Sushi for Everyone

Not a fan of sushi yet? Sushi has become (and continues to be) a trend in the United States and abroad. To be fair, sushi is an acquired taste for most, especially if you are squeamish about eating raw fish; your approach to entering the sushi world can make or break your bias. Trust me, there’s sushi for everyone!

The first time I went back to Japan after moving to the States was when I was 10 years old. Believe you me, yours truly did not appreciate the raw fish or care to indulge in “sushi”. But I grew up. Years and years later, after visiting and moving back to Japan and working in many sushi restaurants, I find myself craving fresh sushi with a complementary sake, beer or tea.

So back to the basics. Sushi is cooked vinegared rice (sushi rice) accompanied by fish/veggies/etc. Sushi comes in many different forms. Let’s look at four types: inarizushi, nigirizushi, makizushi and temaki.

  • Inarizushi may be the one type of sushi that you’ve never heard of before, or tasted. It consists of a pouch made with deep fried tofu and filled with sushi rice.
  • Nigirizushi, or just “nigiri”, is a hand pressed base of sushi rice with a topping draped on top of it.
  • Makizushi, or just “maki” are the rolls that most people think of when they think “sushi”, consisting of sushi rice and fish and/or vegetables rolled in dried seaweed.
  • Temaki is more commonly known as a “hand roll”, which consists of sushi rice, fish and/or vegetables rolled into a cone shape.

Here are some suggestions from a sushi connoisseur on how to navigate the tricky waters of sushi eating. There’s plenty to go around no matter what the circumstance.

Group 1: Not a fan of raw fish over here!

For the raw fish faint of heart, there are plenty of sushi options for you. Give inarizushi a try. It’s slightly sweet and a great addition to any sushi meal. For nigiri, I would recommend trying unagi (eel), tamago (cooked egg) and ebi (shrimp). For maki (rolls), look for unagi or anything that contains the word “tempura”, which means that it has been deep fried. Some good choices are shrimp tempura rolls and spider rolls (traditionally made with soft-shell crab tempura). If you really want to start with the basics, try a California roll (imitation crab meat, avocado and cucumber).

Sushi for Everyone

Unagi (eel) Nigiri

Group 2: I’m a texture person

We exist! If you’re a texture person, there are some ingredients that you should be aware of—namely roe (and other fish eggs) and uni. Ikura, or salmon roe, are eggs that are similar in size and texture to tapioca pearls and burst in your mouth. Masago and tobiko are significantly smaller sized eggs, the former orange and the latter red. They also offer a burst of flavor. Last but not least, uni (sea urchin). Uni gets a bad rap in some circles. At first glance, it may not be appealing to some. The texture of uni is briny and creamy. Note: fresh uni is firm and should not smell fishy.

Amendment: I asked a Japanese friend to describe the texture of uni and she described it as, “it’s like soft goat cheese”. That’s certainly relatable! Also, with goat cheese you either love it or hate it…. just like uni!

Texture

Ikura (salmon roe)

Group 3: Veggies only

Dining out while vegetarian may be difficult at times, but not when you’re talking about sushi. Inarizushi and tamago nigiri are excellent choices. For rolls, your options are vast. On a more traditional tip, I highly recommend ordering futomaki if it’s offered. Futomaki are large rolls generally filled with traditional Japanese vegetables and egg. The balance of flavor is fantastic and you get a hefty dose of vegetables.

Sushi for Vegetarians

Tamago (egg) Nigiri

Group 4: Gluten-Free please!*

Gluten is sneaky when it comes to sushi, but don’t be deterred. Soy sauce has gluten in it. However, more and more restaurants have started carrying gluten-free soy sauce! Also, stay away from tempura, imitation crab meat and special sauces. Special sauces like “eel sauce”, “spicy sauce” etc. are typically made from a base of either soy sauce or mayonnaise.

Sushi for Everyone

Gluten-Free Soy Sauce

Sushi is a diverse subset of Japanese cuisine. The beautiful thing about it is that it can be catered to your preferences and dietary requirements quite easily. See examples of sushi and sushi-inspired dishes by a couple of our Washington, DC private chefs here and here.  

If you have any questions about sushi, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment section below.

*For gluten allergies be sure to tell your server that you are allergic. Gluten may be hiding in other seemingly innocuous dishes.