Our guide to sushi
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to sushi

First published date January 17 2014 Amended date January 22 2014

Sushi has seen a massive rise in popularity in the last decade, with sushi restaurants springing up all over the UK. The defining feature of sushi is the vinegared rice, which is served alongside other ingredients, often (but not always) raw fish.

                Did you know? Sushi is usually served alongside condiments such as soy sauce and wasabi.

This Japanese food is available as a takeaway item, or as fast food served in sushi bars, with conveyor belts delivering dishes, and in more familiar restaurant settings. Sushi can even be found on the shelves of supermarkets, stacked next to sandwiches – but this pre-prepared and refrigerated sushi is a world away from freshly made dishes. A sushi course can teach you tricks of the trade and show you how to make your own.

Did you know? Sashimi is the term given to raw fish (and sometimes meat) that is served on its own – though the two terms are used interchangeably in contemporary Western culture.


The origins of sushi in Japan

Sushi was originally made in Southeast Asia, with ‘sushi’ literally meaning ‘sour tasting’. This traditional dish was developed around the 8th Century, and bears little resemblance to the contemporary sushi that is popular today. Sushi as we know it was created during the 19th Century, with mobile food stalls that sold nigiri sushi becoming popular in Tokyo.  Sushi is traditionally eaten with fingers, even in formal settings.

Did you know? In sushi restaurants in Japan, it is considered rude to pay the chef directly, to ask for a menu, or to request a spoon for your soup.

In 1923, Tokyo was devastated by a powerful earthquake and nigiri sushi spread throughout Japan as sushi chefs were dispersed across the country.


Sushi and the West

There are accounts of sushi being consumed in Britain in the 1950s, and sushi restaurants were first introduced to the US in the 1960s. To start with, sushi restaurants in America were concentrated in Los Angeles – the home of the well-known California roll – but by the 1980s, sushi restaurants were popular across the US.

Did you know? YO! Sushi, the popular ‘kaiten’ sushi bar, opened in the UK in 1997.


Types of sushi

For the uninitiated, a sushi menu can be a daunting place, which can make it difficult to know exactly which dishes your sushi course will teach you to make.

Did you know? Sushi chefs use special techniques such as dipping their hands in cold water which has been laced with vinegar to help keep the fish cool and germ-free.

Check out our guide to some of the most popular types of sushi…

Chirashizushi - a bowl of sushi rice topped with a variety of sashimi and garnishes.

Inarizushi - a pouch of fried tofu typically filled just sushi rice.

Makizushi, Norimaki, and Makimono – these are cylindrical pieces of sushi, rolled with a bamboo mat. Makizushi is typically wrapped in seaweed (nori) but can also be wrapped in soy paper, cucumber, omelette, or shiso leaves. There are a variety of variations of makizushi, including:

-       Futomaki (fat, cylindrical rolls)

-       Hosomaki (thin, cylindrical rolls)

-       Temaki (cone-shaped rolls)

-       Uramaki (inside-out roll)

Nigirizushi – an oblong-shaped mound of sushi rice, with the topping draped over it before being bound to the rice with a thin strip of seaweed.

Oshizushi – a block-shaped piece of sushi, made with a wooden mold.

Did you know? The World Record for the most expensive sushi was set in the Philippines. The dish consists of five pieces of nigiri sushi, garnished with diamonds and wrapped in 24-karat gold leaf.


Sushi equipment

When you attend a sushi course, you’ll probably be introduced to some of the following equipment:

Hangiri – rice barrel

Hocho – kitchen knives

Makisu – bamboo rolling mat

Ryoribashi – cooking chopsticks

Shamoji – wooden rice paddle

Makiyakinabe – omelette pan

Oshizushihako – a sushi mold


After a sushi course

It takes many years to learn all the skills of a sushi chef, whilst sushi courses tend to offer informal qualifications and will equip you with the skills to make a selection of sushi dishes at home. Because sushi courses vary in which items you will learn to prepare, you could go on subsequent courses to learn more dishes. Alternatively, you might be interested in finding out more about Japanese cuisine in general, or there are a number of Japanese art, culture, or language courses that you could go on.

Did you know? The Japanese usually eat miso soup at the end of the meal to aid digestion. 


By Fiona Hughes