The Stark Difference Between Sushi in Japan and the U.S.

  • FOOD
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  • Adopted by American celebrities and businessmen back in the ’60s for its exotic appeal, sushi has since become one of the most popular cuisines in the states. Though, it has had a dramatic makeover from the traditional sushi you would find anywhere in Japan. If you claim to be a lover of sushi but have only ever had it in the U.S. you may experience some culture shock when ordering in Japan.

    It seems as though there are more differences than similarities between American and Japanese sushi, so here is a list to help you navigate and understand what traditional sushi in Japan is really like.

    It is traditionally served at a bar, not a restaurant

    No waiters serving you, no menus with 30 different kinds of rolls and other dishes on it, just sit down at the bar in front of the chef and order by talking with them. Have a conversation with the chef, they are trained how a bartender would be, to talk and interact with customers. Chefs also train for years perfecting the art of making sushi, so pay attention while they make your order.

    The other popular way to get sushi in Japan, especially in Tokyo, is on a conveyer belt. This time you are sitting at a table, but there is still no waiter. Just order off a touch screen and your sushi will roll out to you in a few minutes.

    Author’s photo


    Maki, Nigiri, Sashimi

    These are the three traditional ways to prepare sushi.

    Maki is the original sushi roll that most Americans can recognize right away. Rolled up with the seaweed on the outside, then rice, then a single kind of fish on the inside, it is the original way to prepare it. America flipped it inside out by putting rice on the outside then seaweed and then fish.

    Photo by Montse Longoria

    Nigiri is the other traditional Japanese sushi. Americans seem much more hesitant to eat this kind of sushi because of the rawness. American sushi tends to be served with many kinds of fish, sauces, and veggies all in one roll, but nigiri is simply rice with raw fish overlaying it.

    Photo by Montse Longoria

    Sashimi is technically not considered sushi. It is simply raw fish or meat served without rice. This may be a far more adventurous option for tourists but is certainly worth a try.

    It is served in smaller portions

    When ordering sushi don’t expect to get a whole roll with eight pieces of sushi. It is normally served in pieces of one, two or three. The exception to this is ordering maki, that usually comes with four or sometimes six individual rolls.

    Sushi is served in smaller portions to keep the freshness and maximum flavor for the customer. As soon as the dish leaves the hands of the chef the rice is already starting to dry out and the fish begins to oxidize, so ordering sushi in bulk ruins the experience of the flavors and taste.

    Author’s photo


    It is far simpler

    Rainbow roll, Hot Night, and Dynamite roll are names of some rolls I’ve ordered in the U.S., each having a few kinds of fish, sauces, and many other ingredients inside and on top. They were colorful, intricate, and had so much going on. I could never finish a sushi roll in one bite, it was always two or three because they were so large.

    However, in Japan, it is a far simpler dish. Maki has only one fish per roll and maybe one other ingredient to it besides seaweed and rice. Nigiri is simply one kind of fish and rice and occasionally a sauce on top. In Japan, the focus is on the flavors and freshness of the fish, unlike America where many flavors are mixed together.

    Photo by India Fiocchi