiri (Imitation Crab)
Kani Nigiri features an imitation crab stick attached to hand-pressed sushi rice via a short nori sheet. Note that Kani refers to processed fish flesh instead of crab meat. Its fine texture and sweet flavor will
Unagi Nigiri (Freshwater Eel)
The main difference among various Nigiri variations is the toppings above your sushi rice. For Unagi Nigiri, you get to enjoy freshwater eel with its signature meaty and rich aroma.
Tako Nigiri (Octopus)
If you love sushi with a mildly sweet taste and a rubbery texture, Tako Nigiri is a must-try dish! It features cooked octopus, a popular ingredient in many sushi varieties.
Ika Nigiri (Squid)
Unlike Tako Nigiri, Ika Nigiri utilizes squid to bring about a smoother texture and equivalent delectable flavor.
Hokkigai Nigiri (Sakhalin Surf Clam)
You will easily spot Hokkigai Nigiri on every sushi menu thanks to its iconic red color. Normally, the Japanese enjoy the suft clam’s leg pieces as toppings. It becomes pale purple and tastes sweeter after being submerged in hot water.
2. Gunkan Maki (Warship Sushi)
Although its moniker contains the word “maki”, Gunkan Maki is not a member of the Maki family (which will be discussed later). In Japanese, Gunkan translates to “warship”, indicating the boat-like form of this sushi variation.
Created in 1941 by the Ginza Kyubey restaurant, Gunkan Maki comprises vinegared rice with toppings of fish roes. The sushi utilizes a broad strip of nori to wrap around its bed of rice, allowing enough room for toppings or other fillings (oysters, sea urchins, …)
A good practice is to use chopsticks to enjoy Gunkan Maki. As the roe atop the sushi is flavorful enough, it is unnecessary to dip your Gunkan Maki in soy sauce. Let’s say hi to the two most recognizable Gunkan Maki variations below:
Ikura Gunkan (Salmon Roes Gunkan)
When you hear people mentioning Gunkan Maki, it is likely that they are referring to Ikura Gunkan – the most popular version of the Warship Sushi. It features salmon roes and cucumber lying on top of sushi rice and encased in a nori sheet.
Tobiko Gunkan (Flying Fish Roes Gunkan)
The shape and structure of Tobiko Gunkan is the same as Ikura Gunkan. The only difference here is the use of flying fish roes instead of salmon roes as the dish’s toppings.
3. Temari (Ball-Shaped Sushi)
If you wonder what the round-shaped food that the Japanese exchange on occasions like birthdays or Valentine’s Day is, you will find the answer here! That special dish is Temari, containing rice balls topped with Sashimi, seaweed, veggies, and fish roe.
Unlike the oblong shape of Nigiri, Temari has a simple round form. Its moniker derives from the traditional Japanese embroidered handball.
Although this sushi type is less well-known outside of Japan, it is a favorite delicacy for gatherings and picnics during many Japanese celebrations. One of them is the traditional girl’s day known as Hinamatsuri.
4. Narezushi (Fermented Sushi)
If you have heard about Narezushi, you are a certified sushi expert! Narezushi is regarded as the original kind of sushi, featuring fish preserved in salt and fermented rice for many months and even years. Then, the rice was discarded before consumption.
This preparation method was used to keep fish and other food edible for a longer time, dating back to the Nara period (710 – 784), before the introduction of refrigeration. Also known as Funazushi, this sushi type is the predecessor of Nigiri.
Due to its exceedingly strong taste and lengthy fermentation period, Narezushi has become less popular in modern times. The fermentation period was later shortened so that rice could be eaten alongside the fish, giving rise to more modern sushi varieties.
5. Makizushi (Sushi Rolls)
Maki is perhaps the most well-known sushi form you can enjoy at every Japanese restaurant. It is so popular that you will undoubtedly think of Maki whenever someone mentions sushi.
Each bite-sized Maki roll comprises three components: vinegared rice, nori, and fillings of seafood or veggies. Based on the size, you will have Hosomaki (Thin Rolls) and Futomaki (Thick Rolls). Besides, there are also Uramaki, Temaki, and Saikumaki.
Let’s say hi to each one of them right away!
Hosomaki (Thin Rolls)
The Japanese use the term “Hosomaki” to refer to Maki rolls with a thickness of 2-3 centimeters. These thin rolls make a delightful lunch or afternoon snack, comprising a single filling wrapped in a sheet of dried seaweed.
Depending on the selected filling, you will have various Hosomaki types. Here are some of the most popular varieties that fall under the Hosomaki category:
- Kappa Maki (Cucumber Rolls)
- Tekka Maki (Tuna Rolls)
- Anakyu Maki (Cucumber And Conger Eel Rolls)
- Kampyo Maki (Dried Gourd Rolls)
- Negitoro Maki (Green Onion And Tuna)
- Torotaku Maki (Tuna And Pickled Radish Rolls)
- Natto Maki (Fermented Soybeans Rolls)
- Himokyu Maki (Mantle And Cucumber)
- Shiko Maki (Pickled Radish Rolls)
Futomaki (Thick Rolls)
Unlike Hosomaki, Futomaki is a much thicker roll with 4-6 centimeters of thickness. This long cylindrical roll still consists of vinegared rice wrapped in a thin nori sheet. It is often a vegan food featuring vegetables like cucumber, spinach, and mushrooms.
Futomaki is the most traditional Maki roll in Japan. It is a favorite for special occasions and gatherings. You can also make it for lunch or supper since it is a regular dish in bento boxes.
Similar to other sushi types, after rolling it using a bamboo mat, cut your Futomaki with a sharp knife and enjoy it with soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger.
Uramaki (Inside-Out Rolls)
In the late 1960s, the Los Angeles-based restaurant Tokyo Kaikan received a customer complaint about the use of nori in sushi rolls. Then, the restaurant’s head chef, Machita Ichiro, decided to swap the position of rice and seaweed, giving birth to Uramaki.
Also known as Inside-Out Rolls, Uramaki is an inverted Maki variation featuring rice on the outside and dried seaweed on the inside. This sushi type often includes many sauces and toppings (both cooked and uncooked).
When preparing Uramaki, you may utilize any contents you desire, including shrimp tempura, ground crab, grilled eel, or thinly-sliced veggies. Sushi chefs will garnish Uramaki with various elements, such as sesame seeds, fish roe, and mayo.
Nowadays, Uramaki is one of the most popular sushi types both in Japan and the United States. Indeed, most “Special Rolls” on sushi menus are Uramaki. You may find some of the following Uramaki names familiar:
- California Rolls (imitation crab, avocado, cucumber)
- Spider Rolls (soft-shell crab, spicy mayo, avocado, cucumber)
- Dragon Rolls (tempura, eel, unagi sauce, avocado, cucumber)
- Rainbow Rolls (Sashimi, imitation crab, avocado, cucumber)
- Alaska Rolls (fresh salmon, avocado, cucumber)
- Bahama Rolls (fresh tuna, chopped mango, jalapeños, diced cherry tomatoes)
- Tiger Rolls (Tobiko, tempura, avocado, cucumber)
- Philadelphia Rolls (salmon, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber)
- Spicy Tuna Rolls (raw tuna, spicy mayo, avocado)
- Boston Rolls (poach shrimp, avocado, cucumber, fish roe)
- Dynamite Rolls (tempura, masago, avocado, cucumber, mayo)
- Shrimp Tempura Rolls (tempura, eel sauce, avocado, cucumber)
Besides, there are more Uramaki variations that you can check out, such as lemon tofu rolls, lion king rolls, king crab rolls, crunch rolls, …
Related: 35 Fun and Tasty Sushi Filling Ideas
Temaki (Hand-Rolled Sushi)
Temaki is another prominent sushi form belonging to the Maki family. It is formed by rolling nori into a cone shape, containing vinegared rice and toppings inside.
Temaki is different from standard sushi rolls, which are prepared using a bamboo mat. Temaki requires more skill and expertise to shape it into a beautiful cone appearance.
Typically, Temaki’s filling includes vinegared rice, veggies, and seafood (salmon, tuna belly, squid). This unique sushi cone will add visual appeal to your bento box or party sushi boat.
Unlike other sushi rolls, Temaki is hard to share and intended to be eaten individually by hand. Depending on your personal preferences, you can have lightly stuffed Temaki or densely stuffed cones.
Speaking of Temaki, skipping Sushirrito (Sushi Burrito) would be a mistake. It combines Temaki and the wildly popular Burritos of the previous decade. Sushirrito is a massive Temaki roll that you can hold easily in one hand.
Watch this video: Discover how to fold Temaki with these simple steps.
Saikumaki (Decorative Rolls)
Saikumaki is certainly the most intriguing sushi form ever created. Also known as Decorative Rolls, the dish prioritizes appearance and will bring out your inner artist. The rolls are meticulously placed to resemble family crests, flowers, or other patterns.
Thus, Saikumaki is the perfect dish you can use to amaze sushi enthusiasts at your next party!
Watch this video: Let’s go on a sushi-tasting adventure with the making of Saikumaki!
6. Chirashizushi (Scattered Sushi)
Chirashizushi is a lesser-known sushi style, consisting of a vinegared rice bowl topped with Sashimi bits. Despite the moniker meaning “scattered”, do not be misled by scattering the toppings randomly. Instead, neatness and accuracy are crucial.
This sushi style emphasizes appearance and is a tasty way to prepare sushi at home with stunning colors and textures. Besides Sashimi as toppings, you may occasionally find fruits, veggies, tofu, and omelet incorporated in this crowd-pleasing meal.
Thanks to its ornamental and glittering look, Chirashizushi is a favorite at festive events. Depending on the chosen toppings, you will have a different Chirashi type. Below are the two most common Chirashi variations to spice up your palette:
- Gomoku Chirashi: from the Kanto area, toppings include Sashimi and veggies like mushrooms, lotus root, …
- Bara Chirashi: outside of the Kanto area, toppings include marinated Sashimi bits, sweet shrimp paste (Oboro), Tamago egg, …
Note that Chirashizushi is different from Kaisendon (seafood rice bowl). The primary distinction is that the former utilizes vinegared sushi rice, while the latter uses plain steamed white rice.
7. Inarizushi (Tofu Pocket Sushi)
This next sushi type is undoubtedly the most special one, where the vinegared rice is nowhere to be seen. You’ve heard it right! Inarizushi includes fried tofu pouches (Aburaage) with rice inside. The tofu pouches are simmered in advance in dashi stock.
Despite having no toppings, Inarizushi is pleasantly sweet and tasty. Besides rice, Inarizushi may also include shiitake mushrooms, umeboshi (pickled Japanese plums), and sesame seeds.
Although the dish’s origin is still a mystery, legends say that its name derives from Inari – the Shinto god. His foxes love fried tofu. That is why Inarizushi has sharp edges to resemble the fox’s ears.
Thanks to its portability and simplicity in preparation, this unique sushi style is ideal for bento and finger foods during gatherings and picnics. It is also a vegan-friendly option since it mainly comprises sushi rice and tofu.
8. Oshizushi (Pressed Sushi)
Did you know that Oshizushi is among the oldest sushi types? Its origin dates back to the 15th century. The dish includes vinegared rice and Sashimi toppings (mackerel, gizzard shad), all of which are pressed using a sushi pressing tool called “Oshibako”.
This Osaka-originated sushi with a rectangular form is also known as Hakozushi (Boxed Sushi). The intriguing design makes it perfect to fit into bento boxes or present packages.
Along with Nigiri, Onizushi is also one of Narezushi’s successors, evolving from the fish preserving technique by tightly packing it in boxes of fermented rice. Subject to where Onizushi is made, there are many beautiful Onizushi types to explore:
- Battera (Mackerel-Pressed Sushi) from Osaka prefecture: resembles the side of a small ship, comprising multiple layers of crushed mackerel, konbu, and vinegared rice.
- Gozaemon (Stick Sushi) from Tottori prefecture: features vinegared rice pressed together, topped with lightly-cooked mackerel, and wrapped with Hokkaido kombu.
- Kakuzushi from Hiroshima prefecture: is colorful sushi with diverse ingredients, such as vinegar-pickled mackerel, cooked mushrooms, scrambled eggs, and shell clams.
- Iwakunizushi (Sushi Cake) from Yamaguchi prefecture: is a huge type of Oshizushi, featuring several layers of vinegared rice, lotus roots, mushrooms, and raw fish slices neatly shaped using wooden molds.
- Omurazushi from Nagasaki prefecture: is distinguished by layers of scrambled eggs known as Kinshitamago. It also includes chopped sea bream, fish cake (hanpen), and vinegared rice.
- Masuzushi (Trout Sushi) from Toyama prefecture: includes masu salmon seasoned with salt and vinegar, piled over sushi rice, and encased in bamboo leaves. People consume Masuzushi in slices like pizza.
9. Sasazushi (Bamboo Leaf Sushi)
In Japanese, Sasa means bamboo leaf. Thus, Sasazushi (also known as Sasamaki) refers to sushi made with rice and toppings wrapped in a bamboo leaf. This sushi type is popular in the Hokuriku area, especially in Ishikawa and Toyama prefectures.
Like Oshizushi, this Bamboo Leaf Sushi features a small square block of vinegared rice with a thin salmon slice on top. However, it stands out with the wrapping of bamboo leaves on the outside.
The leaves provide Sasazushi with intense tastes and strong aromas than traditional sushi. There are two different styles of Sasazushi available, subject to where their hometown is:
- Sasazushi in Niigata and Nagano prefectures: comprises vinegared rice and components (fried tofu, bamboo shoots, walnuts, …) placed plainly on a bamboo leaf.
- Sasazushi in Toyama and Ishikawa prefectures: features vinegared rice and components (salmon, sea bream, fried tofu, …) wrapped inside two pieces of bamboo leaf.
10. Kakinohazushi (Persimmon Leaf Sushi)
Originating in the Nara area of Western Japan during the Edo era, Kakinohazuhi is a form of sushi wrapped in persimmon leaf (Kaki). There are several fish types used to make Kakinohazushi, with mackerel, salmon, and red snapper being the most common.
Since Nara is a landlocked region, transporting fresh fish prior to the invention of refrigeration was challenging. Thus, people employ persimmon leaves as a natural preservative to protect the fish. The leaves also impart a pleasant scent.
Nowadays, even with the advent of refrigeration technique, you should not refrigerate Kakinohazushi since it might make your sushi hard and inedible. A good practice is to avoid dipping it in soy sauce, or you may destroy the fish’s delicate flavor.
Kakinohazushi is accessible at various local eateries and railway stations. It is also a favorite souvenir for tourists visiting the area.
11. Sugatazushi (Whole Mackerel Sushi)
Even Japanese may find Sugatazushi uncommon as it is only available in a few places. For this sushi type, an entire mackerel is brine-soaked, gutted, and loaded with rice before being chopped into little pieces.
The earliest evidence of Sugatazushi’s origin dates back to the Heian period (794 – 1185). Nowadays, it forms an essential dish for fall celebrations in Tokushima. Besides mackerel, there are versions featuring bouse or butterfish with no slicing.
12. Sashimi (Sliced Raw Fish)
Technically, Sashimi is not really a sushi type since it does not include vinegared rice. However, it still appears in this list due to its significance in Japanese cuisine.
Simply speaking, Sashimi is raw fish served with no rice, prepared with the Hira-Zukuri cutting technique. This method generates rectangular fish slices of about 1-centimeter thickness.
People love enjoying Sashimi on a bed of daikon radish with a side of soy sauce and wasabi. No additional toppings or fillings are needed as the fresh taste of raw fish is enough to satisfy your taste buds.
Other Delectable Sushi Types Worth Sampling
Congratulations on having gone through almost every sushi variation above. You are closer to being a sushi expert than ever! Let’s keep moving forward by exploring some other delectable sushi types worth sampling below:
- Chicken Mayo Sushi: includes chicken, avocado slices, and kewpie mayo on sushi rice, wrapped in nori.
- Beef Sushi: comprises beef steak (cold roast or cooked), green beans, and carrots on sushi rice. It goes great with wine for a wonderful lunch or dinner.
- Teriyaki Chicken Sushi: consists of teriyaki chicken, avocado, and cucumber served on vinegared rice.
- Pulled Pork Sushi: is another brilliant meat sushi, having pulled pork (BBQ or plain), kewpie mayo placed over a bed of vinegared rice.
- Vegetable Sushi: offers different veggie types (cucumber, avocado, scallion, carrot, …) over sushi rice, perfect for vegan practitioners.
Let’s Make A Sushi Menu For Your Next Sushi Party!
You have finished the most comprehensive list of sushi types ever! I hope this article provides useful information so you can confidently plan your next sushi party!
Given the abundance of sushi variations out there, you have more delectable and aesthetic options to choose from for your party menu. Or, you can peruse my list to discover sushi on your next Japan trip!
For now, let’s drop a comment to show me your favorite choice. If you know any more kinds of sushi, make sure to let me know below as well!