Nigiri, maki, uni, sashimi, sake toro, California, tempura… what are all of these names and why should I be familiar with them? I bet that’s what you’re wondering each time you come across them. You don’t have to know everything about them but with a Japanese restaurant at every neighborhood, it’s good to know the basics so that you don’t seem like you’ve come from another planet if your friends ever take you to such a restaurant.
Let’s warm up with some history! Λίγη… ιστορία για αρχή!
Sushi’s history begins in Asia, in Mekong valley to be exact. It was one of the first areas to cultivate rice. The inhabitants, of course, ate a lot of fish. And since the area is very hot and humid, to preserve the fish, they made a kind of pickle, using rice and salt in order to have the lactic fermentation.
With time, in Japan, they changed things a little bit and started eating the rice with the fish, before the fermentation because the smell was a big problem (it was something like a combination of Roquefort cheese, fish and rice vinegar). Then, they started eating “fast sushi”, where only the rice was cooked. By 1700, this food had taken over Japan by storm and it became the sushi we all know and love today…
Nowadays, sushi has become a science of sorts. Even if you don’t like raw fish, boiled rice and seaweeds, you must admit that there’s a lot going on and it would be good to know the absolute basics.
Let’s start with the simple things… Ας ξεκινήσουμε, λοιπόν, από τα πιο απλά…
- Sashimi: Sashimi is just a piece of raw fish or shellfish thinly cut.
- Nigiri: A ball of rice with a piece of fish or shellfish on it (most of the times).
- Maki: Rice and filling are wrapped with a seaweed leaf, which is called Nori.
- Uramaki: It’s like an inverse Maki. The seaweed is wrapped around the filling and the rice is outside.
- Temaki: The seaweed, rice, and filling are wrapped with a Greek souvlaki.
And know, let’s go to some fish names in Japanese, so you can understand what you’re your sushi or what is your nigiri or sashimi…
- Ahi: Tuna
- Anago: Conger eel
- Ebi: Shrimp
- Toro: Belly of a bluefin tuna
- Ika: Squid
- Ikura: Salmon eggs
- Iwashi: Sardine
- Maguro: True tuna
- Sake: Salmon
- Sake Toro: Salmon belly
- Takο: Octopus
- Tamago: Omelet
- Unagi: Freshwater eel (remember Ross from Friends)
- Uni: Sea urchin
Now some popular sushi…
- Maki: Rice and filling are wrapped in a seaweed leaf (nori). This is the original sushi
- Tiger Roll: Avocado, tempura shrimps, cucumber, caviar
- Philadelphia Roll: Salmon, avocado, cream cheese
- Dragon Roll: Eel, crab, avocado and eel sauce
- California: Crab or surimi, avocado, cucumber, sesame
- Spicy Tuna: Tuna, mayonnaise, chili sauce
- Shrimp Tempura: Tempura shrimps, avocado, tempura flakes, eel sauce
For the end, I’ve left some products that you might encounter in a sushi bar and that you should know what they are…
- Daikon: A kind of white radish
- Edamame: Greek soy seeds
- Gyoza: Fried dumplings
- Ikura: Red caviar
- Mochi: Frozen rice dessert and (usually) ice cream
- Omakase: Chef’s recommendations menu
- Ponzu: Sauce with soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar and fish flakes
- Shiso: Japanese mint
- Udon: Thick wheat flour noodles
- Wakame: Edible seaweed, often served as a salad
And something else! Sushi might be a trademark food of Japan, but it is not the only place you can find it. Their cuisine is amazing, precise and they eat a lot of seasonal foods. There are also many recipes for pasta, different than ours but delicious. They eat less meat than we do and more vegetables. I hope that sometime in the future I can present some of their nice recipes to you.
For now, you can start by making your own homemade sushi, the recipe of which you can find here!