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Complete Guide on Sushi in Japan! Includes How to Properly Eat Sushi, Sushi Etiquette, Recommended Restaurants, and More!

Sushi plays a very important role in Japanese food culture. It can even be described as the face of Japanese food, and its greatness has now expanded to many other countries as well as it reaches the status of an "international dish". This article will go over many different topics regarding sushi, including basic sushi knowledge, tips on how to eat it, and must-visit restaurants!

About Sushi

Sushi generally refers to rice mixed with vinegar and topped with seafood, and is among one of the foods that has been enjoyed in Japan since long ago. In recent years, it has continued to develop with new variations of meat or vegetable toppings popping up. To this day, sushi celebrates wide popularity and is adored by many people.

History and Origin of Sushi

It's said that sushi was first born in Southeast Asia around 400 BC, but it actually looked different from the sushi we know today. In the past, it was commonly known as "nare zushi", which consisted of fish stuffed into cooked rice to ferment it. Aging the fish increases the nutritional value with nutrients that are not originally found in the ingredients. This technique made its way to Japan from China during the Nara period (710 - 794), marking the beginning of sushi.

How to Make Sushi & Sushi Variations

[How to Make Sushi]
The sushi rice is one of the most crucial parts in making sushi. By seasoning the rice with vinegar, you get an elevated sense of unification when you eat it with the toppings. You can make sushi rice very easily by adding 15cc vinegar, 5g salt and 10g sugar to 1 cup of rice (cooked slightly on the hard side with less liquid). Top the rice with a variety of toppings and enjoy!

[Sushi Variations]
〇Nigiri zushi - The most common type of sushi in Japan. It's enjoyed not just during celebratory events, but also casually on a daily basis.
〇Maki zushi - Sushi that is made by spreading sushi rice on top of a sheet of seaweed, adding toppings, and rolling it up. A fun and easy way to make sushi at home.
〇Futomaki - Not too different from maki zushi, but uses more rice and toppings to make a bigger roll.
〇Chirashi zushi - Toppings like fish and vegetables cut into small pieces and mixed with sushi rice. It's a very popular dish enjoyed at home - to the point that you can even find chirashi zushi seasoning at supermarkets!
〇Inari zushi - Sushi rice packed in a sheet of fried tofu that has been stewed in a sweet broth. It can be purchased easily even at places like convenience stores.

There are many other types of sushi, so if you want to learn more, check out the related article below.

The Essential Ingredients That Make Up Sushi

Without rice, sushi wouldn't be sushi. The taste of the rice is so crucial that you can say that it's the deciding factor for good sushi. Great care is taken in every aspect to create delicious sushi, from the firmness and the amount of vinegar to the size.

An indispensable ingredient for enjoying maki zushi. Its role is not just as a wrapper for the rice and fillings - it provides a very gentle, pleasing taste.

In addition to adding an accent to the sushi flavor, wasabi also plays another role due to its innate anti-microbial properties; when eating it with raw fish, it wipes out the bacteria, while also reducing the raw fishy smell.

[Soy sauce]
By dipping your sushi into soy sauce, it adds an accent of umami flavors to the simple taste of sushi. It also reduces the fishy smell of the toppings and acts as a disinfectant.

Important Sushi Topping Categories

There are many different sushi toppings, which can be broadly split into 5 categories.

[Red Fish] Fish with a red hue, such as tuna and bonito. It has a characteristic deep umami taste. For more information on this, take a look at the related article below.

[White Fish]
White-fleshed fish is known for having a simple flavor. Various white fish, such as sea bream and flounder, will come into season throughout the year.

[Fish with Iridescent Skin]
Blueback fish which are known for having a shiny, silvery skin. Some of the popular fish under this category are sardines, mackerel, and horse mackerel. They are sometimes seasoned with vinegar to reduce the distinct fishy smell common with this type of fish.

Known for having a distinct ocean smell and a firm texture. There are many different types of shellfish, such as scallop, abalone, and turban shell.

There are also other toppings like squid, octopus, crab, as well as more unique ones like meat and egg.

Sushi Chef Techniques: There's More to It Than Cutting Fish!

The act of forming sushi rice into a ball is called "nigiri". The amount of force that is put in to forming the sushi is very critical; it is important not to pack it too tightly and to properly let in air while forming it so that it retains a fluffy, loose shape.

"Maki", or the act of rolling, is the pillar of making maki zushi. It sounds like a simple process that only involves placing rice and toppings over a sheet of seaweed and rolling it up, but it's actually not as easy as it seems! When making zaki sushi, you have to consider the amount of rice and toppings and their placement on the seaweed to ensure that you can taste the ingredients evenly in each delicious bite.

[Knife Work]
The sushi flavors change depending on how the ingredients are cut. The chefs take into account the optimal cutting method for taste with each ingredient, quickly slicing them into exquisite portions and thickness.

Tsuma refers to the garnish that comes with sushi. Thin slices of daikon radish are the most common, and you can actually see the chef's skills shine here as well. They are sliced uniformly in the perfect thickness to keep the texture consistent.

Sujime is a type of food preparation method that is used to remove the distinct fishy smell that pertains to fish. The fishy smell is canceled out by seasoning ingredients with vinegar and salt. This is an essential step in preparing delicious fish.

Kobujime is when konbu (seaweed) is sandwiched in between the ingredients so that the seaweed aroma permeates the sushi flavors. This creates a deeper, complex taste and is said to also keep it from spoiling quickly.

Yushimo is a technique in which the ingredient is covered in or quickly dipped in hot water. Heat is not applied all throughout and only touches one side.

Yakishimo consists of only applying grill marks to the skin of the fish, then immediately cooling with water. The grilled skin emits a gentle aroma that makes it an absolute treat.

Aburi is the term for lightly broiling the top of the ingredients. The meat tightens up with a concentrated umami flavor.

Sushi Toppings Change with the Seasons and the Region

Similar to how each season has different seasonal ingredients, sushi toppings also have peak seasons. Different types of fish are caught depending on the region as well, so you can enjoy unique local sushi specialties in areas all throughout the country.

Local Sushi Dishes You Won't Want to Miss Out On!

[Persimmon Leaf Sushi] Nara Prefecture
Bite-sized sushi wrapped in a persimmon leaf. Common sushi toppings used in combination with it are salmon and mackerel. Persimmon leaves are rich in vitamin C and are said to have anti-microbial properties. They also keep the ingredients from drying out so it'll taste delightfully moist.

[Bara Zushi] Okayama Prefecture
A traditional local specialty of Okayama that consists of fresh seafood and seasonal vegetables. It's known for its colorful, bright presentation and is one of the sushi dishes enjoyed during festivals or special occasions.

Local Sushi Toppings You Won't Want to Miss Out On!

[Black Rockfish] Hokkaido
The best season to enjoy this is from late autumn to winter. It is a type of white fish and is also known as a luxury fish. You can clearly taste the sweet fat the more you chew.

[Raw Whitebait] Shizuoka Prefecture
Shizuoka boasts the largest haul of whitebait in Japan. Whitebait loses its level of freshness very quickly after it's caught, but since it's caught right here, you'll be able to enjoy it fresh and raw.

Top Prefectures with Delicious Sushi

As Japan is an island nation surrounded by the ocean, it's blessed with an abundance of fresh, delicious seafood. Here are some prefectures that are particularly known for their tasty sushi!

[Ishikawa Prefecture]
Ishikawa is a prefecture where a lot of snow falls in the winter. Come spring, the snow melts down from the mountain and flows into the fields and sea, which contributes to the cultivation of delicious rice and becomes home to the fish. It's famous for blackthroat seaperch and crab.

[Toyama Prefecture]
Water from warm currents and cold water from the deep sea flow into Toyama Bay, making it home to roughly 500 species of both warmwater fish and coldwater fish. It is also said that the fish grown in the bountiful nature here are incredibly delicious as they have been graced by the North Alps. It's famous for Japanese glass shrimp.

[Hokkaido Prefecture]
Hokkaido is surrounded by the ocean and has a current rich in nutrients flowing into it. Winters become exceptionally cold here, so it is said that the seafood here are raised with plenty of meat on them to overcome the cold climate. It's famous for scallops and sea urchin.

[Shizuoka Prefecture]
In Shizuoka, you can find the seafood-rich Suruga Bay, which is known as one of the leading fishing areas in Japan. It's famous for raw whitebait and sakura shrimp.

[Aomori Prefecture]
Aomori is located right by the Pacific Ocean, the Japan Sea, and the Tsugaru Strait. The warm and cold currents blend together here to create the perfect environment for cultivating delicious fish. It's famous for tuna and flounder.

[Tokyo Prefecture]
Since Tokyo is home to a famous fish market that's also a popular sightseeing spot, and it receives fresh seafood from all over Japan, you can thoroughly enjoy some delicious sushi even while in the capital city!

Where Do You Go to Eat Sushi? Tips for Choosing Sushi Restaurants

If you want to go to a sushi restaurant, it's recommended to go to a restaurant that specializes in sushi. However, there are many different types of sushi restaurants out there, so here are some tips for picking out which type to go to!

[High Class Sushi Restaurant]
Sushi restaurants with a price tag above 10,000 JPY. Skilled chefs who have undergone training will show off their abilities right in front of you. You can even try rare toppings that are hard to find. They are recommended for special events or if you are looking to enjoy a fancy meal of sushi.

[Affordable Sushi Restaurants]
Sushi restaurants under 10,000 JPY. They are recommended for those who want to savor Japanese sushi but are not keen on going to high class sushi restaurants.

[Conveyor Belt Sushi Restaurants]
Very reasonably priced sushi restaurants where you can eat sushi from 100 JPY per plate. Not only are they easy on the wallet, the flavors are great, too. While they rarely serve rare toppings, they are recommended for those who want to eat their fill without breaking the bank.

[All-You-Can-Eat Restaurants]
Restaurants where you can eat a wide variety of sushi, from classics to high-quality toppings, for 2 hours for 3,000 JPY (varies by restaurant) per person.

Sushi is also served at other establishments such as izakaya (Japanese pubs) and hotel buffets.

Sushi Etiquette to Know Before Going to a Sushi Restaurant

Sushi is typically served 2 pieces at a time. Only order as much as you can eat and try not to leave any leftovers. Check out the article below to read about other things you should be careful about when eating at a sushi restaurant.

Sushi Terms and How to Eat & Order

[Sushi Terms]
Shari - Rice
Sabi - Wasabi
Agari - Warm tea. Typically ordered at the end of your meal.

[How to Eat]
You can eat sushi with either your hands or chopsticks. Dip only the tip of the sushi topping into the soy sauce. Be careful not to apply too much soy sauce, as it will affect the flavors of the ingredients. Eat the sushi in one bite if possible.

[How to Order]
Order white fish first, as they have a simple flavor. The reason for this is that if you start off with rich red fish, you won't be able to properly taste the flavors of ingredients that come after it.

Take a look at this article below for more information on terms and how to eat and order.

Side Dishes to Order at Sushi Restaurants

When you go to a sushi restaurant, there are so many side dishes that you'll definitely want to enjoy with your sushi. Here are some popular selections.

Owan refers to soup made with a fish or vegetable base broth. It has a gentle flavor that will warm up your body.

Fish simmered in soy sauce, mirin (sweet cooking wine), and sugar, is also a top recommendation.

Unlike sushi, sashimi is just the sushi topping with no rice. It's very delicious with ginger, wasabi, and tsuma.

Tempura, crispy, deep-fried fresh vegetables, is also commonly enjoyed with sushi.

The side dish menu at conveyor belt sushi restaurants is particularly impressive, and many people go to them just for the side dishes! Be sure to order some to try with your sushi.

There Are Various Ways to Enjoy Sushi! Check Out These Super Popular Sushi Restaurants!

When dining at a restaurant, sitting at the counters is highly recommended so that you can watch as the chefs work their intricate magic right in front of your very eyes. You can also make requests and learn about what type of sake pairs the best with the sushi you are eating. Be sure to experience all these various ways to enjoy sushi! Now, here are some popular recommended sushi restaurants!

Sukiyabashi Jiro, the Super High Class Sushi Restaurant You'll Want to Visit At Least Once in Your Lifetime!

It's not an exaggeration to say that this is the most popular high class sushi restaurant in Japan right now. You'll want to try the Omakase Course (40,000 JPY (excl. tax)) at least once in your life, as the menu is prepared by top-notch chefs who skillfully bring out the flavors of the ingredients to their max potential. This restaurant is incredibly popular so reservations are required. Reservations by phone are not generally accepted, but if you're traveling from abroad, you can have your hotel concierge call in to make a reservation for you.

Sukiyabashi Jiro, the Super High Class Sushi Restaurant You'll Want to Visit At Least Once in Your Lifetime!

Tsukamoto Sogyo Bldg. B1F, 4-2-15 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

The Popular All-You-Can-Eat Restaurant Hina Sushi

If you want to get your fill of delicious sushi, head over to Hina Sushi. From classic toppings and seasonal specials to gourmet toppings, roughly 60 different types of sushi is available to you here in the 2-hour all-you-can-eat course, Premium Sushi All You Can Eat (3,990 JPY (excl. tax)).

The Popular All-You-Can-Eat Restaurant Hina Sushi

Roppongi Green Bldg. B1F, 6-1-8 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo

The Popular Conveyor Sushi Belt Restaurant Chain Sushiro!

Sushiro is a conveyor belt sushi restaurant chain where you can enjoy sushi for 100 JPY (excl. tax) per plate. They are very popular with families and tourists as they are affordable and offer a wide range of toppings. Not only are the toppings fresh, but they also take great care with their rice, soy sauce, and even their wasabi. You'll be amazed that you're able to eat delicious sushi at such a reasonable price.

The Popular Conveyor Sushi Belt Restaurant Chain Sushiro!

24-Hour Sushi Restaurant Sushizanmai: Tuna That's So Good It's Out of This World!

Sushizanmai is Japan's first sushi restaurant that's open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Its first branch opened in Tsukiji. One step into the restaurant, and you'll be greeted by the lively chefs. For your first dish, try their Akami (198 JPY (excl. tax)), a hit item that has been popular since they first opened. This is a sushi restaurant that you can drop by any time you're itching for some sushi.

24-Hour Sushi Restaurant Sushizanmai: Tuna That's So Good It's Out of This World!

Take-Out Sushi Spots

You can even buy sushi at take-out sushi restaurants, sushi restaurants with take-out services, and even places like the food corner in department stores, supermarkets, and convenience stores. There are even delivery sushi places, too.

How to Learn to Make Sushi

If you're looking to make sushi without too much of a hassle, try making temaki zushi. All you have to do is prepare rice, seaweed, vinegar, soy sauce, and some toppings. Place the sushi rice on top of the seaweed, then top it with some seafood, roll, and that's it! You can try this out really easily at home, but there are also sushi making classes led by professional sushi chefs that can be found in many places. Don't just eat it - try making it for yourself, too!

Health Concerns When Eating Sushi

It's best to avoid eating sushi when pregnant as a food poison-inducing bacteria known as listeria can sometimes be found in raw fish. Those with diabetes should also take care not to overeat as carbohydrates like rice are known to cause rises in blood sugar levels.

Now that you've learned about both basic sushi facts and information that only sushi experts would know, you'll definitely be able to have an even more amazing sushi experience!

*Please note that the information in this article is from the time of writing or publication and may differ from the latest information.

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