Irasshaimase!

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Upon entering a traditional Japanese restaurant, you may be welcomed with the traditional salutation “Irasshaimase” by the sushi chef. If you never had experienced this cuisine before, prepare yourself with patience and excitement because there are so many things you can learn, try and share.

I always thought I know just enough about sushi, so I can fully enjoy it. However, two years later, after my first real sushi experience, I still surprise myself. I love mixing different kind of textures – soft shell sushi, tempura style sushi, pickled veggies sushi, nigiri or sashimi. The combinations are numerous. All you need to know is the basics and then you can go to your favorite sushi place and start exploring this delicious and almost completely healthy cuisine.

Types of Sushi in Japan

Sashimi

Sashimi is a piece of meat, not necessarily seafood and not necessarily raw, typically served over a garnish like daikon, shredded carrots, lettuce etc.  Sashimi is served with sauce on side like soy sauce, ponzu sauce or wasabi paste and ginger.  The best seafood that you can get as a sashimi is: king crab, octopus, mackerel, shrimp, scallop, tuna, salmon and sea urchin.

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Tuna, salmon, yellowtail, white tuna and striped bass in a sashimi platter

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3 pieces of tuna sashimi

Nigiri

Nigiri / Nigiri Sushi  is a hand-pressed sushi rice (cooked with vinegar) that comes with a piece of meat or vegetable on top. If needed, it can be gently wrapped in seaweed (nori) stripe. The presentation is very important in the Japanese sushi cuisine, so slicing the raw fish for nigiri is very precise. The best knife for slicing fish is called yanagi ba . It needs to be very sharp, so the meat is not torn.

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Mackerel nigiri and salmon caviar sashimi

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Nigiri plate with a tuna roll

Gunkanmaki

This is a special type of nigiri where the topping, commonly raw fish, is prevented from falling off by a strip of nori around the sides. Some toppings include quail eggs, sea urchin, salmon caviar and tobiko. Instead of nori, sushi chefs also use cucumber skins and lemons as well.

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Salmon caviar/ Ikura sushi

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Salmon, tuna, eel/avocado sushi, tobiko and a spicy tuna roll

Inarizushi

Typically a pouch of fried tofu filled with sushi rice. This is very popular with vegetarians who still want to enjoy a sushi experience. Most of the Japanese restaurants offer at least one vegetarian sushi entrée and they are usually very tasty and healthy.

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Vegetarian platter includes tofu skin, avocado, shiitake mushroom, tofu, Japanese eggplant, pickled burdock root and asparagus nigiri and a avocado cucumber roll.

Chirashi

Chirashi is also called “scattered sushi”. This is bowl of sushi rice topped with raw fish and vegetables.

Makizushi

This is the most popular type of sushi. Its basically sushi that has been rolled with a bamboo mat. The rice and filling is typically wrapped in seaweed and cut up. If you don’t like the taste of the seaweed, you can always replace it with soy paper which is a lot more softer. If you decide to try a naruto roll, you should know that the fish is wrapped in thin slices of cucumber instead of rice and seaweed so it has less calories.  The variations are so many, that you need a lot of free time and appetite to taste different kind of maki rolls.

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California roll

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Rainbow roll / Kiss of Fire roll **Photo taken at Haru sushi restaurant, Boston

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Gramercy Park Roll, Rainbow Roll, Kiss of Fire Roll **Photo taken at Haru sushi restaurant, Boston

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Philadelphia Roll

Oshizushi

Oshi type of sushi is usually a marinated or boiled fish on top of rice shaped in rectangular wooden molds, then cut into small pieces. It looks like slices of cake but smaller.

How to eat sushi

For the most rewarding sushi experience, sit at the sushi bar/ counter, where you can get a front-row view. There, you will be given a wet towel oshibori, rolled on a wooden dish. If you sit at the bar, order directly from the itamae (sushi chef). Pour soy sauce into the dipping bowl. Sushi can be eaten with fingers or chopsticks. Sashimi, on the other hand, should be eaten with chopsticks. Sushi is meant to be eaten upside down. Invert the sushi so that the fish, not the rice, meets the taste buds first. Japanese people enjoy their sushi dinner with a bowl of miso soup.  Don’t forget to eat the slices of pickled ginger between bites of sushi as a palate cleanser.

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Variety of maki rolls **Photo taken at Haru sushi restaurant, Boston

If you are not fan of uncooked raw seafood but you like the experience, try a tempura style sushi roll. Shrimp tempura and soft crab shell tempura are very popular and also tasty. The sushi is usually wrapped as a maki roll, dipped in batter and then deep fried.

If you are not a fan of sushi rice or seaweed but you love the raw seafood taste, try any kind of tartar – toro, tuna, salmon tartar are absolutely amazing appetizers. Preparation includes chopping the fish in small cubs and mixing it with a sauce – citrus sauce, miso vinaigrette and topping it with a quail egg.

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Tuna tartar

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Salmon tartar

Japanese cuisines offer a large variety of dishes and specialties.  A great attention is attached to fresh ingredients, gentle methods of cooking and authentic flavors. A sushi restaurant is a great place for a first date because the couple can truly enjoy and share this variety of colors and tastiness.

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Yellowtail scallion roll

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I don’t know about you, but while writing this post, I’ve already opened 3 food delivery pages and I’m ready to order my dinner.

 

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