What Is The Crunchy Stuff On Top Of Sushi A Beginners Guide to Basic Sushi-Related Terminology

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The first time in a sushi restaurant can be intimidating. The menu, although written in English characters, is in a language all its own. While there are hundreds of sushi-related terms, you can use this quick guide to the most common sushi vocabulary to help you navigate your first few sushi experiences.

illustration of top sushi termsq

Illustration: Bailey Mariner. © The Spruce, 2019

Sushi Terminology

  • Bara – Sushi ingredients mixed together in a bowl as a rice salad.
  • Daikon – A white radish that is often served sliced into thin strips and pickled. This can be served in a salad or as a garnish. Daikon has a very mild flavor.
  • Dashi – A Japanese soup stock made from seaweed or other ingredients. This broth is the base for many soups and has a distinct umami flavor.
  • Futo Maki – Large or giant sushi rolls. These rolls incorporate many ingredients and are often served as a main dish or focal point. This type of roll has become especially popular in the United States.
  • Maki Sushi – Sushi in the form of a roll. Sushi rice and other ingredients are rolled inside a sleeve of nori seaweed, or sometimes other “wrappers” like rice paper or even cucumber.
  • Mirin – A Japanese wine that is slightly sweet. This wine is mostly used in cooking and can add depth of flavor to sauces and marinades.
  • Miso – Fermented soybean paste that is used in many soups, sauces, and marinades. Miso not only offers nutritional benefits, but it also provides a strong umami flavor to balance dishes.
  • Nigiri Sushi – A slice of fresh fish which tops a mound of vinegar seasoned sushi rice. A small dab of wasabi is sometimes placed between the fish and rice or a thin ribbon of nori seaweed may be wrapped around both.
  • Nori – Thin sheets of seaweed that have been dried and toasted to enhance flavor. Nori is the classic dark green seaweed that is often seen wrapped around the outside of sushi rolls.
  • Panko – Light, crispy Japanese bread crumbs. These unique bread crumbs are shaped more like flakes than crumbs, which gives them their unique texture. Panko is used as a crunchy topping or coating in sushi rolls and more.
  • Ponzu – A light, sweet sauce that is usually used for dipping.
  • Roe – Fish eggs or caviar. Roe is often used to top or coat sushi rolls. They provide texture and a nice salty flavor.
  • Sake – Rice wine that can be served either hot or cold. Unlike regular wine, sake is distilled and should not be aged.
  • Sashimi – Sliced, fresh fish. Although sashimi may be served with a bowl of plain rice, it is not served in combination with rice or any other ingredient.
  • Shoyu – Soy sauce. Soy sauce is made from fermented soybeans and gives a nice salty or briny flavor to food. It is used lightly only to accent other flavors.
  • Soba – Buckwheat noodles. Soba noodles are hearty and often served cold and seasoned.
  • Sushi – The word sushi refers to rice that has been seasoned with vinegar and sugar. A small amount of sugar dissolved in vinegar is sprinkled over freshly cooked rice and then folded in. The vinegar and sugar provide a uniquely light flavor and texture. Any seafood, vegetable, or other ingredient served in combination with this rice can be referred to as sushi.
  • Tamago – The ​Japanese word for egg. Tamago is often served as a sweetened omelet which is then sliced and set atop a mound of sushi rice.
  • Tataki – Finely chopped.
  • Tempura – Battered and deep fried. Many American sushi restaurants now serve tempura platters or tempura shrimp or vegetables inside of traditional sushi rolls.
  • Tofu – Soybean curd. Tofu alone has a very mild flavor, but is often marinated and will absorb the flavors of the food around it. Tofu can be eaten fresh, fried, grilled, or sautéed. It is often used as a vegetarian source of protein.
  • Wakame – A wide leafed seaweed with an almost chewy texture. This seaweed is often made into a salad with sesame seeds, sesame oil, and chili flakes.
  • Wasabi – Japanese horseradish. This green paste is usually served along with sushi to add a burst of heat and flavor.

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