Sushi is not raw fish. This is one of the biggest misnomers about Japan and it drives me crazy. I remember once gobbling up a day-old takeout box of California rolls to the horror of a friend who said, ‘Stop! That’s raw fish! I’m not driving you to the hospital!’
Photo by laissezfare
California roll ingredients: nori (海苔, purple laver seaweed), rice, cucumber, imitation crab, and avocado. No raw fish.
Raw fish is sashimi (刺身). Sashimi is sometimes used as a sushi topping, but not necessarily. In fact, most types of sushi you commonly see in Japan don’t have any raw fish at all in them. A good way to think of it is like lettuce for a sandwich. If somebody offered you a grilled cheese sandwich and you said, ‘No thanks, I don’t eat lettuce,’ they’d rightfully think you were crazy.
Sushi (寿司) is any meal with cooked rice prepared with vinegar. It’s very old Japanese for ‘it’s sour,’ referring to the vinegar.
Some sushi toppings can be either cooked or served raw. These include shrimp, octopus, cockle, and crab. Usually they’re at least lightly cooked for the sake of texture (uncooked octopus, for example, is pretty rubbery).
(いなり寿司, sushi wrapped in fried tofu)
Inarizushi is white rice sometimes mixed with black sesame seeds and stuffed in a pouch of fried tofu. The tofu is sweet and slightly greasy.
Photo by johnnystiletto
(卵焼き, fried egg)
This is a pressed rectangular sweet egg omelet placed on the rice and secured with a belt of nori.
Photo by jetalone
(うなぎ寿司, eel sushi)
Unagi is eel and it’s always cooked. The roll has a strip of eel placed atop the rice.
Photo by mezzoblue
(天ぷら, fish or vegetables fried in light better)
Sometimes tempura ingredients are used in sushi rolls. This includes shrimp, squid, and other fish, but all of it is cooked. The entire roll may also be fried.
Photo by sharynmorrow
(手巻き寿司, hand rolls)
Temakizushi is similar to makizushi, but it’s a cone or nori with its ingredients inside. As the name suggests, it’s meant to be eaten by hand (手, te).
Photo by guccibear2005
(押し寿司, pressed sushi)
Also known as hakozushi (箱寿司, box sushi), this is a Kansai variation on sushi where rice is pressed into a square or rectangle using a wooden mold.
Photo by wallyg
If you’re not sure you can stomach seafood in the raw, don’t worry; there are still lots of ways you can enjoy sushi. Now you just have the wasabi (わさび, Japanese horseradish) to worry about!