10 Sushi Terms to Familiarize Yourself with the Culture

Sushi is fun to eat, exciting to look at, and ever-so-delicious. However, many Americans feel intimidated at sushi restaurants and are afraid to branch out beyond the tried and true favorites, such as California rolls and teriyaki bowls. 

Part of this hesitation comes from simply not being familiar with many of the Japanese sushi terms that you see on a menu. After all, how comfortable do you feel ordering something that you don’t understand? This lesson in sushi terms will help you put that anxiety in the past. Brush up on this list before you go out for sushi and try something new! 


Sashimi is a term for raw fish slices. It is served without rice and eaten with chopsticks. Salmon, tuna, and squid are all often served sashimi style.


Maki is the Japanese word for a roll. The sushi rolls that you are most familiar with are most likely maki. These rolls consist of a seaweed wrapper containing sticky sushi rice wrapped around fillings such as raw fish, veggies, and anything else a creative chef can imagine. 


Nigiri is another special kind of sushi. This type consists of sticky rice with vinegar rolled into a ball. Then, a piece of raw fish is pressed into the top. Nigiri is usually eaten with your hands instead of chopsticks. Sushi chefs recommend eating nigiri in one bite to get the best flavor. 


You might also see temaki listed on a sushi menu as hand rolls. These cone-shaped rolls are meant to be held in your hand and eaten, so they can be a great way to snack on sushi while on the go. 


Chirashi is not common outside of Japan, but it is another great way to enjoy the flavors of sushi. Chirashi consists of a bowl of sticky rice topped with sashimi and other sushi toppings like avocado, veggies, and more. 


Nori means seaweed. The seaweed used in sushi goes through a special process to make it delicious to eat. The seaweed is shredded and then pressed like paper into thin sheets. 


Sake is Japanese rice wine. It is served warm. The rules of sake etiquette state that you should not refill your own cup. So, when you’re sharing sake with a companion, make sure that you keep an eye on their cup and refill it for them. It’s the polite thing to do!


Roe is fish eggs that add salty flavor and texture to various sushi rolls. You’ll usually see roe sprinkled decoratively on top of a roll. It can be golden, red, or orange in color. 


Wasabi is the spicy green paste served alongside pickled ginger on your sushi table. You might like mixing a pinch of wasabi in with your soy sauce to give your sushi an extra kick. However, in some more traditional restaurants, the chefs might see this practice as rude, as they have already seasoned the fish to perfection. 


Daikon looks like ginger, but it’s actually a white Japanese radish. Daikon may be grated and added to a dish or roll for crunch. It can also be pickled. Pickled daikon is called takuan.

RB Sushi offers all-you-can-eat sushi at three locations in San Diego: Hillcrest, College, and Rancho Bernardo. Enjoy daily lunch specials and buy one get one 50% off specials on draft beer every Monday through Thursday.