The one everybody knows – a synonym for sushi Vinegard rice molded in bite sizes with a touch of wasabi and topped with one of several fish or seafood items. Also known as “Edomae sushi,” it is the kind that everyone in Japan points to when they want to say “sushi.” In kaiten zushi restaurants, machines are used for molding the rice but the way each piece dissolves in your mouth if you have your sushi expertly prepared by a master chef is something that must be experienced!
Hosomaki or futomaki? Both types use nori seaweed to roll the vinegard rice and other ingredients and the rolls are then cut into round pieces. The difference is that hosomaki is thinner and futomaki thicker, so they contain different amounts of stuffing and depending on your taste you can enjoy both. Also maki zushi is used as “kazari maki zushi,” or “decoration sushi,” where ingredients are layered in ways to create beautiful shapes when cut.
Colorful toppings that make your heart sing Various ingredients scattered over vinegard rice give chirashi zushi its name (literally “scattered sushi”) and its colorful appearance. Depending on the shop or the region, toppings might vary but the Edomae variation usually includes fish cut in small pieces. Other common ingredients are kinshi tamago (thinly sliced omelet) and pieces of shiitake mushroom cooked in soy sauce. If the toppings are laid on plain rice, you get another dish, the kaisen-don.
Tightly squeezed delicacy In oshi zushi, the vinegard rice and the neta (toppings) aren’t molded by hand but squeezed tightly into a device that acts as the mold. It is said that this is the progenitor of nigiri zushi and it is known by various names depending on the region. Most common are Osaka’s “battera” and Kyoto’s “saba no bo sushi,” both made with saba (mackerel). One of the characteristics of oshi zushi is that it is made in a big piece and then cut to individual portions.
Eating the fish whole! Kombu kelp and fish are laid on round and long-molded vinegard rice and then everything is shaped using plant leaves, cloth or a sunoko (small bamboo mat). The result is a “bo” (rod) – hence the name – and this sushi is usually made with saba (mackerel), sanma (saury) or anago or unagi eels. Generally, long fish are preferred so they can be used whole. When cut, the fish seems to encircle the rice giving the sushi a very distinctive look.
A long-loved friend of the people Sweet-and-salty abura age (fried tofu) cooked in soy sauce and stuffed with vinegard rice. Depending on the area, the rice can also contain sesame, finely cut cooked ingredients, red ginger, etc. and is so easy to make that it is one of the most widely spread variations of sushi and a standard at convenient stores, supermarkets, etc.
An endless variety of ingredients to wrap! “Temaki” means “hand-wrapped.” The assumption here is that you wrap your rice and ingredients in nori seaweed sheets without using a “makisu” (bamboo sushi-mat). This type of sushi has become very popular recently, particularly in home parties where guests make their own wraps using, besides seafood, vegetables, tempura and pretty much anything imaginable.
Popular and with many variations As the name suggests (“gunkan” means “battleship”), this is an oval-shaped sushi wrapped with nori seaweed after the rice has been molded into a nigiri. Here the nori is used to help contain some toppings that are hard to stand alone like ikura (salmon roe), uni (sea urchin), etc. In recent years it has become very popular and can also be found in the menu of many kaiten zushi restaurants.
Kaki no ha zushi (Nara Prefecture, Wakayama Prefecture, others)
Saba (mackerel) is laid on vinegard rice and then wrapped in persimmon leaves and pressed into shape. The leaves’ mellow aroma blends perfectly with the fish’s taste of umami.
Funa zushi (Shiga Prefecture)
Funa is the crucian carp and in this variation of sushi it is left to ferment with salt and rice. Because of the fermentation process, it has a particularly strong smell but at the same time a very strong umami taste that has earned it many big fans.
Kabura zushi (Ishikawa Prefecture)
Buri (yellowtail), carrot and other ingredients are layered with kabura (turnip) and left to ferment. The lactic acid that comes from the fermentation gives it a distinctly thick umami taste that makes it a perfect companion for alcohol!
Mehari zushi (Mie Prefecture)
In this variation, sushi rice is molded and wrapped in salt-pickled mustard leaves: a very simple local dish that has been called “Japan’s oldest fast food.”