LOOK IT UP – Japanese Food Glossary
Do you need to know what’s what in the world 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.
select a letter below for more info:
Abura-age Fried tofu, usually seasoned with sugar, mirin and soy sauce. The tofu (which is made from soybeans) is cut into thin slices and deep fried two times; first at 110-120 °C (230-250°F) , then again at 180-200 °C (360-390 °F). Before frying again, the abura-age can be stuffed with various ingredients. Frying it solves a typical problem of tofu: it’s very soft, often so soft that it’s hard to pick up with chopsticks. The tofu easily falls apart. Frying it makes it flexible, tasty and resilient.
Although frying tofu sound simple, it is in fact quite hard to get it right. Most abura-age is produced in large factories and often sold frozen. In this state, it keeps for a long time.
Abura-age is often used for wrapping inari-zushi (fried tofu pouches typically only filled with sushi rice). It’s also often added to miso soup and to stews and noodle dishes. A thicker variation of abura-age is called atsuage (regular tofu, with an outer shell of abura-age).
Fun fact: according to Japanese legend, foxes like deep-fried tofu. The Japanese Shinto-gods are also big fans, that’s why abura-age may be offered to the gods at Shinto shrines. Outside mythology, cats and various animals are very fond of abura-age.
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 known 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 for 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 saltwater 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.
Atsu-age A thicker variation of abura-age. It consists of regular tofu, with an outer shell of abura-age. Atsu-age can be grilled or added to a light broth as main dish. It’s rich in protein, filling and tasty.
Awabi Sushi with abalone, a kind of edible mollusk.
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 restaurants it’s usually called by its alternative names: aoyagi or kobashira. Aoyagi is in fact the ‘foot’ of this shellfish. In Japan, it’s very popular for its distinct, orange/yellowish color 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 usually 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. Usually 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 thoroughly 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.
Bara zushi Scattered sushi. Bara means ‘scattered’. Also called Okayama-zushi , Bizen-zushi and Matsuri–zushi (commercial names of Japanese ready-made bara zushi lunch boxes). Bara zushi has many kinds of ingredients (sometimes more than a dozen) scattered on or through sushi rice. The ingredients can be all the usual sushi ingredients: fish, seafood, vegetables, meat and occasionally tropical fruits. Originally the ingredients were all covered with rice. In the Edo period (17th-19th century), the Japanese feudal lords forbade common people to spend money on luxuries. They were only allowed to eat rice, miso soup and one side dish. That’s why people started hiding fish and vegetables under the surface of the rice.
Bara zushi is not easy to cook, because each ingredient should be cooked in a different way. It also matters which ingredients are combined. Some ingredients may affect the taste of other ingredients when they are too close to each other in the bowl. The temperature of the rice also affects the taste of the meal.
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 flavorful and impressive looking sushi.
Beni Shoga Bright red pickled ginger. The yellow ginger is pickled in umezu (Japanese plum vinegar), which turns the color into red and gives the ginger a salty, sour and fruity taste.
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 popular alcoholic drink in Japan. Although the traditional 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 January 2016, the Japanese 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.
Bonito A type of ray-finned predatory fish related to mackerel, sardine and (to a lesser extent) tuna. The meat has a firm texture, a darkish color and a moderate fat content. Young or small bonitos are of lighter color. Bonito is sometimes used as a substitute for skipjack tuna, because it’s cheaper. However, there’s a difference in quality between tuna and bonito. That’s why this occurs especially in case of canned fish. Not all countries allow canned bonito to be marketed as tuna. In the USA, canned bonito is often – and legally – being sold as Chunk Light tuna. In the past ‘Chunk Light’ only referred to skipjack tuna. Telling the difference between canned ‘fake tuna’ and bonito can be hard. The best solution is to carefully read the product information on the package or label. It should still mention which kind of fish is really inside. Simply look for the word ‘bonito’ or its scientific name ‘sarda sarda’.
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 called 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.
Chirimen Dried young sardines
Chopsticks A pair of smooth, thin sticks of equal length 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.
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 flavor.
Cling film Sheets of very thin plastic used 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).
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 leaves can be eaten as a green vegetable.
Daikon is also great material to transform into a beautiful rose. Chef Devaux shows you how in this Daikon rose video.
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 flavor 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 omelet. 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 experience 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 omelet 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 between 21 January and 20 February). The hanpen can be substituted with white fish, scallop or shrimp.
Deba hocho boning knife. 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.
Donburi Rice bowl dish consisting of fish, meat, vegetables and other ingredients. The ingredients are simmered together and served over rice. The food is presented in oversized rice bowls also called donburi.
Edamame Young soy beans steamed or boiled in the pod. Sometimes served as a side dish for sushi.
Edomae zushi Tokyo style sushi. Edo is the old name for Tokyo. Originally edomae (edo-style) referred to fish caught in Tokyo Bay. Because of the busy lifestyle and lack of patience of the city dwellers, from the 1820’s fast food become very popular. At the time, there were no refrigerators and ice was expensive. To prevent the food from spoiling, it was processed in various ways. Depending on the fish or seafood, it could be marinated, steamed, simmered in broth, immersed in soy sauce or cured with salt and vinegar. Wasabi and pickled ginger were also often used because of their antibacterial properties.
Today edomae generally refers to a type of nigiri sushi with one processed ingredient and a relative simple but beautiful composition. Sometimes nigiri sushi with raw fish is called edomae, although many experts wouldn’t want to include that in edomae sushi.
Fukin A type of Japanese dish cloth/kitchen towel made of ‘kaya’, a fabric that was once woven into mosquito nets. The most popular type of fukin is known as shirayuki-fukin, which literally means ‘white snow towel. They are very soft, durable and absorbent. Over time, with proper care, they become even more soft and supple. When no long suitable for kitchen use, a fukin makes a great rag.
Fukusa zushi Sushi wrapped in a thin omelet. A fukusa is a cloth folded into the shape of an envelope to make it a bag. Traditionally this was used in the tea ceremony to put utensils on it or wipe them with it. It’s also used to wrap money presents for ceremonies.
Fukusa zushi is made by placing a patty of rice at the center of an egg omelet. The omelet is then folded around the rice and tied off with a strip of kanpyo (dried shavings of calabash). The package can also be wrapped with strips of kombu seaweed or mitsuba honewort (Japanese parsley). The rice may be seasoned with any ingredients to your liking. It often contains bits of cooked carrot, toasted nori, shiitake mushrooms or sesame seeds. Traditionally only seasonal ingredients are used. Alternatively, fukusa zushi is made with a crêpe instead of an omelet.
Futo maki Thick sushi roll with rice on the inside and nori on the outside. It usually contains 4 or more ingredients, that can be anything to your liking. Futo maki is the fat boy of the maki rolls, measuring 2 to 2.5 inch (5 to 6 cm) in diameter. Because of its size, it’s harder to roll than many other maki rolls. It’s also harder to eat; for most people, it requires 2 or 3 bites. This may be a problem if you want to observe sushi etiquette when eating at a sushi bar: eat in one bite without setting it back down. However, chances are you won’t be asked to leave simply for eating futo maki in more than one bite.
Gari Pickled ginger. Also known as sushi ginger. Amazu shoga in Japanese. Thinly sliced or shredded ginger is pickled in a sweet vinegar marinade, turning the color from yellow to pink. The fresher the ginger, the pinker the resulting color. Ready-made pickled ginger is often colored artificially to enhance the pink color. Gari is used as a garnish in many Japanese dishes. Usually it’s eaten in between (sushi) dishes to cleanse the palate. Marinated ginger also has anti-microbial properties, which makes it extra useful when consuming raw fish. A variation is beni shoga, ginger pickled in plum vinegar, which turns the color from yellow to bright red.
Ginger Shoga in Japanese. Usually this refers to the root of the ginger plant, which is widely used as a spice or a folk medicine. Mature ginger is fibrous, nearly dry and has a hot and fragrant taste. Young ginger on the other hand is fleshy and juicy, with a very mild taste. Ginger is also eaten raw, in Japan it’s added to tofu or noodles. Fresh ginger must be peeled before use. For longer-term storage, ginger can be covered in tin foil or (preferably bio-degradable) plastic and refrigerated or frozen. This keeps it for at least a few weeks.
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 Sushi consisting of five ingredients scattered through a bowl of sushi rice (Gomoku means ‘five ingredients’, although, in practice, the number of ingredients may vary slightly). Gomoku sushi is sometimes decorated with red or white fish or shrimp and strips of omelet. It’s served at a moderate temperature. Variations are bara zushi, maze zushi and chirashi sushi, which also involve ingredients scattered through a bowl of sushi rice. Gomoku zushi is often served for special occasions and celebrations, such as birthday parties or family reunions, graduations and national holidays. It’s not too expensive to make and easy to scale up to feed many people.
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.
Hako zushi Sushi in a box. The rice is pressed in a box and the ingredients are placed on top. Often cured mackerel is used. This is known as battera.
Hamachi Yellowtail tuna
Hamaguri Venus clam
Hamo Sushi Pike Conger Sushi. Grilled pike conger and rice are formed into an oval pole. Usually garnished with sweet soy sauce glaze.
Handroll Sushi roll made without using a rolling mat
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 Japanese yam, surimi, salt and kombu dashi.
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
Ichimi ‘One flavor’. Ground dried red chili peppers with the seeds discarded. Originally not used in sushi. In fusion style sushi often added to mayonnaise sauce to make it extra spicy.
Ikura Salmon roe
Inari zushi Tofu pouches stuffed with sushi rice. For festive occasions, other ingredients are added. Also 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
Izakaya Japanese eatery/pub
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Kabosu Japanese citrus fruit
Kaiten zushi Sushi train. Some restaurants serve sushi from a conveyor belt or even an actual toy train. Diners simply take what they want and put it on their plate.
Kaki no ha sushi See Persimmon leaf sushi
Kakiage Type of tempura made with mixed vegetable strips. Sometimes shrimp or squid is added. The ingredients are deep fried into small, round fritters.
Kanpyo Also known as kampyo. Dried shavings of calabash.
Kani Crab (not surimi, but the real crab)
Kani kama Imitation crab meat. Also known as surimi.
Karei The name given to a type of flat fish with eyes on the side of its head.
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 short grain rice
Konmai Old rice. Rice that’s harvested from the second or later crop of the season. The quality is inferior compared to shinmai, which is harvested from the first crop of the season.
Konnyaku Japanse yam cake, made from the corm of the konjac plant.
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Maki To wrap or roll
Makisu Bamboo mat for rolling sushi. Also known as sudare.
Maki zushi Sushi rice with one or more fillings, rolled in the shape of a cylinder, with nori on the outside. This type of sushi includes hosomaki (skinny roll), futomaki (large roll), temaki (hand roll) and uramaki (inside-out roll).
Mamakari zushi Sushi with pickled fish, ‘mamakari’. The fish is a kind of Japanese sardine, which is pickled in salt and vinegar. Before pickling the intestines are taken out. Locals also eat it grilled on charcoals, with the innards still inside. This grilling is called ponpoko yaki, because of the sound when the fish is grilled and the innards start heating up. The word mamakari actually means ‘borrowing rice from your neighbor’. It is said the fish was so tasty, people tended to eat it too much, along with the rice. As a result, they ran out of rice, forcing them to borrow some more from their neighbors. According to another story, fishermen used to grill the fish right on their boats. When the rice of one boat was eaten, they would go to the next boat and ask them to share their rice.
Masago Seasoned capelin roe.
Matcha Powdered green tea. The highest quality tea leaves are used for matcha. The leaves are dried and grinded or milled into fine powder. Matcha is the green tea of choice for the traditional tea ceremony.
Mato dai John Dory, also known as St. Pierre or Peter’s Fish
Matsukawa zukuri Method of tenderizing 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 Philippines. 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 number of carats, is edible, although tasteless. The price of this millionaire sushi: 2,000 US dollars (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
Mitsuba honewort Japanese wild parsley. Mitsuba means ‘three leaves’. It’s a leafy vegetable with three leaves on each stalk, hence the name. The tender stalks are used for cooking. The leaves can also be chopped up, as an ingredient for miso soup. The stalks are sometimes also used to wrap fukusa zushi.
Miso shiru Soup made with soy bean paste
Miyoga Japanese ginger
Mochigome ‘Glutinous rice’, a variety of Japonica rice. When cooked, it’s stickier than the Japonica variety used for sushi. It also has a firmer and chewier texture. Mochigome is not suitable for sushi. In Japan it’s used for making mochi (Japanese rice cake) and various other dishes.
Momiji Oroshi Daikon with grated green chili
Mouli See Daikon
Natto Fermented soybeans. Natto has a pungent smell and taste, but it is thought to have certain health benefits.
Neta Ingredients for sushi. Usually seafood, fish, sometimes meat, vegetables, occasionally tropical fruits.
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 omelet
Nori Dried edible seaweed sheets, made from a species of red algae called Porphyra.
Nuku zushi Steamed sushi. Rice and other ingredients are individually packaged in dried bamboo leaves and steamed.
Oden Japanese dish consisting of various ingredients stewed in a dashi broth. The ingredients vary, depending on the location. They often include boiled eggs, daikon, konjac (food made from the corm of the konjac plant) and fishcakes.
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, made with a special rectangular mold. Fish is put into the mold, topped with sushi rice, and firmly pressed. For serving the pressed block is cut into bite-size pieces.
Panko Bread crumbs used as a crunchy coating for fried dishes.
Persimmon leaf sushi Also known as kaki no ha sushi. Persimmon leaves have antibacterial properties. They are often salted to increase this effect. The rice is placed in a square wooden mold and pressed with the ingredients (usually cured mackerel, salmon and/or trout) on top. The blocks are then wrapped with the persimmon leaves and put back in the mold. After a few days of cold storage, the persimmon leaves (which are not meant for consumption) are removed and the sushi is ready for serving.
Pickled ginger See gari
Ponzu Soy sauce with Japanese citrus
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Ramekin Small ceramic or glass bowl used for cooking or serving various dishes
Rayu Chili oil
Renkon Lotus roots
Roe Fish eggs
Saba Sushi Cured Mackerel Sushi. Rice and mackerel are formed in an oval pole and wrapped in kelp.
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. Sake is also Japanese for salmon.
Sanmai oroshi Filleting technique for round fish
Sansai Mountain vegetables; vegetables that grow in the wild and are not harvested from fields. Often sold pre-cooked in water. Usually packaged in plastic packs filled with liquid.
Santoku Knife of 3 virtues, meaning it can be used for 3 different tasks: cutting slices, cutting dice and fine cutting.
Sasa sushi Bamboo Leaf Sushi
Sasa no ha sushi Cured trout or mackerel is pressed in a wooden mold, with rice placed on top. After removing the sushi block from the mold, it’s wrapped in bamboo leaves and put back in the mold. After cold storage for a few days the bamboo leaves are removed and the dish is ready for serving. The fish in sasa no ha sushi is always either cooked or cured. The leaves are not meant for consumption. Bamboo leaves have some anti-bacterial properties. In the days before refrigerators existed, the leaves were used to make this dish safer to eat.
Sashimi Sliced fish
Sashimi hocho Sashimi knife
Satsuma age Japanese fried fish cake. Also known as tempura (not to be mistaken with the common meaning of tempura: deep fried fish, seafood and vegetables which are first dipped in batter.
Shako Mantis shrimp
Shamoji Flat paddle style spoon for rice
Shari Sushi rice
Shichimi ‘Seven flavors’. A mix of ground red chili peppers, black sesame, white sesame, yuzu peels, sahnsho pepper, dried seaweed and dried ginger. Used in fusion style sushi as an addition to mayonnaise, to make it spicy and give it a stronger texture.
Shima sushi Literally island sushi, which refers to the Izu islands where this dish originated from. Raw ingredients are immersed in soy sauce infused with green chili peppers. Instead of wasabi hot mustard is used. The sushi is prepared as nigiri or as chirashi. Shima sushi is also called bekko sushi (amber sushi), because immersing in soy sauce turns the ingredients dark brown.
Shime saba Vinegar marinated mackerel
Shinmai Sushi rice that’s harvested from the first crop of the season. It’s the very best rice for sushi. In Japan rice may only be called shinmai if it’s processed and packaged for sale in the same year it was harvested. Shinmail usually becomes available in early fall. It remains available only until the end of the year.
Shiso Perilla (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
Sudachi Japanese citrus fruit
Sudare Rolling mat. See also Makisu.
Sui mono Clear soup
Surimi Imitation crab made from fish paste.
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
Tamago soboro Scrambled eggs
Tamari Wheat-free soy sauce
Tataki Cooking method that consists of rapid searing then cooling of meat
Temaki zushi Hand rolled sushi
Temari zushi Sushi balls. A type of nigiri sushi, consisting of small scoop of rice and a slice of fish or vegetable. The ingredients are tightened together into the shape of a ball, using a piece of cloth or plastic wrap. When unwrapped, the temari sort of resembles a flower.
Tempura A method of cooking that involves dipping fish, seafood or vegetables in batter and deep frying it until it’s fluffy and crisp. These days there are many tempura varieties, for instance tempura with pumpkin, banana, pine apple, even ice! Tempura is eaten immediately after frying. It’s often served with a dipping sauce including grated daikon. Tempura is also the name for satsuma age, Japanese fried fish cake – which is made without batter.
Tensoba Tempura soba, tempura served over buckwheat noodles (soba)
Tentsuyu Sauce that’s commonly served with tempura. The sauce is made with dashi (Japanese fish stock), mirin (rice wine) and shoyu (soy sauce).
Teriyaki sauce Thick, sweetened soy sauce.
Tenkasu Bits of fried batter that come loose when frying tempura
Tobikko Flying fish roe. Also spelled as ‘tobiko’. This is often sprinkled on top of dishes as garnish, wrapped inside nori to make gunkan, or used to cover sushi rolls. The roe has a pearl-like appearance, a crunchy texture and a salty taste. In its natural state, it’s not very flavorful, that’s why it’s usually processed with flavoring. This also changes the color. Tobikko is available in various colors, including orange, black, yellow, red and green. The natural color is orange. Black tobikko is treated with squid-ink, yuzu (a citrus fruit from the Far East) is used to make it yellow, beet to make it red and wasabi to make it green. Tobikko is high in cholesterol. However, the standard serving size is so small that you don’t need to worry about this. Unless you plan to eat it in large quantities, but there’s no reason at all to do that.
Tobikko is often sold in rather large quantities. You can freeze what you don’t use. It lasts up to 3 months in the freezer without any problems. If you want to use it again, use a spoon to take the amount you need and thaw it. Don’t thaw everything and freeze it again, that will ruin the quality.
Tofu Soybean curd. Usually white in color, tofu has a neutral taste. It easily absorbs the taste of other ingredients, that’s why it’s often marinated and subsequently fried.
Toro Cut of tuna
Tsukudani Small seafood, meat or seaweed simmered in soy sauce and mirin. It’s a preservable side dish with an intense flavor, usually eaten with steamed rice.
Udon A type of thick noodles made from wheat flour. Often served as udon soup.
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 enables 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 clearly differed from the four flavors known at the time. After the discovery of Umami, it took decades before it was globally recognized as a real fifth flavor.
Umeboshi See umezu
Umezu Also known as umeboshi vinegar. Japanese plum vinegar, which has a typical salty, sour and fruity taste. One of its uses is to make beni shoga, bright red pickled ginger.
Unayaki Sushi with Unagi.
Uni Sea urchin
Uramaki Inside out sushi roll
Uchimai ‘Ordinary rice’. The variety of Japonica rice that’s used for sushi.
Usuba Vegetable knife
Usuyaki Tamago Thin pancake omelet
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Wasabi Condiment made of the stem of the Eutrema Japonicum. Served with many kinds of sushi, because of its 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 known as water stone.
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Yakumi Condiments. Literally means ‘medicinal flavor’. This refers to the anti-bacterial properties of many condiments, like wasabi.
Yanagi knife for slicing fish fillets into sashimi.
Yuzu Asian citrus fruit. The fruit looks like a small grapefruit and is very aromatic. Yuzu juice is commonly used as a seasoning. As a fruit, it is rarely eaten, somewhat similar to lemon in other cuisines.
Yuzu kosho Yuzu peels with grated green chili
Zaru Bamboo strainer
Zasai Chinese pickled vegetable
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