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LOOK IT UP – Japanese Food Glossary

Do you need to know what’s what in the worl of sushi? Chef Devaux is working on a comprehensive sushi encyclopedia that tells you in a glance what  all those sushi terms mean, while providing you with need-to-know and nice-to-know facts about the various subjects. Note that the sushi encyclopedia is a work in progress. New terms and explanations will be regularly added.



Abura-age Fried tofu

Agari Japanese green tea, in Japan traditionally given for free to customers after meals at local sushi restaurants. Agari is served in large tea cups. This tea is know for its astringent taste, rich aroma and lingering flavor.

Aji Japanese horse mackerel, also known as Spanish horse mackerel and many other names. According to legend this fish was such a powerful swimmer that smaller fish could ride on its back. The fish is a popular sushi fish, admired for its pronounced flavor. It’s also great for mackerel sashimi. The variety from the southern Pacific Ocean is heavily overfished. More than 90 percent has disappeared. The Atlantic Japanese/Spanish horse mackerel however is currently not threated.

Akagai Ark shell clam, also known as surf clam and red clam. The flesh of the clam is soft and firm. It has a mild aroma and taste. As it is slowly chewed the taste becomes more prominent, as a result of the sweet flavors and aromas being released during consumption. Akagai can be served as sashimi, although it is often cooked to enhance the flavor. Akagai is traditionally presented in a flower pattern, with the white rice base of the sushi flowing into the bright red tips of the clam flesh.

Akami Lean tuna, piece from the back of the tuna fish. The red, ‘normal’ tuna you usually get in sushi or sashimi. See also chu-toro (medium fatty tuna) and oho-toro (the fattiest and best part of the tuna).

Amaebi A sweet type of shrimp (ama is sweet in Japanese), great forr making shrimp nigiri. This shrimp has a clear and sweet aftertaste, unlike the regular raw shrimp. The original amaebi, also known as the Alaskan pink shrimp, is often replaced by the larger and more abundant botan shrimp, that’s also called sweet shrimp. The whole head can be consumed when it’s deep fried, preferably after it’s lightly coated with potato starch. The shell becomes crispy and the brain is a delicacy by itself.

Anago Conger eel, a type of salt water eel. Often simmered or deep fried for sushi. It has a very soft texture and sweet taste. Currently anago is considered sustainable to eat. The freshwater variety is called unagi, which most conservation organizations recommend to avoid, because of its decline in the wild.

Asari Edible species of hard shell altwater clam, also known as the common clam, Manila clam, steamer clam and Japanese cockle. In Japanese cuisine often used for miso clam soup. Another delicious way and easy to prepare them is steaming the clams in sake. The umami taste of asari also matches well with steamed rice. In general clams can be eaten raw, baked, boiled, fried or steamed.



Baka gai Round clam with a sweet taste and quite strong ocean aroma. The name literally means ‘stupid shell’ (baka means stupid or idiot). That’s why in restaurarants it’s usually called by its alternative names: aoyagi or kobashira. Aoyagi is in fact the ‘foot’ of this shellfish. In Japan its very popular for its distinct, orange/yellowish colour and sweetness. It is eaten as sashimi or as nigiri sushi. Kobashira is the name for its muscle parts. It’s usually served as sashimi or gunkan sushi. One clam is usuallly not enough  to make a kobashira sushi roll, which is the reason it’s more expensive.

Bamboo rolling mat Makisu in Japanese. The classic kitchen aid for rolling sushi rolls. Ususally the size is 25 cm x 25 cm. There are two kinds: one with thin bamboo strips and one with thick bamboo strips. The thin mat is great for making makizushi, the thick mat is considered to be more versatile. For best result, cover the rolling mat in a (plastic) zip-lock bag. This prevents rice sticking to the bamboo. It will also make it easier to clean the mat. Bamboo rolling mats should be throughly air dried after cleaning, to avoid growth of bacteria and fungi. There are also silicone rolling mats. Easier to clean and more hygienic, but completely without the authentic look and fool of bamboo.

Battera Pressed sushi with mackerel. This sour and sweet tasting dish is also known as Portuguese sushi. The name comes from the Portuguese word ‘bateria’, which means small boat. Battera is made of fillet of mackerel which is placed inside a sushi box filled with rice. A piece of vinegared kelp (kombu) is placed on top of the mackerel, then the contents of the sushi are pressed with the lid and cut in rectangular pieces. Battera sushi can be made a few hours in advance, which makes it great as picnic food. Optionally serve with soy sauce for dipping.

Battle ship sushi See Gunkan maki. Click here to learn how to make this simple but flavourful and impressive looking sushi.

Birru Beer. This was introduced in Japan in the 17th century, when Dutch traders opened a beer hall for sailors. These days beer is the most populair alcoholic drink in Japan. Although the traditonal drink to go with sushi is hot green tea, it’s perfectly okay to drink whatever you want with a sushi meal. The refreshing quality of a light beer generally goes well with sushi and sashimi. Avoid hoppy craft beer or any other strong beer, because they can be too overpowering in combination with the delicate taste of sushi.

Bluefin tuna The largest type of tuna and one of the most popular fish used for sushi and sashimi. The bluefin is heavily overfished. The species is even heading for extinction in the Pacific within a few years. In Januari 2016 the Japanse Sushi Zanmia restaurant chain paid 118,000 US dollars for a 200 kg tuna at the first  market of the year  at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market. This extremely high prize is mainly the result of buyers competing for the prestige of securing the first big tuna of the year.

Bo zushi Log shaped sushi. Fish is pressed on sushi rice in a special sushi box to create the log shape. It can also be made by hand, with the use of a rolling mat. Mackerel is commonly used to make bo sushi. See also Battera.



California Roll The California Roll is one of the most popular sushi styles in the U.S. It was invented in Vancouver, Canada in the seventies by the Japanese chef Hidekazu Tojo. He noticed that local clients didn’t like the raw fish and the seaweed wrapper traditionally used in sushi, so he decided to replace some of the ingredients and turn the roll inside out to hide the seaweed. At the time his restaurant had many visitors from Los Angeles who enjoyed the new kind of roll. The roll was given the name California roll. The rest is sushi history. Here’s Chef Devaux’s take on the California Roll. Slightly changed from the original, tastes even better!

Chakin zushi Stuffed purse sushi. Sushi rice and various seasonal ingredients (small pieces of vegetables, mushrooms, fish or seafood) wrapped in thinly fried egg.  The ‘parcel’ or ‘pouch’ is tied with a string of spring onion, a sprig of herb or a strip of omelet and then decorated with garnish. Traditionally chakin sushi is served at festivals and celebrations. The wrapping is associated with wrapping good fortune in Japan. In addition beautiful wrapping shows respect and care for the recipient. Inari chakin sushi is the same, but with abura-age, or fried tofu, used as the ‘cloth’.

Chirashi zushi Scattered sushi, usually a bowl of sushi rice topped with sashimi and vegetables.  Another proper translation would be ‘sushi rice salad’. There’s no rolling or shaping involved, which makes it great for quick preparation. It’s also a convenient dish to make with leftovers. There is no set recipe for chirashi; whatever you like or have available is fine. Chirashi sushi often contains ingredients that are not used in other types of sushi, like bamboo shoots, baby corn or lotus root. Meat is also an option, although not many people add meat to chirashi sushi. Serve it in individual bowls or in a large bowl that everybody can use to spoon out what they want.

In Japan chirashi sushi is traditionally eaten on 3 March: Hinamatsuri (Doll’s Day or Girl’s Day, also callled Peach Blossom Festival), which has to do with driving out evil spirits and praying for the growth and happiness of young girls. For this purpose a display is made with special dolls that will take away the bad spirits.

Chopsticks A pair of smooth, thin sticks of equal lenght that’s traditionally used in Asia for picking up pieces of food. Usually they’re made of wood or bamboo, although they’re also available made from plastic, steel, gold, silver, porcelain, jade or ivory. Chopsticks are held between the thumb and fingers.

Cling film Sheets of very thin plastic used to to help shape rolls without having to touch everything with your fingers. Applying pressure to a roll is much easier and more hygienic when you use cling film. Cling film is safe to use as long as you don’t use it where it might melt, e.g. in the oven or the microwave. The non-plastic alternative is natural cellophane (not synthetic cellophane, that’s also made of plastic).

Chu-toro Medium fatty tuna, from the tuna belly at the center and rear through the tuna. It is considered lower top quality, with a very full and rich flavour.



Dashi Basic Japanese fish stock. This clear stock doesn’t really taste fishy when prepared correctly. The umami flavor of dashi makes it a great basis for all kinds of recipes. Dashi is the basis for the classic miso soup, noodle soup, clear broth and many other soups, stews, sauces, boiled vegetables and other recipes. It is made with only three ingredients: bonito flakes, kombu seaweed and (spring or mineral) water. It was research into the distinct,savory flavour of dashi that led to the discovery of umami, the fifth taste after sweet, salt, sour and bitter.

A dashi variation is niboshi dashi stock, made with small dried sardines without the heads and entrails to prevent bitterness. Another variation is shiitake dashi, made by soaking dried shiitake mushrooms in water.


Dashi is available as a ready made product. However, due to the use of chemical additions, instant dashi has a stronger, less subtle flavor than homemade dashi, which should have a delicate, nuanced taste.

Dashimaki tamago Thick, sweet omelette. Because the eggs are mixed with dashi, it has a softer texture than a regular omelet. This dish is often shaped with a sushi mat. Roll the warm egg with the mat, keep the mat in place and let it cool. After removing the mat the egg roll has lines from the bamboo strips on it. Keep in mind that this dish is harder to fry, because the egg mixture tends to stick to the pan. Make sure the pan is oily enough during cooking to prevent this.

Although these ‘rolled eggs’ look simple to make, it takes skill and experiencce to produce a good roll. Because of the extra moisture from the dashi, the omelet gets a delicate texture that makes it hard to create a good roll. It’s even said in Japan that you can judge the quality of the restaurant by the quality of their dashimaki tamago. Also keep in mind that because of the simple list of ingredients, the quality of the eggs and dashi is even more important than usual.

Date-maki Sweet rolled omelette made with eggs and hanpen Japanese fishcake. One of the foods that is served on Japanese New Year (which is on 1 January since 1873, before that time it was celebrated on the same day as the Chinese New Year – which can be on varying dates betwee 21 January and 20 February). The hanpen can be substituted with white fish, scallop or shrimp.

Daikon White long crunchy vegetable from the radish family. The name means ‘big root’. Daikon looks similar to fresh horseradish, but its flavor is less strong and is more similar to the taste of watercress. Daikon can be cooked or eaten raw. Sometimes also called Mooli, winter radish or oriental radish. In a nonculinary context in the USA it’s called oilseed radish. Daikon is used in various ways: grated and mixed, simmered, stir fried, pickled, or shredded and dried. Daikon sprouts are used for salad or garnishing sashimi. The leafs can be eaten as a green vegetable.

Deba Thick, stout knife used mostly for filleting fish. Most debas are ground on one side only, with a flat back side. This knife is great for cutting softer, thinner products, but it requires a certain skill to use – and sharpen – it properly. Traditional deba knives are made of carbon steel. They should regularly get maintenance and oil to prevent rust. Modern deba knives are often made of stainless steel, which requires less maintenance.


Edomae chirashi zushi Tokyo style scattered sushi



Fukin Kitchen Cloth

Fukusa zushi Sushi wrapped in a omelet

Futo maki Large sushi roll filled with many ingredients



Gari Pickled ginger

Ginger marinated ginger is meant as a palate cleanser in between various kinds of sushi. Marinated ginger also has anti-microbial properties, which can be useful when consuming raw fish.

Gold leaf Very thin flakes of gold, which can be used for decorating sushi . Gold leaf is edible, although tasteless. In general, the more carats, the more gold becomes edible. From 22 carats it’s completely safe to eat. The gold will pass through your digestive tract without being absorbed.

Gomoko zushi Style of scattered sushi consisting of five pieces

Gunkan-maki Nigiri sushi wrapped in a strip of nori to hold loose toppings on top. Also known as Battleship sushi or the Warship Roll. Gunkan-Maki was first created in 1941 at the Ginza Kyubey restaurant. This was the first time it was possible to use softer or loose topping for sushi.


Gyutoh Japanese Chef’s knife.



Hamachi Yellowtail tuna

Hamaguri Venus clam


Hangiri Also known as Oke. Large wooden bowl used for seasoning the sushi rice. The wood of the Hangiri helps absorb any excess rice vinegar.

Hanpen Japanese fishcake made from grated Japanse yam, surimi, salt and kombu dashi.

Hashi Chopsticks

Hikari mono General term for shiny oily fish.

Hirame General term for a flat fish with its eyes on the left side of the head.

Hocho General term for Japanese knives.

Hoso maki Thin sushi rolls usually containing one ingredient

Hotate gai Scallops



Ika Squid

Ikura Salmon roe

Inari chakin zushi Tofu pouches stuffed with sushi rice and other ingredients. See chakin sushi.

Inside Out Type of sushi roll that has rice on the outside of the roll and filling on the inside.

Iri gome Toasted sesame seeds

Isi ebi Lobster

Itamae Sushi Chef

Iwashi Sardine

Izakaya Japanse eatery/pub





Kaki Oysters

Kampyo Strips of dried gourd

Kani Crab

Karei The name given to a type of flat fish with eyes on the side of its head

Katsuo Bonito

Katsuo bushi Dried bonito flakes, usually used to make dashi fish stock

Kazunoko Herring roe

Kodomo zushi Sushi made for children

Kombu Edible dried kelp. Used to prepare seasoning for sushi rice. Kombu is also used to make dashi and various other Japanese dishes.

Kome Japanese style rice





Maguro Tuna

Makajiki Swordfish

Maki To wrap or roll

Makisu Bamboo mat for rolling sushi

Maki zushi Sushi rolled in the shape of a cylinder, with nori on the outside.

Masago Seasoned capelin roe.

Mato dai John Dory, also known as St. Pierre or Peter’s Fish

Matsukawa zukuri Method of tenderising fish skin by using pine bark.

Millionaire sushi Very expensive sushi, usually decorated with gemstones and/or precious metal. The most expensive sushi in the world was created in 2010 by Chef Angelito Araneta Jr. from the Phillipines. It’s wrapped in 24-carat gold leaf and garnished with diamonds. The diamonds are not meant to eat. But gold leaf, depending on the amount of carats, is edible, although tasteless. The price of this millionaire sushi: 2,000 US dollar (about 1,800 euro).

Miyabi Japanese brand of very high quality knives. Perfect for cutting sushi ingredients and rolls.

Mirin Sweet rice wine used for cooking.

Miru gai Horse clam

Miso shiru Soup made with soy bean paste

Mouli See Daikon



Nigiri Literally meaning grip or handle. This refers to the way you’re supposed the handle the rice: by shaping it with your hand. The rectangular shape of the rice, topped with a slice of fish, is the image most people think of when they hear the word sushi.

Nigiri zushi Hand formed sushi rice with fish, vegetables or omelette

Nishin Herring

Nori Dried edible seaweed sheets, made from a species of red algae called Porphyra.




Oho toro Also called Otoro. Fattiest cut of tuna, from the lower belly towards the head. The flesh is light pink, marbled with fat and melts in the mouth. In Japan it is considered the very best part of the tuna.

Ohyo garei Halibut

Oke See Hangiri

Omakase Chef’s choice; let the chef decide what you eat.

Oshibako Mold for making pressed sushi

Oshibori Heated moist towel

Oshi zushi Pressed sushi



Ponzu Citrus-soy sauce





Ramekin Small ceramic or glass bowl used for cooking or serving various dishes

Renkon Lotus roots



Saba Mackerel

Sai bashi Chop sticks for cooking

Sake Rice wine. Sake is usually drunk before or after a sushi meal. According to convention, sake is not to be drunk during a sushi meal, because it’s also made from rice. However, many people enjoy hot sake with their sushi. Although traditionally hot green tea is the drink to go with sushi, it’s perfectly okay to drink whatever you want when enjoying a sushi meal.

Sanmai oroshi Filleting technique for round fish

Santoku Knife of 3 virtues, meaning it can be used for 3 different tasks: cutting slices, cutting dice and fine cutting.

Sashimi Sliced fish

Sayori Garfish

Shako Mantis shrimp

Shamoji Flat paddle style spoon for rice

Shari Term for sushi rice

Shime saba Vinegar marinated mackerel

Shiso Japanese mint

Shita birame Dover sole

Shiitake Variety of Japanese mushroom

Shoyu Soya sauce

Soboro Ground fish

Stoning The process of sharpening your knife with a whetstone.

Su Rice vinegar

Sui mono Clear soup

Sushi Japanese for ’sour tasting’. A reminder of the fact that originally fermented rice was used for sushi. Nowadays we use vinegared rice.

Sushi meshi Rice prepared for sushi

Suzuki Sea bass



Tai (Ma dai) Japanese red snapper

Tako Octopus


Tamago soboro Scrambled eggs

Tamari Wheat-free soy sauce

Tataki Cookin method that consists of rapid searing then cooling of meat

Temaki zushi Hand rolled sushi

Temari zushi Sushi balls


Teriyaki sauce Thick, sweetened soy sauce.

Tobiko Flying fish roe

Tofu Soybean curd

Toro Cut of tuna

Tsukudani Small seafood, meat or seaweed simmered in soy sauce and mirin.  It’s a preservable side dish with an intese flavor, usually eaten with steamed rice.

Tsuma Garnishes



Unagi Fresh water eel. The oily, soft flesh has a bold, rich taste. Traditionally unagi is grilled over an open flame, to melt of the layer of fat under the skin. The eel is then steamed, drained of oil, and basted in a sweet sauce. Then there’s a second grilling. This alllow the eel to absorb the flavors of the sauce. Japanese legend has it that Unagi is a powerful aphrodisiac. In reality it has no such powers. Freshwater eel stocks have crashed all over the world. That’s why much freshwater eel these days is farmed. However, most conservation organizations recommend to avoid the product, because the decline in the wild continues.

Umami The fifth flavor, after sweet, salt, sour and bitter. The name means ‘delicious taste’. Its savory taste is caused by glutamate. This is found in low concentrations in among other things tomatoes, meat, vegetables, soy products and cheese. The older the cheese, the more glutamate. Umami taste is added in many processed food items. On food labels it is described with various names, including E621, MSG, Yeast Extract, Mononatriumglutamate and Ve-tsin. Although umami has been around for a long time, it was first chemically identified and named in 1909 by Kikunae Ikeda, a chemistry professor at the Imperial University of Tokyo. Ikeda was investigating the distinct taste of Dashi, which cleary differed from the four flavours known at the time. After the discovery of Umami it took decades before it was globally recognized as a real fifth flavor.

Unayaki Sushi with Unagi.

Uni Sea urchin

Uramaki Inside out sushi roll

Usuba Vegetable knife

Usuyaki Tamago Thin pancake omelette





Wasabi Condiment made of the stem of the Eutrema Japonicum. Served with many kinds of sushi, because of it’s spicy yet delicate taste. Over 90 percent of the stuff that’s sold as wasabi is actually fake. Most of the times you get a pungent mixture off horseradish, mustard, starch and food coloring. Real wasabi is not only used because of its flavor (which starts to deteriorate already 15 minutes after preparing it), It also has antimicrobial properties and it reduces the smell of the fish.

Wakita Assistant Sushi Chef

Whetstone Sharpening stone used for sharpening your sushi knife. Also knows as water stone.





Yanagi knife for slicing fish fillets into sashimi.



Zaru Bamboo strainer

Zasai Chinese pickled vegetable