If you love sushi and also love getting the biggest bang for your buck, or in this case, the most fish for your cash, you’ve come to the right place. We were sitting around one day wondering which kind of sushi actually has more fish in it. Is it the sashimi? The nigiri? Could it be the maki? We figured if we were wondering, you might be also, so we started our quest for answers.
(Quick aside: For those who may not know, the word “sushi” translates to “vinegar rice” in English. There are four kinds of sushi: sashimi, which is the cut fish only; nigiri, which is served atop pressed, vinegared rice; maki, which are the rolls; and temaki, or hand rolls.)
We decided we needed an expert to help us figure this out, so we spoke with Carl Rosa, a sushi instructor and founder of America’s largest sushi organization, The Sushi Club of Houston.
Rosa had a lot of helpful tips about getting the best value from your favorite sushi house, as well as offering up some advice and little-known facts about sushi.
Nigiri vs. Sashimi: Which is the best value?
To start off, we decided to compare just the sashimi and nigiri. Maki rolls traditionally are made up mostly of rice, though a lot of American restaurants load them up with all sorts of things, including large quantities of fish. But to keep it simple (and so you don’t have to go tearing apart your lovely maki to eyeball just how much fish is there – rude!) we’re sticking to sashimi and nigiri.
Obviously, every restaurant is going to be a little different. But Rosa had the following advice on getting the most fish for your money.
"The very best thing that you can do is order a small sashimi appetizer (if it's available on the menu) and then also order a single piece of nigiri," Rosa recommended. "When they are both served, compare the cuts. Many people are amazed to find that when they order a nigiri selection, the cuts of fish on the nigiri are much larger than the slices of sashimi.
"So, a true sashimi lover may merely order a large quantity of nigiri and simply not eat the rice," Rosa continued. "Additionally, if they sit at the sushi bar, they can monitor/watch how the chef is cutting. They can carefully watch the chef prepare nigiri and sashimi before placing their own order."
Sushi pro tips & fun facts
Rosa also offered the following tips and advice for having the best sushi experience possible.
- Cold sushi rice is unacceptable. Never eat cold sushi rice. If the rice is cold, it is OLD. Sushi rice, ideally, should be body temperature (slightly warm).
- Sushi nigiri is about 90% rice. If the rice fails, the sushi fails.
- Essentially all sushi rice served in the United States comes from the United States, Rosa said, and about 95% of it comes from California. If any restaurant says “Our rice comes from Japan," it’s probably not true.
- Sushi fish is never the “freshest” it can be. All sushi fish must age before it is served. The freshest fish is hard and too tough to eat. It can also be flavorless. Like beef, fish must age a day or two.
- 90% of the wasabi you receive from sushi houses in the United States is not wasabi. It's a mixture of green food coloring, horseradish and dry mustard. Ask if the sushi house has fresh wasabi if you want the real thing.
- One of the most neglected forms of sushi is named Tamago, Rosa said. It's a cooked, sweetened egg with sushi rice. The more skillful the chef, the better the Tamago.
- Salmon sushi isn’t “authentic” Japanese fare. In fact, it’s a relative newcomer in Japanese sushi. Until refrigeration was perfected, salmon was considered a “river fish” and would never be consumed as sushi.
A few more things to keep in mind when eating sushi
- Do your research. All sushi houses are not created equal.
- Eat maki and temaki with your hands. Eat nigiri and sashimi with chopsticks.
- You can mix wasabi into your soy sauce if you want to, even if some people view it as an American thing to do...
- ...but don’t put ginger on your sushi. You’ll kill the delicate flavors.
- Dip your nigiri into your soy sauce on the fish side, not the rice side. This will ensure two things: Your sushi won’t become overly soaked, and it won’t fall apart.
- Eat at the sushi bar if you can. It can be great entertainment and education all rolled into one.
- Order the “omakase” or chef’s tasting to get a good sampling of some of the sushi house’s best selections, especially if the house is reputable and you haven’t dined there before.