Although many sushi restaurants in America are fairly straightforward with the descriptions of their sushi rolls, there are probably a few ingredient names that leave you wondering what they are. Some sushi restaurants provide a colorful picture guide or, at the very least, a basic list of ingredients, but if either of those components is missing, how are you to know what everything is?
No need to despair! This handy guide to Japanese sushi ingredients will inform you of everything you need to know about what you might find on a sushi menu. With this information in mind, you’ll be able to order sushi like a pro in no time!
Before getting to the actual ingredients, first familiarize yourself with the type of sushi that most establishments offer. These include the following:
Maki roll: This is the basic sushi roll, comprised of a few sushi ingredients and normally wrapped in rice and nori seaweed. You might also find maki rolls with a wrapping of cucumber, daikon radish, soybean skin, or another type of seaweed.
Nigiri: This type of sushi is simply a single sushi ingredient, such as tuna, atop a clump of sushi rice.
Sashimi: This refers to just the sushi ingredients themselves — slices of fish or other ingredients, accompanied by soy sauce for dipping.
And now, all the delicious ingredients you can sample on their own or enjoy as the components of a maki roll:
Typical Japanese Sushi Ingredients
Ebi: Shrimp. You might also occasionally see ama ebi on the menu, which means raw shrimp. You might also see it as sweet shrimp.
Sake: Not the rice wine; it’s salmon. There is also toro salmon, which means fatty salmon. You can often ask sushi chef to flame sear toro salmon on nigiri, which is delicious.
Maguro: This is tuna, which appears bright red when raw. Maguro can also be chutoro or otoro, which refers to fatty tuna or high-quality fatty tuna.
Hamachi: Yellowtail. This fatty fish delivers a rich flavor and is less expensive than other fish.
Tako: Octopus. Tako is served raw or lightly boiled. The raw octopus pairs well with a bit of wasabi soy sauce, called wasabi jyoyu.
Aji: Mackerel. When ordering aji nigiri, it pairs especially well with a bit of ginger. In fact, it often comes with a small amount of grated ginger and scallions on top. Dip it in soy sauce to complete the umami experience!
A Bit Unique Ingredients
Uni: Sea urchin. This buttery, golden-orange ingredient is more of a delicacy on the sushi menu, and usually eaten on its own atop a bit of nori-wrapped rice, rather than as a part of a maki roll.
Ika: Squid. Ika nigiri is often served with a small piece of shiso leaf to enhance the flavor.
Tobiko: These are the little fish eggs of flying fish that often appear atop a sushi roll in bright colors. Other variations of fish eggs you might see on the menu include masago (capelin fish eggs), which appears very similar to tobiko but is a bit smaller, and ikura, which is salmon roe, much larger than both tobiko and masago.
Unagi: Eel. Many people new to sushi shy away from the idea of eating eel, but once you try it, you’ll likely begin to appreciate it, also because it is a good source of protein. You rarely see raw unagi for sushi, it is usually cooked with glazing unagi sauce.
Tamago: Egg. Some sushi rolls contain tamago, but this is not a simple egg dish. It has been slightly sweetened with a bit of sugar, and is typically cooked in a special pan to give it a molded square shape.
There will, of course, be other ingredients on the sushi menu depending on where you choose to dine, as each restaurant often has a wide range of ingredients, especially in Japan! But the above list covers the most common sushi ingredients. So, now you should have a little more confidence the next time you’re looking at sushi descriptions in Japanese!