A meal at a sushi restaurant can be one of the most exciting culinary experiences you’ll ever have. It can also be one of the most intimidating if you’re not quite sure what all the words on the menu mean. But have no fear: We’ve gathered together the 15 most common sushi terms, from varieties of sushi to its individual components and condiments, so the next time someone asks you what the difference between maki and nigiri is, you’ll be able to answer them like a pro.
It wasn’t so long ago that sushi was still considered an exotic delicacy by many — one too strange and outside-the-box to pay much attention to. The seemingly simple pairing of raw fish and rice was the domain of the adventurous and the very rich, the ones who were looking to impress. Today, however, there are sushi restaurants across America of just about every stripe, from holes-in-the-wall turning out decent California rolls and tuna sashimi to sprawling emporiums run by internationally renowned chefs, from cozy neighborhood favorites to upscale counters that might as well be temples to fish and rice.
As with most of the finer things in life, the more you look into sushi, the more you realize how much there is to learn. For many, the boundaries of sushi don’t extend far beyond a slice of fish on a small slab of rice, or rolled up with rice and seaweed, best complemented by some soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger. And that’s perfectly fine; at the vast majority of America’s sushi restaurants, that’s all that’s available, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the deeper you delve into sushi, the more you uncover. Words like sashimi, nigiri, maki, chirashi, and omakase become part of your culinary vocabulary, and before you know it you’re realizing that you prefer yellowtail to fluke, and from that moment on you’re hooked.
For today’s purposes, we’re sticking to sushi styles, components, and condiments as opposed to the dozens of varieties of fish, like toro (tuna); for those, this is a good resource. So read on for a basic primer of what all of those words on the sushi restaurant menu mean, as well as a few intermediate-level terms to bust out when you’re feeling especially sassy. Don’t be too overwhelmed, though; the whole point of eating sushi is to have fun!