The Different Kinds of Sushi: Types, Names, and Photos
If you didn't grow up eating sushi, you may be confused when looking at a sushi roll menu if the restaurant chooses to leave out the descriptions. This guide will break down every common sushi recipe so you know what you are eating when visiting a sushi bar or restaurant.
At a Glance
Here's a brief run-down on what's what. For pictures and more information about each type, you can scroll to the sections below.
What's the Difference Between Sushi and Sashimi?
Sashimi is just the meat, served without other ingredients. Sushi also uses rice and other ingredients, such as vegetables, which are all rolled up in a sheet or nori (seaweed) and sliced into pieces.
There is also a dish that's halfway in between—nigiri. Nigiri is sashimi that's served on a molded rectangle of rice.
Lastly, while most sashimi is raw fish, some sashimi is not raw and sashimi is not fish. For example, unagi is cooked saltwater eel, and sashimi also encompasses other types of seafood, which you will see below.
Types of Sashimi
So What Is It?
Yellow tail (raw)
Squid (the body is served raw, the tentacles are cooked)
Crab meat (cooked)
Sea Urchin (raw)
Sashimi is to sushi as a fillet is to a taco. Any sashimi meat can be made into a sushi roll. And any chef can get creative and create specialty sushi rolls by combining multiple meats and vegetables. However, there are a few specialty sushi rolls that can be found at most restaurants.
Types of Sushi Rolls
Specialty Sushi Roll
So What's in It?
Spicy Tuna Roll
Tuna with a spicy sauce
One or more of the parts is deep-fried in a light batter
Crab and avocado
Crab and avocado with sashimi on top
Eel, cucumber, avocado (there is some variation)
There are also vegetarian sushi ingredients that have the added bonus of being on the cheaper side. These include:
Common Sides and Condiments
Before we begin, you must know what to eat with sushi. I usually start my meal with miso soup and possibly some tempura—fried vegetables in a crunchy batter. With your sushi, you will probably get wasabi (green paste made from Japanese horseradish) and ginger (pink pickled slices). The Japanese use ginger to clear their palettes between courses. The wasabi should be mixed with shoyu (soy sauce) as a dipping sauce for your sushi.
Sashimi is raw fish. When placed on rice (sometimes with nori, or sheets of seaweed), it is sushi. The following raw toppings can be found on sushi menus:
Unagi/anago (eel—unagi refers to freshwater and anago to saltwater)
Hamachi (yellow tail)
Kani (crab meat)
Uni (sea urchin)
Sushi Japanese Cuisine Vocabulary Quiz
Spicy Tuna Roll
Ahi (tuna) rolls usually have a dark pink layer of raw tuna in them.
However, spicy tuna (or spicy ahi) usually includes diced or shredded tuna with hot peppers. The spicy sauce that sushi chefs use is usually orange and is about as hot as a banana pepper or sandwich jalapeño.
Tempura is a Japanese style of deep frying that uses a light batter. Tempura rolls can be made in two ways.
As shown in the photo above, the contents can be prepared tempera. For those rolls, shrimp tempura or some other kind of vegetable tempura is put inside the nori (seaweed paper).
Another way to make this crunchy delight is to make the entire roll tempura. In the photo below, the chef created sashimi rolls, covered it in tempura batter, and deep-fried the whole thing.
Unagi is a salt-water eel. Sushi usually uses a grilled slab of unagi coated or marinated in either oyster sauce, teriyaki sauce, or some other sweet-and-salty glaze. Unagi tastes like tender steak.
A California roll is usually made with crab and avocado. If you purchase a California roll in a supermarket, you may get one with mayonnaise in it. In the California roll above, there is crab, ahi (tuna), and avocado. Sometimes it will be served with a slab of ahi on top.
Inari is breaded-rice sushi. The bread is thin and sweet and sometimes filled with vegetables such as carrot strips or cucumber.
A rainbow roll is a sushi roll topped with many different types of sashimi.
The sushi roll underneath the sashimi is usually a California roll (avocado and crab).
To make this type of sushi, the chef prepares a California roll and adds the toppings afterwards.
Dragon rolls are usually unique to the chef, and many get creative with the appearance of the dragon roll—some making them look like dragons. So there is some variation as to the ingredients chosen by different chefs, but dragon rolls are usually filled with eel and cucumber and topped with thinly-sliced avocado, producing a scale effect.