Can’t decide between sushi and sashimi? Want to know more about these Japanese favorites? Let the sushi vs sashimi battle begin and read this article!
Before we start our sushi vs sashimi battle, let us introduce our contenders.
What is sushi?
Our first contender is a Japanese dish composed of vinegared rice accompanied by a wide array of ingredients ranging from vegetables, tropical fruits, and the most common: seafood.
What is sashimi?
Our second contender is another Japanese dish that consists of thinly sliced fresh seafood or meat. Soy sauce is usually eaten with it.
Sushi vs Sashimi Comparison Table
|Originated in||Southeast Asia, Japan||Japan|
|Translation||“Su” meaning vinegar|
“Meshi” meaning rice
|“Sashi” meaning pierced/stuck|
“Mi” meaning meat
|How is it served?||Raw, cooked||Raw|
|Eaten with||Chopsticks or hands||Chopsticks|
|Accompanied by||Wasabi, soy sauce, pickled ginger||Soy sauce, wasabi, pickled ginger|
|Garnished with||Sometimes various sauces||Daikon, Asian white radish, shiso|
|Does it have rice?||Yes||No|
|Meat or Seafood?||Mostly seafood, sometimes vegetables and fruits||Fishes, seafood, sometimes meat|
Brief History of Sushi
Sushi can owe its roots to a Southeast Asian way of preserving fish by wrapping it in fermented rice. This method prolongs the storage life of the fish, and the process throws the rice out. In Japan, they started to eat the preserved fish with rice since rice was a staple produce of the country. This practice leads to what was called nare-zushi and is still evident nowadays as funa-zushi, a regional specialty of Shiga Prefecture.
During the Muromachi period, the Japanese decided to add vinegar in the preparation of nare-zushi to enhance its taste and preservation. Over the years, the Japanese further developed the nare-zushi. It was in Osaka where they decided to press seafood and rice into bamboo molds; this evolved nare-zushi was called oshi-zushi.
The form of sushi that is known worldwide today is called nigiri-zushi. This form of sushi came from haya-zushi or “quick sushi.” This sushi was invented during the early 19th century by chef Hanaya Yohei at his shop in Ryogoku. He originally named it from where the fresh fishes that he used were caught. That place is called Edo (Now called Tokyo) bay.
Styles of Sushi
Nowadays, there are two styles of sushi: Japanese and Western.
Japanese Style Sushi
Traditional Japanese sushi is simple, usually composed of only 3 to 4 ingredients. It is low in calories and fat and often focused on having just fish and rice.
Examples of these are:
- Kanpyo maki
- Kappa maki
- Oshinko maki
- Salmon nigiri
- Tekka maki
- Ikura roll
- Natto roll
- Umekyu roll
- Negi hamachi
- Negi toro
Types of Japanese Sushi
Nigiri: this sushi is made by molding vinegared rice into a ball and then topping it with a sliced raw fish. They are typically served in two pieces, and you eat them using your hands. This sushi is the most common type and is also known as Edo-mae sushi.
Chirashi: literally means “scattered,” is vinegared rice in a bowl topped with a mix of raw fish and garnishes. Its toppings vary in every region of Japan.
Inari: this sushi is flavored fried tofu (inari age) with vinegared rice inside.
Maki: this sushi is composed of rice, vegetables, and fish that is wrapped in nori and then rolled up using a bamboo mat. This roll is then cut into 6 to 8 pieces. They are can either be a futo-maki or a hoso-maki.
- Futomaki- is the large-sized maki.
- Gunkanmaki- it is a ball of vinegared rice wrapped in nori and can be filled with sea urchin, oyster, salmon roe, and flying fish roe. Gunkanmaki is also known as “battlefield sushi.”
- Hosomaki- is the small-sized maki.
- Temaki- this maki is cone-shaped, and you eat them using your hands.
Western Style Sushi
Western-style sushi is typically larger, prepared as rolls, and has more calories and fat. These extra calories and fats are from the fatty ingredients that chefs used.
Examples of these are:
- Alaskan roll- California roll with raw salmon.
- California roll- is like a reverse sushi roll because the nori is inside instead of outside the rice. It usually includes flying fish roe, but cucumber, imitation crab (kanikama), and avocado are more commonly added.
- Deep fried California roll- just like what it says, California roll but deep fried.
- Dragon roll- dragon roll is like the shrimp tempura roll but includes thin avocado slices, tobiko, and then drizzled by spicy mayonnaise and unagi sauce.
- Dynamite roll- warm and crunchy shrimp tempura sushi with bean sprouts, carrots, cucumber, avocado, chili, yellowtail, and spicy mayonnaise.
- Philadelphia roll- cold and creamy sushi with cream cheese, salmon, and avocado.
- Shrimp tempura roll- is also a reverse sushi roll like California roll and includes shrimp tempura.
- Spicy tuna roll- includes raw tuna mixed with spicy mayonnaise.
- Spider roll soft shell crab- has deep fried soft shell crab and various fillings like daikon sprouts.
What is a Sushi Chef?
The head sushi chef is called an itamae. Not everyone can easily call themselves an itamae, especially in Japan where cooks and chefs take years of apprenticeship and practice. An apprentice will work with a master itamae for typically 5 years. After this, the head or master will give the apprentice their first and very important task: preparing the sushi rice. They have to impress the senior itamae of the restaurant before the senior itamae can promote them.
When the apprentice gets promoted, he will be called a “wakiita.” Wakiita is the literal translation of “near the cutting board.” After more years of training as a wakiita, the apprentice will be appointed by the restaurant as an itamae.
How to Eat Sushi
People worldwide eat sushi usually with chopsticks, but you can also use your hands with nigiri. You should eat sushi in one bite for it to avoid falling apart.
Usual Condiments Served with Sushi
Wasabi: this is a pungent green paste that has a strong flavor, adding a “kick” to sushi.
Soy sauce: you can eat almost any type of sushi with soy sauce except certain types like anago.
Pickled ginger: also called “shoga,” pickled ginger adds spiciness and acts as your palate cleanser.
Some Tips and Manners
- Whether you’re eating sushi with hands or chopsticks, always start by putting the sushi on its left side.
- Use a separate dish for soy sauce that you can use for dipping your sushi in rather than pouring the soy sauce directly in the sushi. Remember to dip the fish side down and not the rice side. If the chef served the sushi with unagi sauce or spicy mayonnaise, you don’t need to add soy sauce.
- The Japanese eat pickled ginger in between courses. Do not mix it with soy sauce or sushi.
- Use the back end of your chopsticks when picking up sushi in a shared plate.
- When eating at a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant, do not wear strong perfume because this affects the sushi’s taste.
- If you have gunkanmaki, you can use the pickled ginger to brush soy sauce onto it or a cucumber slice to avoid it from falling apart.
- It is recommended to start with white-fleshed fish sushi because they have subtler flavor and then move to stronger-flavored ones like tuna.
- You can substitute shoga with tea as a palate cleanser.
What are the Health Benefits of Sushi?
Sushi is not just art and history on a plate. It is good to look at and can make you feel good too. Sushi is packed with health benefits.
- Good source of iodine: The iodine present in the seafood and nori can help balance the thyroid hormones and prevent hypothyroidism that sometimes leads to obesity and heart diseases.
- Rich in Omega 3: Present in fishes, these fatty acids promote cell regeneration and healthy immune system.
- Source of protein: Sushi is a source of protein which is good for brain cell activity, and for those who frequently work out to develop muscles.
- Lowers cholesterol and blood sugar levels: You can prevent atherosclerosis by regulating your cholesterol and sugar by eating low calorie and low sugar foods like sushi.
Brief History of Sashimi
Sashimi literally means “pierced body.” This name was possibly coined during the Muromachi period because the word “kiru” (literally means “cut”) seems inappropriate to be used by anyone that is not a samurai.
There are a lot of theories surrounding the origin of sashimi. One theory suggests that it started during the Kamakura period where fishermen sold sliced fish as a kind of “fast food.” Another theory says that sashimi is derived from a dish called “namasu.” Namasu is a dish of sliced raw fish and vegetables seasoned with vinegar and served at the Japanese court during the Heian period.
Types of Sashimi
Restaurants can serve sashimi as the main course along with rice and miso soup, but it is more often served as the first course during a formal Japanese meal or Kaiseki ryori. This sequence is because other strong flavored dishes can affect the palate.
When some restaurants serve you their sashimi, they drape the main ingredient over the garnishes which are usually daikon, Asian white radish, and shiso. Sometimes, they even present the parts of the fish as decoration.
Tataki is a type of sashimi that is quickly seared on the outside leaving the inside raw. The fish commonly used for tataki is bonito.
Tsukuri is the most popular style of sashimi. Special sashimi knives are used to make this thinly-sliced sashimi.
Usuzukuri is a type of sashimi where seafoods are cut so thin; they are almost transparent.
Arai sashimi is prepared by putting the fish or seafood in an ice water bath to tighten its muscles.
Sometimes, the fish used for sashimi is served alive, and it is called ikizukuri if it is a live shrimp it is called odorigui.
Most Popular Sashimi Main Ingredients
- Bonito/Skipback tuna (Katsuo) – this fish is important in Japanese cuisine. This fish is the main ingredient of “dashi” or fish stock. They are commonly served as Katsuo no Tataki with a citrus sauce, garlic, and ginger.
- Fatty tuna (おおとろ Ōtoro) – this is the premium-grade tuna belly meat. Its medium grade counterpart is called chutoro. These fatty belly meats are rich and buttery.
- Greater yellowtail (Kanpachi) – lean fish with a mild flavor. Its translucent color differentiates it from buri.
- Horse Mackerel (あじ Aji)
- Salmon roe (Ikura) – this is caviar cured in salt or soya sauce
- Mackerel (さば Saba) – this fish goes well with green onions and grated ginger. It is oilier than most fishes, so it gets spoiled quicker. The cooks preserve them longer by lightly pickling them in vinegar resulting in a dish called shimesaba.
- Octopus (たこ Tako) – served cooked or poached first, thinly sliced tentacles of an octopus. Raw octopus is also sometimes served.
- Salmon (鮭 Sake) – served raw, tender, fatty, and sometimes its fatty belly part (toro) is available on the menu as well.
- Scallop (ほたて貝 Hotate-gai) – the part of scallop that is commonly served is the white abductor muscle, but some restaurants also serve its viscera.
- Sea urchin (ウニ Uni) – an expensive delicacy with a rich buttery taste that is also briny.
- Shrimp (えび Ebi) – served without the shell. The sweet shrimp (amaebi) is the most commonly served raw shrimp, while tiger shrimp (Ebi) is served cooked.
- Squid (いか Ika) – served raw, uses the mantle of the squid. Commonly served as thin strips called ika somen. The tentacles are served cooked.
- Sea bream (Tai) – one of the top white-fleshed fish often served in celebrations. It has a subtle flavor.
- Tuna (まぐろ Maguro) – served raw and very common in restaurants. The tuna’s deep red loins called akami is the most commonly eaten part.
- Yellowtail (はまち Hamachi/Buri) – best tasting during winter and has a buttery flavor.
- Bean curd skin (Yuba)
Raw Red Meats
- Chicken (Toriwasa) – sometimes slightly braised on the outside
- Beef (Gyuunotataki) – sometimes seared
- Horse (Basashi) – raw horse meat typically the neck part of the horse
How to Eat Sashimi
Usual Condiments Served with Sashimi
Soy sauce: most common condiment served with sashimi.
Wasabi: also known as Japanese horseradish, wasabi helps with the smell and taste of the seafood or fish.
Freshly grated ginger: use to clean your palate between meals.
Freshly grated garlic: best paired with katsuo sashimi.
Ponzu: usually served with meat sashimi; it is a mixture of soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar, and fish flakes.
Beni-tade: a peppery purple herb usually served with tsuma.
Kogiku: Sashimi is also sometimes enjoyed with shredded white radish and perilla. This combination is called tsuma.
Different Types of Cuts
Hira-zukuri cut: standard cut for most sashimi, also called “rectangular slice.” Tuna, salmon, and kingfish are typically cut using this.
Usu-zukuri cut: use to cut firm fishes, also called “thin slice.” Bream, whiting, and are typically cut using this.
Kaku-zukuri cut: also called “square slice.”
Ito-zukuri cut: also called “thread slice.” Garfish and squid are typically cut using this.
Some Tips and Manners
- Fill a separate small dish with soy sauce for dipping.
- Dab ginger or wasabi directly on the sashimi rather than mixing them with the soy sauce.
What are the Health Benefits of Sashimi?
Sashimi is not just tasty and unique; it also has several health benefits that we can benefit from consuming them.
- Omega 3: Because fish is the most common sashimi ingredient, sashimi is rich with omega 3 that is good for our brain. This fatty acid can also lower our cholesterol levels.
- Source of protein: Fishes like tuna and salmon are also good sources of protein to help us develop the muscles in our body.
- Low calorie food: Since most sashimi is served raw, it contains fewer calories than most cooked foods.
Difference Between Sushi and Sashimi
The main difference between sushi and sashimi is that sushi is accompanied by vinegared rice while sashimi is the main ingredient (fishes, seafood, meats) that is sliced and served on its own without vinegared rice.
Another difference is that restaurants serve the majority of sashimi raw while some sushi includes cooked ingredients served with vinegared rice. Sashimi also always contains fresh meat or seafood although as you have read in this article, a vegetarian version of sashimi is also available. There are also types of sushi that have vegetables and no meat accompanying the vinegared rice. Bottom line is if they served it with vinegared rice, then it is sushi.
Sushi can be eaten using your hands. You may be offered with oshibori (hot towel) to wash your hands before eating. Nigiri and temaki sushi is typically eaten with hands to avoid them from disintegrating when dipped in condiments. Sashimi, on the hand, is always eaten using chopsticks.
Wasabi, ginger, and soy sauce are typically served alongside both sushi and sashimi. However, daikon, or shredded long white radish, is a garnish served with sashimi. Shiso leaves are also served with sashimi and are often used to separate the different types of sashimi.
Sushi-ya vs Izakaya
Sushi-ya are restaurants in Japan that specialize in sushi. Customers also have the option to sit at the sushi bar and watch the sushi chef work. You can state your budget to the master sushi chef so he can serve you his recommendations. Just say “omakase de onegaishimasu.” High-end sushi restaurants have three ways of ordering: omakase (chef’s recommendation), okimari (set menus that are classified depending on their prices), and okonomi (your personal choice).
You can also visit a kaiten-zushi (“spinning sushi”) for a more budget-friendly sushi dining experience. Kaiten-sushi restaurants will serve you sushi using a conveyor belt. Green tea powder and hot water are also generally found at your table. How fun!
Izakaya, on the other hand, are Japanese pubs that serve various dishes including sashimi. A typical izakaya experience will include a small mystery dish of food called otoshi. Izakaya also offers a tabehodai which is a Japanese “eat-all-you-can,” so if you’re really into sashimi, be sure to check out an izakaya.
Sushi or Sashimi?
Sushi and sashimi are both very beautiful and well-crafted art pieces that you can eat and explore. Both take skill and passion during preparation, and both have a wide array of varieties that can satisfy whatever your taste preference is.
If you want a contrast of taste and temperature, you could opt for sushi. It’s a symphony of flavors in one bite! But this doesn’t mean that sashimi isn’t as flavorful. Although most people would need more time to appreciate the taste and texture of raw seafood or meat, having sashimi will leave you with a very sensual and satisfying experience without the extra calories from rice.
If you want to know more different types of sushi and sashimi, feel free to read back on this article.
Sushi and Sashimi Health Risks
Sushi and sashimi are both safe to eat as long as cooks have prepared them well and the ingredients used were not contaminated. Any raw seafood or fish can have the potential to be contaminated by mercury or any other pathogens which are a risk to pregnant women. Pregnant women should avoid sushi and sashimi made from animals that are on the top of the food chain. These include shark, swordfish, mackerel, tilefish, and tuna to avoid mercury contamination.
Raw seafood can also become vectors for parasites, and bacteria. Proper sanitary practices can avoid these. Saltwater fishes are used for sushi and sashimi so the risk of getting contaminated with helminths like tapeworm, which requires freshwater for their life cycle, is impossible. No one should have freshwater fishes raw because freshwater is an ideal environment for parasitic creatures.
In sashimi, another risk is when cooks incorrectly prepared Fugu. Fugu may contain a potent neurotoxin called tetrodotoxin, that is fatal and causes muscle paralysis.
If you consider buying sushi or sashimi with raw seafood, fish or meat, ask when they prepared them because the longer they sit out, the higher the chance for them to get contaminated.
Generally, sushi and sashimi are safe to consume but just like with any other foods, make sure to get them fresh and from reputable restaurants and cooks.
Sushi vs Sashimi: Final Verdict
Sushi and sashimi are different dishes commonly served with soy sauce, wasabi and ginger. Their main difference is that sushi will always contain vinegared rice, while sashimi is sliced seafood, fish, or meat served on its own. However, nigiri, a type of sushi, can contain sashimi (raw sliced fish) and then topped in molded vinegared rice.
Both sushi and sashimi are healthy foods. However, sushi has more calories because it contains rice, and sometimes other ingredients such as mayonnaise.
Our safety tip for you is always remembered to eat sushi from reputable chefs to avoid health risks.
There is no winner in this battle as both have a unique character. It just depends on whatever your personal preference is. We encourage you to try both and experience why people from all over the world are obsessed with these beautifully crafted Japanese dishes.
Who knows? Maybe you’re favorite sushi and sashimi are just waiting for you to discover them!