Sushi is everywhere. But did you know that the types of sushi you’ve grown to love are hybrids? In fact, it may be hard to find your beloved caterpillar roll on the menu in Japan.
The First Sushi
The oldest form of sushi, dating back to 7th century Japan, is known as narezushi. This sushi began as salted fish that was fermented for weeks at a time. In the 10th century, cooks began to stuff the fish with rice before starting the fermentation process. This stuffed, fermented fish had a very pungent smell and is considered the ancestor of modern-day sushi, which can be defined as “vinegar rice served with other ingredients.”
Modern Japanese Types of Sushi
Over time, vinegar was added to the narezushi to create an artificial “fermented” taste without the need for actual fermentation. This is when sushi rice – or vinegar rice – was born. This form of sushi didn’t have the same sour smell, and the taste became the preferable option.
Pretty soon, non-fermented sushi became the dominant form of the dish. By the early 19th century, different regions of Japan had developed their own types of sushi that blended the vinegar rice with sashimi, or raw fish, and modern-day sushi was born. Eventually, the following different kinds of sushi became distinguishable:
Makizushi is the most common form of sushi in the United States – the sushi roll. It includes vinegar rice and other ingredients like fish, cucumber or avocado, tightly rolled in nori – dried seaweed. Popular fillings include salmon, eel, tuna, yellowtail, shrimp and octopus. Types of maki sushi include the following:
- Futomaki – This is the thick, fat roll of sushi that is usually cut into seven or eight pieces.
- Hosomaki – This is a thin sushi roll that usually contains only one type of filling.
- Uramaki – This is a sushi roll where the fillings wrapped with nori are on the inside and the rice is on the outside surrounding the nori.
- Temaki – Also known as a “hand roll,” this is a cone-shaped sushi roll wrapped in nori, where one end is sealed off with the seaweed and the other end is loose with the ingredients spilling out.
Nigirizushi is an oblong shape of vinegar rice, often formed in the hands with a bit of wasabi, topped with a slice of raw or cooked fish or vegetables. Popular toppings include salmon, tuna, squid or eel. When it is served with loose or slippery toppings like fish roe, a strip of nori is wrapped around the nigiri and it is called “gunkan.”
Oshizushi hails from Osaka in south-central Japan. It is sushi that is pressed into a rectangular shape using a sushi press, also known as an “oshibako.” The toppings are laid at the bottom of the mold, and then covered in vinegar rice. The cover is pressed down on the ingredients to create a tight, rectangular block of sushi that can be cut into pieces.
Chirashizushi translates to “scattered sushi” and is served in a sushi bowl. It consists of a bed of vinegar rice with the ingredients mixed on top. Bara sushi is a similar dish where the sushi rice and the ingredients are all mixed together. It is also known as “Gomoku” sushi.
Inarizushi is also known as “stuffed sushi.” It uses tofu instead of vinegar rice on the outside and usually contains the vinegar rice on the inside. The tofu “pouch” is deep fried to create “aburaage,” or fried tofu bags.
Also known as a “rice ball” or as “omusubi”, onigiri consists of sushi ingredients rolled up into a ball of regular steamed rice. The ball is sometimes wrapped in nori. It is debatable whether this is a type of “sushi.”
These are the most common types of sushi found in various regions of Japan. While each type of sushi has many different recipes and fillings, the pictures show that it is very easy to visually distinguish these basic kinds of sushi from each other.
Western Types of Sushi
Beginning during the Meiji Revolution in 1868, Japanese immigrants began to relocate to America, especially to Hawaii and California. With them they brought many elements of Japanese culture including the burgeoning demand for sushi. Pretty soon, several types of Western sushi developed that could be distinguished from authentic Japanese sushi. Western sushi became even more popular after World War II, when Japanese business people began to expand into the United States and Western sushi bars flourished. Some of the most popular types of Western sushi are the following:
The California roll is a fusion dish consisting of maki sushi filled with cucumber, avocado and real or imitation crab meat. It can be made in the futomaki style, but is usually rolled as uramaki with the rice on the outside. Often the outer layer is sprinkled with the roe – or caviar – of the flying fish or with toasted sesame seeds.
A caterpillar roll is a sushi roll wrapped first in rice then in avocado for the outer layer. It is often covered in a teriyaki glaze and served in a manner so that it resembles its namesake.
Cone sushi hails from Hawaii. A larger version of Japanese inarizushi, it contains bits of carrot and is sweeter than traditional inari sushi.
The rainbow roll is a variation of the California roll. The only difference between the two, is that a rainbow roll has sashimi on top.
The Hawaii roll is – not surprisingly – the most popular sushi roll in Hawaii. This type of sushi is filled with canned tuna, pickled gourd, processed white fish, egg and shrimp powder. It’s sometimes topped with sashimi or roe.
The Philadelphia roll is a maki roll filled with salmon, cream cheese and cucumbers. It may also contain onion or chives.
While all of these “fusion” sushi dishes were developed in the United States, many of them, especially the California roll, have become popular around the world, spreading to Canada, Europe and Latin America. However, they are rarely found in Japan.
Illustrations by the talented Roman Martinez for FSW