Arguably the healthiest fast food around, sushi long predates the whole raw food movement that’s so in vogue today. While it has now become a global hit, sushi is still synonymous with Japan, and Tokyo is its rightful birthplace. But the sushi that we know today – fresh, clean and delicious all in one bite – didn’t start out this way. In fact, back in the day, sushi referred to fish fermented in rice and salt (a variation of this still exists today, known as narezushi).
The large-scale modernisation of Tokyo, or Edo as it was called back then, began in the 1600s and set about the evolution of sushi. Busy urbanites demanded quick and easy food they could eat on the go, and a one-bite raw-fish-on-rice dish fitted the bill. Plus, the later invention of refrigeration and vinegar meant that fish could be kept fresh, while the latter added flavour to rice. The world’s first fast food was born.
Sushi continues to evolve, and today you’ll find a wide variety of styles here in Tokyo – everything from the ubiquitous conveyor-belt sushi haunts to culinary temples which elevate the cuisine with a sacred set of rules, codes and etiquette. But before you go to town on sushi, get to know the different types of this bite-sized cuisine so that you can order like a local.
Sushi in its simplest form: a slice of (usually raw) fish on an oblong bed of rice, shaped by hand. Some of the most popular neta (toppings) include tuna (maguro if you just want tuna, otoro if you want full-fat exquisiteness), yellowtail (buri), shrimp (ebi) and squid (ika).
The other sushi big-hitter: sheets of nori seaweed rolled (maki) around rice and a filling. Popular fillings are cucumber (kappamaki) and tuna (tekkamaki). An inside-out maki roll is known as ‘uramaki’; the most well-known is the distinctly non-Japanese California roll.
Using the same word as ‘battleship’, this piece is similar to maki in having seaweed and a filling, but the filling is a topping here, with the ingredients sticking out from a nori casing. Sticky ingredients such as salmon roe (ikura), salads or seafood innards are most common.
Literally a ‘hand-maki’, it’s often referred to as a sushi hand roll. Cone-shaped and wrapped with a nori sheet, they tend to have more fillings and textures than your average makizushi, such as salmon with cucumber.
This pocket of sweet tofu is filled with seasoned rice. It’s a popular option as a side dish with udon or soba, but can also be found on its own at cheaper sushi restaurants and convenience stores.
Also known as barachirashi-zushi (scattered sushi). Usually served in a bowl, chirashi is topped with slivers or chunks of egg, cucumber, nori, roe and, of course, some of the trimmings of the day’s catch.
These little balls are essentially smaller versions of nigiri, with the topping being wrapped around the rice rather than just placed on top of it. It’s more of a home-style sushi, although it can be found at some upscale department stores too.
A Kansai speciality, this ‘pressed sushi’ is literally pressed together in a mould and then cut into rectangular pieces. You’ll find many oshizushi made with mackerel.
Similar to oshizushi, sasazushi is also pressed, but wrapped in a type of bamboo leaf. Toppings are generally fish such as salmon and mountain vegetables, and you can either buy them in small rectangles or in a big cake-like sushi mound.