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Tuna Tataki Sushi
For some people, heaven is a Kobe steak; for others, it’s exquisite sushi
like this tuna tataki (the equivalent of tartare) with ikura (salmon roe), wasabi-flavored tobiko (capelin roe)
and nori flakes (seaweed). Photo by Kelly Cline | IST.





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July 2007

Last Updated February 2014


Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Fish, Seafood & Caviar

Types Of Sushi & Sashimi

And A Glossary Of Sushi & Sashimi Terms


Sushi has gone from being an exotic food to one that is found almost everywhere in America. Learn the types of fish and much more in our comprehensive guide to sushi and sashimi.

Jump to the glossary below

The Difference Between Sushi And Sashimi

Sushi is a dish made of vinegared rice combined with seafood, vegetables, egg and, in the world of nouvelle cuisine, other items from beef to barbecue chicken. Sushi does not mean “raw fish,” but “vinegar[ed] rice.” While much of the fish used to make sushi is raw, some of the items are blanched, boiled, broiled, marinated or sautéed.

Sushi was originally developed as a snack food—as the story goes, to serve at gambling parlors so the gamblers could take quick bites without stopping the action. There are different styles of sushi:

  • Nigiri-sushi, slices of fish or other foods on pads of rice (nigiri means hand-formed).
  • Maki-sushi, rolled sushi (including hand rolls, temaki—maki means roll).
  • Chirashi-sushi, fish and other items served on top of a bowl of vinegared sushi rice (chirashi means to scatter).
  • Oshi-sushi, squares or rectangles of pressed rice topped with vinegared or cooked fish, made in a wooden mold (oshi means pushed or pressed).
  • Stuffed sushi, including chakin-zushi or fukusa-sushi, ingredients wrapped in a thin egg crêpe; and inari-sushi, with ingredients stuffed into a small pouch of fried bean curd (tofu).
  • Sashimi is sliced fish that is served with a bowl of regular boiled rice on the side (the word means “pierced body,” and may derive from the culinary practice of keeping the fish’s tail and fin with the cut slices to identify the fish being eaten.

While this is not meant to be a glossary of Japanese food in general, we’ve included definitions of other items that often accompany a sushi meal. We have not included definitions for every type of fish, but only those that are generally available in the U.S. We’ve also included some phrases to say to the sushi chef. If you’d like to suggest additional words, or think we should consider other definitions than those we have provided, let us know. You may also enjoy one of our 60-plus other food glossaries, including the Seafood Glossary.

Click on a letter to go to the appropriate glossary section.

a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

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The “king of clams,” has exquisite pearlized coloring on the inside of its shell that is used for jewelry and decorative items. The meat has a crisp, chewy texture.

A rectangular, fried bean curd (tofu) pouch used for inari sushi. They are prepared by cooking the bean curd in mirin (sweet cooking saké), shoyu (soy sauce) and water.

A purée of tofu and seasonings, used as a dressing or sauce for other dishes.

Green tea.

Awabi, or abalone. Photo courtesy Sustainable Sushi.

Deep-fried or pan-fried food.

Spanish mackerel, also known as horse mackerel. It is fillet marinated in vinegar to cure it before serving. Also called sawara.

The largest brand of monosodium glutamate (MSG) in Japan. The word has become a generic like Kleenex and Sanka in the U.S.


Ahi fillet. Photo courtesy I Love Blue Sea.

Ahi tuna is also known as big-eye and yellowfin (not to be confused yellowtail, or hamachi, which is not tuna but a different species). Ahi is also used for tuna tataki (see photo at top left), and is frequently the type of tuna served seared.


Red clam or ark shell.

  Ahi Tuna Sushi
Ahi tuna, also known as big-eye and yellowfin. Photo by Robert Simon | IST.

Red meat tuna.

High-fat and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, the albacore has the lightest flesh (white with a hint of pink) and is the only tuna with meat that can be called “white” in the U.S. Its prized white flesh and mild flavor make it prized for both sushi and canning; it is the most expensive canned tuna, with comparisons to chicken (this earned it the sobriquet “chicken of the sea” and created a major brand of the same name). Albacore tuna are commonly 80 pounds and can reach 200 pounds.


  Albacore Tuna Sushi
Albacore tuna. Photo courtesy of Sugar Fish Sushi.

Sweet shrimp, served raw. If it is served with the deep-fried shells of the shrimp, the shells are to be eaten as well. Photo of ama-ebi, at right, by Radu Razvan | IST.


A more mature hamachi or yellowtail.

California rolls, Philadelphia rolls, spicy rolls, spider rolls, even salmon skin rolls were born in the U.S.A. Read more about them under the individual listings.

  Ama-ebi Sushi
Ama-ebi, sweet raw shrimp. Photo by Radu Razvan | IST.

Salt water eel, a.k.a. conger eel. Salt water eel is less fleshy and rich than fresh water eel (unagi), but “richness” is a relative term: As apple lovers enjoy different varieties of apples, eel fanciers welcome both types. Eel is not served raw, but is pre-boiled and then freshly grilled prior to serving. In Japan, each restaurant is judged by its anago, since the recipe each uses to steam, boil, marinate and grill differs. Most of our anago supply comes from Japan.

Conger eel and cucumber rolls (the salt water eel, anago).

Monkfish liver, generally served in a marinade. The Japanese “foie gras,” and much more affordable!


  Anago (Eel) Sushi
Anago, salt water eel. Photo by Radu Razvan | IST.

Monkfish stew.

Yellow round clam.

Abalone—see above.

Orange clam, a beautiful orange color, like a creamsicle. They are harvested off of Long Island; the adductor muscle of the clam is called kobashira and is served separately as a “boat roll.”


Small water snails.

From the Kansai region of Japan, ingredients mixed with sushi rice to make a rice salad.

Raw horse meat “sashimi,” typically served on a bed of shredded daikon (white radish) with shiso leaves.

Oshi-zushi (pressed sushi) topped with mackerel. Along with hako sushi, battera uses plant leaves (here, aspidistra leaves, which are inedible); however, in battera sushi, the layer of leaves is upside down, which makes for easier removal from the mold. The rice is generally topped with mackerel (and in Japan, gizzard shad is also used), strong-tasting and oily fish. Because of the oily quality, the fish can stay fresh for several days, making battera sushi popular for quick dinners, since it stays fresh for days. (In fact, it evolved in the more inland areas that had no access to fish). To make battera, the mackerel is salted, allowed to stand for six or seven hours, washed and marinated it in a vinegar mixture, placed on the rice and pressed.

Pressed mackerel sushi. Photo courtesy NP Photo.


Top quality beef, including wagyu, is served as sushi or sashimi—for nigiri sushi, the beef can be served lightly cooked as well as raw. Sliced very thin, it is absolutely delicious (and one our favorite ways to eat wagyu, cooked and raw). Horsemeat is also served—see bashashi.

Red pickled ginger. The color can range from deep pink to light red.

Beni-shoga, red pickled ginger. Photo | SXC.


Bento boxes are popular choices at Japanese restaurants. In the U.S., they typically include five different popular foods in a sectioned lacquer box: a selection of dumplings, pickles, tempura, negimaki, fish and sushi or sashimi are commonly offered. They can also be more “gourmet” in nature, with more unusual dishes like the ones in the photo. In Japan, there are fast-food bentos packed in disposable plastic boxes and reusable  plastic or metal bentos packed at home for lunch. Bento originates from a Chinese term meaning convenient. The word was imported to Japan in the 12th century; at the end of the 16th century it referred to a meal served in a traditional black-lacquered box with compartments (called a Shokado bento). To tempt both children and adults, some chefs has raised the art of bento, turning ingredients into bunnies, piglets and other cute shapes. See some examples here.

A bento box with (from upper left) mixed seafood, sushi, pickles and vegetables. Photo courtesy 663 Highland | Wikimedia.


See fugu.

A pressed sushi that is made in a long, candy bar-type shape and then cut into bite-size pieces. Bo means “stick.”

Bonito, also known as skipjack tuna (an all-dark-meat tuna), is eaten as a cooked fish, but is also smoked and dried into a popular Japanese seasoning called katsuo-bushi (the Japanese word for bonito is katsuo). Dried bonito flakes are used to make stock for miso soup, stews, sauces, dips and other foods. In sushi bars, they are often used as a garnish atop mackerel sushi, spinach and other dishes.

Beni-shoga, red pickled ginger. Photo courtesy I Love Blue Sea.

Older yellowtail. Younger yellowtail are called hamachi. Hamachi is unusual in that the same fish is called by a different a name at different stages of life.


Fatty yellowtail, the belly strip of the fish. Given the fatty richness of yellowtail to begin with, this is an extremely rich piece of fish with a buttery flavor. It is a delicacy and rarely found in the average sushi bar.


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