Brittany Kennedy has lived on the Big Island of Hawaii for most of her life, which means she's spent most of her life eating sushi!
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 some common sushi terms and recipes so you can know what to order when visiting a sushi bar or restaurant.
Did You Know?
Feel free to eat your sushi rolls or nigiri with your hands! This is, in fact, how many in Japan eat their sushi. When eating nigiri, it's also recommended to turn the roll upside-down to dip in soy sauce to avoid absorbing too much into the rice.
5 Main Types of Sushi
|Type of Sushi||Description||Notes|
A topping, usually fish, served on top of sushi rice
Not all nigiri is raw, though this dish is best for people who want to appreciate the flavor of the fish, shellfish, or other toppings
Fish or shellfish served alone (no rice)
This is best for people who really love to taste the fish or shellfish since it comes with nothing else
Rice and filling wrapped in seaweed
This is what most people think of when they think of sushi rolls
Similar to the above, but rice is on the outside and seaweed wraps around the filling
These rolls often have lots of toppings and sauces — they may either be cooked or raw
Sushi that has been hand-rolled into a cone shape
The cones are not as easy to share as the rolls (though very delicious!)
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, Sashimi, and Nigiri?
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.
You'll either see it as maki (which means roll), where the seaweed is on the outside, uramaki, where the seaweed is on the inside and rice is on the outside, or temaki, a cone-shaped piece of sushi that's rolled by hand.
Nigiri is the dish that's halfway in between. 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 some sashimi is not fish. For example, unagi is cooked freshwater eel, and sashimi also encompasses other types of seafood, which you will see below.
Types of Sashimi
|Sashimi Name||So What Is It?|
Spanish Mackerel (raw)
Sweet Shrimp (raw)
Saltwater Eel — usually deep-fried or boiled
Round Clam (raw)
Albacore White Tuna (raw)
Skipjack Tuna (raw)
Tiger Shrimp (cooked)
Yellow Tail (raw)
Yellowtail Belly (raw)
Surf Clam (cooked)
Squid (the body is served raw, the tentacles are cooked)
Salmon Roe (fish eggs)
Crab Meat (cooked)
Salmon Belly (raw)
Red Snapper (raw)
Sweet Egg Omelet (cooked)
Blue Fin Belly (raw)
Whelk Clam (raw)
Ocean Trout (raw)
Barbequed Freshwater Eel
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, though the exact preparation can differ significantly.
Types of Popular Sushi Rolls
|Roll Name||So What's in It?||Contains Raw Fish?||You Should Order If . . .|
Avocado, shrimp tempura, cucumber, tobiko (flying fish roe — fish eggs)
Usually not — double check to make sure
You like fried shrimp and avocado
Salmon, avocado, cream cheese
You like cold and creamy
Spicy tuna, crispy seaweed, tempura
You like crispy, crunchy and raw tuna
Shrimp tempura, yellowtail, bean sprouts, carrots, avocado, cucumber, chili, spicy mayo
You like warm, creamy, and crunchy
Fish cake/imitation crab, avocado, cucumber, tuna, avocado, salmon, shrimp, yellowtail
You like different kinds of sashimi
Eel, crab, cucumber / avocado outside, eel sauce
You love eel — which is warm, buttery, and a little sweet
Crab or imitation crab, avocado, cucumber, sesame seeds
You don't like raw fish and like avocado
Spicy Tuna Roll
Tuna, mayo, chili sauce
You like cold and spicy
Eel, cucumber, avocado
You like eel (cooked and warm) and avocado
Soft-shell crab tempura, cucumber, avocado, spicy mayo
You like crab and crunchy tempura
Cucumber, fresh carrot, scallion, avocado, asparagus, cream cheese
You like veggies
Shrimp Tempura Roll
Shrimp tempura, avocado, tempura flakes, eel sauce
You like crunchy and fried shrimp
Surf and Turf Roll
Cucumber, fish cake/imitation crab, beef, carrot, tuna, salmon, avocado
You like raw fish and cooked beef
One or more of the parts is deep-fried in a light batter
You like crunchy, fried foods.
Contents will differ, but it will have some kind of topping that makes it looks like the roll is exploding.
There are also vegetarian sushi ingredients that have the added bonus of being on the cheaper side. These include:
- Egg (tamago)
- Cucumber (kappa)
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.
The sushi roll you get might have brightly colored orange spheres or tiny black spheres on it—these are both roe, which are fish eggs.
- Tobiko is the roe of flying fish and is usually a bright orange, though it can be colored to be black or even green.
- Masago is the roe of capelin—this is also usually orange-colored unless it is dyed.
Meet Some Common Sushi Fillings
All of these pictures are of the fillings in nigiri form (on a bed of rice).
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 — artificial crab meat is pictured)
Uni (sea urchin)
Sushi Japanese Cuisine Vocabulary Quiz
For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.
- What is octopus in Japanese?
- What is Kani?
- What is "squid" in Japanese?
- What is Ikura?
- Sea Urchin
- What is Ebi?
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, one way to make this crunchy delight is to make the entire roll tempura. In the photo above, the chef created sashimi rolls, covered it in tempura batter, and deep-fried the whole thing.
Tempura Style #2
Another way to make this crunchy delight is to prepare the contents tempura. For those rolls, shrimp tempura or some other kind of vegetable tempura is put inside the nori (seaweed paper).
Unagi is a saltwater 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.
The Philly roll is a popular kind of sushi that you will find on many menus around the country. It usually has salmon, cream cheese, and cucumber, though it might come with other ingredients like avocado, onion, and sesame seed. It's named the Philly roll because of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, not because it's from Philadelphia.
Temaki With Crab
This is an example of a cone-shaped hand roll, which is called temaki. This one has crab in it—you can tell it's real crab because it's stringy. Imitation crab usually comes in stick form and is not stringy.
The spider roll has soft-shell crab tempura, cucumber, avocado, and spicy mayo on it. Sometimes the chef will construct it so it looks like it has spider legs coming out of the sides.
There's even something for people who don't eat fish at a sushi restaurant! Many places offer a veggie roll, which will—no surprise here—contain different kinds of vegetables like cucumber or avocado.
The contents of volcano rolls tends to vary, but the one thing they have in common is that there is usually some kind of topping on the rolls that makes it look like the sushi is exploding—hence the term "volcano roll."
Other Common Words on Sushi Menus
|Item||What Is It?|
Soft tofu coated with potato starch and deep fried
Bowl of rice mixed with fish, vegetables, and additional ingredients of your choice
A type of radish
Japanese "rice bowl dish" consisting of fish, meat, vegetables or other ingredients simmered together and served over rice
A dish made of unripened soybeans
Vegetable dish made with sesame dressing
Japanese pan-fried dumplings
Imitation crab meat
Deep fried cutlet
Generic term for skewered and grilled meat and vegetables
Rice and fillings wrapped in seaweed (commonly called sushi roll)
Capelin roe (fish eggs) — orange in color
A traditional Japanese seasoning
Chewy dessert made from rice
Raw fish served over pressed, vinegared rice
Raw fish salad served as an appetizer in Hawaiian cuisine, and sometimes as an entree
a Japanese dipping sauce made from soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar, and fish flakes
Thinly sliced meat served without rice
A kind of Japanese herb
A type of sweet and spicy sauce
A type of Japanese condiment
Hand-roll: rice and fish in a cone-shaped seaweed wrapper
Japanese breaded frying preparation
A Japenese tempura dip
Flying fish roe
Belly area of fish
Type of thick noodle made with wheat flour
A type of pickled plum
A type of seaweed
A type of Japanese herb similar to horseradish
Japanese type of skewered chicken
Fried buckwheat noodles
Japanese pickled burdock root
A type of citrus fruit
AL on June 30, 2020:
Helpful, but not ease to memorize them all
@Clo Clo on March 29, 2020:
I think there are 124 types of sushi, meats, rolls, and words related to sushi if I counted right
Mike Hawk on March 07, 2020:
This is completely wrong totally offensive to my gender aka Apache attack helicopters
Naomi Sicuso Gonzalez on March 02, 2020:
I do not like
CloClo on March 02, 2020:
Clo Clo on March 01, 2020:
I didn’t expect that much sushi but can you also tell us how many types of sushi are there?
n_n_09 on February 03, 2020:
Don't expect to find those crazy, OTT rolls in Japan, because they don't exist there. They're purely an American/westernized version of sushi. Most Japanese people find them weird and gross.
Bhuwan bahadur sunar on December 20, 2019:
I love japanese food
Emmua on November 04, 2019:
Sushi is my favorite food I go to sushi restaurants all the time you did a great job on this website by the way.
Tanker on October 29, 2019:
It needs to include the Godzilla
Callum on October 16, 2019:
I like sushi
Stella I on August 16, 2019:
I'm willing to try sushi you've got my attention and man am I hungry
Darktanker on August 12, 2019:
Show more types of sushi
Hamwar Ali on July 07, 2019:
it looks very delicious but we people of middle east don't eat sea food that much :(
hey on June 18, 2019:
I think it's important to realize this isn't info to be used when ordering sushi when actually in Japan. Much like "Chinese" food. Most Sushi chains in the US/Canada are Americanized and adjusted to better mesh with an American/British pallet. THIS guide is specifically for understanding Americanized sushi. It's absolutely helpful if you want to try out sushi in the west. But don't mistake it for a guide for sushi in Japan.
Olga on June 08, 2019:
It’s very good to learn. Thank you!
yeet on May 31, 2019:
apple bees is better
stag on March 02, 2019:
this is good to learn about sushi and different kinds
baba on February 26, 2019:
Japanese don't eat that much avocado
mimi on February 10, 2019:
the best and healthier food and good taste
Christina on January 14, 2019:
Yummm, I love sushi! It is very delicious! :D
Stela on November 25, 2018:
ooh, very helpful!! i didnt know there'd be so many kinds of sushi!
jeff on November 01, 2018:
i also thought wasabi was avocado because my dad said it was
Koko on September 04, 2018:
I don't know if anyone else caught this, because I saw a lot of people pointing out issues, but Inari (Inarizushi) is not 'breaded rice' at all
It's sushi rice is stuffed in seasoned aburaage tofu pouches.
I knot his is a place where people want to get good information, so I hope this helps
Caroline Filomeno on September 02, 2018:
tofu is a sponge made out of soy beans. This definitely a real 101
Dave Christian on August 18, 2018:
I rove to eat them sushi’s
Mirrin on August 17, 2018:
Kayla on August 14, 2018:
What is tofo is please
Chhiring lama on July 26, 2018:
It's a helpful thaks
Padma kumara on June 28, 2018:
Awasome information ..i learning shushi..and i get more information ...thanks
Dhruv on June 13, 2018:
Doing a progect for school now...have to design a resturant. Found this to be very helpful and informative :) 5 stars!! * * * * *
Scott on June 10, 2018:
Tons of mistakes
Unknown on May 19, 2018:
I am hungry now..... aaaaaw delicious sushi,,..ssoooooooooooo gooooooooood
April on April 07, 2018:
Very helpful and informative! Bravo!!!!
Lumi Martin on March 27, 2018:
Superbly written and illustrated, very informative and comprehensive. Your feature helps a sushi novice like me get a clearer picture of the Japanese cuisine. Thank you for putting together such a great piece of work.
Akira Fudo on March 01, 2018:
Sashimi is not a type of sushi, sashimi is sashimi, sushi is sushi.
Other than that, you forgot hosomaki.
Sushi_eater_1000 on February 08, 2018:
GOod info for essays and presentations. Like the lists of types of sushi and shashimi.
Yohana on December 27, 2017:
just a piece of feedback, only westerners put wasabi inside the soy sauce, traditional Japanese customs advise to NEVER mix the wasabi with the soy sauce.
SUSHIPERSONZ on November 20, 2017:
THIS BE GOOD SUSHI!!!!!!!
Kathie on November 10, 2017:
This is the most informative article I've ever read! I now feel I can go to a sushi restaurant and know what to order rather than have my daughter do it for me! Thank you for making every imaginable item so clear.
Anon on November 06, 2017:
This was great! Going to have dinner with my friends and this just gave me everything I needed to pick what I would like to eat.
MattYs on October 21, 2017:
Tempura - Japanese breaded frying preparation
Chris on July 06, 2017:
i work at a sushi restaurant, and this page gave me exactly what i need to make better recommendations to my customers
Annie on June 29, 2017:
Last month I was on Europe trip with my sis and our friends. In Warsaw (Poland) we tried a sushi in Sakana (Moliera street? This one who wrote La Tartuffe) and it was so amazing! I eat sushi a lot, but this one has had an amazing taste of Japan!
email@example.com on May 23, 2017:
its a helpful.thanx
Shanice on May 19, 2017:
Wow! this is fantastic. Thanks!
debbie on May 19, 2017:
what is the rice shaped crunchy garnish used in some sushi, it looks similar to freeze dried rice?
Ema Fernandes on March 28, 2017:
My favorite dish.... for me all Sundays are Sushi day...
Jamie Goodwin on February 24, 2017:
Katsuo is Skipjack Tuna, Bonito is often used as a substitute, but is not the same fish. Just noticed it on your list, and thought I would point it out. They share the same Subfamily, but they are different species of fish. Wonderful post though.
Christine Nguyen on February 05, 2017:
When was this made ?
Mayt on January 13, 2017:
Decstar on June 29, 2016:
Visuable and can correlate own visualization of an idea from the above publication. Photos are vividly clear (It can help a new chef see the end result), explanation on each dish was short and meaning was derived.
Suggestion to expand on regions and cultures what sushi do they prefer.
Relaxing read!!! Thanx
Lori on June 05, 2016:
This was helpful for because i want eat sushi but didnt know what eat. Thanks
Bianca McGill on February 22, 2015:
Mmmmm I love sushi, my first time eating it I thought wasabi was guacamole lol so I did a big dip of that And my mouth was on fire My nose lol was burning
ms. lady on October 14, 2014:
love sushi!!! very hungry now
sushilover101 on October 07, 2014:
this helped alot with my homework
HungryGal on September 26, 2014:
I have always liked sushi, but lately I have been craving it. These beautiful pictures have only made me hungry for more!
Great write up, I learned a lot reading this. I can't wait to try a dragon roll! Thank you.
vibesites from United States on November 08, 2013:
I'm not a fan of raw seafood, but my musician friend loves it (in fact she has written songs about sushi and sashimi). Perhaps I'll start with unagi sushi since the eel is cooked. I love the plating, as the Japanese are so good in it. :)
cardelean from Michigan on May 12, 2012:
I think that the tempura rolls are my favorite. This is a great guide, especially for those who have never tried sushi.
Robin Edmondson from San Francisco on May 10, 2012:
One of my favorite foods! The spicy tuna rolls are my absolute favorite - with lots of ginger and wasabi! Yumm! I appreciate the breakdown of all of the different types of sushi; I know that I'm always looking them up. ;)
Guitarforlife from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on May 07, 2012:
Your hub is making me hungry. I could use some sushi right about now.
Anna from New York, NY on May 07, 2012:
I grew up eating Japanese food but still learned so much from your hub. For instance, I didn't know soy sauce is called "shoyu". Your photos are amazing and just made me really hungry! Thanks for a great hub.
Brittany Kennedy (author) from Kailua-Kona, Hawaii on May 06, 2012:
Thank you, Teresa! Sushi is intimidating to a lot of people because of the raw fish, but there is a different kind for everyone. Thanks again!
Teresa Coppens from Ontario, Canada on May 06, 2012:
I've always wondered what the 'sushi' rolls were made of besides raw fish. I'm quite sure you have not converted me to eating sushi, but I did love your colourful hub which for me was quite enlightening. I learned a lot! Voted up!