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May 18, 2006 03:47 PM

When you say "sushi" what are you referring to?

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There is this seemingly on-going debate/discussion on the LA board re: what restaurant has the "best sushi".

Regardless of what place that might be, I'm just curious what people in general mean when they say "sushi".

Because what you mean by "sushi" will go a long way in figuring out what place you consider to be best.

Is it sashimi only?

Is it sashimi and some type of roll (e.g. cucumber roll)?

Is it sashimi and cooked items (incl. rolls, tempura, donburi, gyoza, katsu etc.)?

Is it sashimi and only some, selected cooked items (e.g. rolls or tempura)?

Is it only cooked items (e.g. rolls)?

Something else entirely?

Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe sushi technically means vinegared rice rolled with either vegetables or fish, wrapped in nori, sliced into rounds and then served.

But I'm not sure that's how everyone uses the term.


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  1. "Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe sushi technically means vinegared rice rolled with either vegetables or fish, wrapped in nori, sliced into rounds and then served."

    Technically, you're wrong. What you describe is called maki-sushi (rolled sushi). Other forms of sushi are nigiri-sushi (mound of rice topped with fish or other item), temaki-sushi are hand rolls (exact translation). Oshi-zushi (or pressed sushi) is a Kansai region specialty, which uses a special box to press rice and fish into a square shape.

    What most people consider traditional sushi is what is known as Edo-mae sushi, which is in nigiri form. If you go to a reputable sushi bar and sit at the counter, and ask for omakase, you're going to get nigiri sushi (as well as sashimi, if you so desire).

    1. I think you are confusing Sashimi and Nigiri. Sashimi is slices of raw fish sans rice, while nigiri is a slice of fish over sushi rice.

      1. 99% of my friends refer to "sushi" as all of your descriptions. One of my friends is a technical sushi consumer and calls everything by their proper name. When we say sushi we know we're going to consume sashimi, cut rolls, hand rolls, etc etc.

        6 Replies
        1. re: Davina

          "When we say sushi we know we're going to consume sashimi, cut rolls, hand rolls, etc etc. "...

          Sashimi is not sushi. It's a different word with a different meaning in Japanese. An authentic sushi restaurant will always serve sashimi. But restaurants that serve sashimi, quite often, will not serve sushi.

          I've moved recently from Tokyo to NYC and have noticed that most people here recognize a distinction between the two.

          1. re: Silverjay

            Yes, sashimi is not sushi. But so what? When I say, "let's go out for hamburgers," I may order fries and onion rings too. When I go out for sushi, it's predominantly nigiri sushi, but I think many people mix it up. It's somewhat cumbersome to say "let's go out for maki sushi, sashimi, hamachi kama and a coke."

            I doubt there is a restaurant in America that serves sashimi only.

            1. re: sbp

              So when you say "Let's go out for pizza" you sometimes go and just order a plate of cheese and pepperoni? Words have meaning. Sashimi is plated slices of raw fish or other seafood and sushi is a similar, but different dish, as Eric Eto described below.

              "I doubt there is a restaurant in America that serves sashimi only."
              Most fine Japanese restaurants (not the catch all types with everything on the menu) will serve only sashimi and not sushi-- obviously among other dishes on their menu. There's probably a dozen in New York like this.

              1. re: Silverjay

                There are many restaurants in LA that serve sashimi but not nigiri sushi. Ita Cho (a decent restaurant that is definitely adapted for the western palate) comes to mind. It's certainly not rare amongst the wide variety of Japanese places in LA to find places that do everything technically traditional, nothing traditional, or somewhere in between. And to find places that specialize in all the varieties of sushi/sashimi that are available.

                I am sure amongst some groups of people, "sushi" = "japanese food" and includes everything that could possible be served. I figure that to be a function of a society becoming acclimated to another country's food. There was a time when Italian food = pizza and Mexican food = tacos. Many parts of the country, and especially people who think about food, know differently now. I think the same will occur with Japanese food as it becomes more readily available around the country.

                Personally, the people I know (in Los Angeles) distinguish between around four groups of Japanese food. They know sashimi, they know sushi (which they expect to be raw fish on rice, or, perhaps a subset of rolls), they know japanese cooked food like teriyaki, tempura, etc., and they know noodles, udon or ramen. Also some dishes that don't really fit those categories, like the Mishima tofu salad, or the burdock root, lotus root or small fried pepper side dishes served at places like Ita Cho or Yabu in Los Angeles.

                I don't know anybody who thinks sushi = Japanese food at large, though.

                1. re: Silverjay

                  When I say "let's go out for Pizza", everyone understands that it means "a small Italian joint with a pizza oven", and no one expects that they will be limited to pizza only. Sometimes someone gets a meatball sub. It's still a pizza joint. My point is there is no reason to get hung up on technicalities. If someone asks for a Kleenex, I don't correct them if they reach for another brand.

                  As far as the "I doubt there is a restaurant in America that serves sashimi only", I didn't mean there are no restaurants that will serve a plate of sashimi. I took your statement to mean there are restaurants that specialize in sashimi only, and sushi isn't available at all. This I haven't heard of.

                  1. re: sbp

                    When I say "Let's go get some sushi", I mean that I am going to have some sort of sushi and I do anticipate raw fish involved (I like rolls better, but like many have mentioned when I just say 'sushi' in NY restos they'd serve me nigiri - I have to specify if I want other kind of sushi). I may have some cooked dishes like gyoza or beef negimaki or soup as an appetizer, but sushi is going to be my main meal. It will never cross my mind to have katsu or donburi in the same meal (as the OP mentioned).

                    Just like pizza, sushi is nice to have as a communal meal , when they serve the whole order on a sushi boat or wooden board and the whole table participates. The person at the table, where everyone shares a pie or two, and who orders a sub is a party pooper.

          2. When I say sushi I mean nigiri sushi-- fish on top of rice. Most places that serve nigiri also serve sashimi. Sashimi is not sushi.

            Sushi does not include cooked items although some sushi restaurants serve them.

            2 Replies
            1. re: JudiAU

              Sushi is defined by the rice, it doesn't matter if the accompanying item is cooked or raw. Traditional cooked items include egg, shrimp, and freshwater eel. Sashimi is always raw. Not all sushi is nigiri, there is maki-sushi as well as chirashi-sushi.

              1. re: applehome

                By cooked items I meant fried items, salads, cooked fish dinners, etc. I wasn't very clear.

            2. i like the KISS method of life so, when we speak in the office and say let's go get some sushi it's very broad brush meaning a raw fish place with and without rice. When we get there we break into two camps, sushi (with rice) and sashimi (without). The sushi camp breaks down further into rolls (both hand rolls and cut rolls) and individual fish slices over rice. BTW - definition: sushi - [SOO-shee] A Japanese specialty based on boiled rice flavored with a sweetened RICE VINEGAR,

              1 Reply
              1. re: jfood
                Robert Lauriston

                I call anything made with sushi rice sushi, except chirashi.