Sushi for Dummies

Okay, I will admit it. I am a big, huge, fat sushi buff. I love sushi in the morning and I love it at night. I would eat it every day of the week (which I actually did for a while, when living in Vienna). Anyhow: not everyone likes, loves or even knows sushi very well. And since we blog about a lot of restaurants that serve sushi, I thought it would be useful and interesting to write a beginner’s guide to sushi.

I hate fish, but I love sushi

It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. I have a small problem with fish: they scare me and I don’t like the flavour of your average salmon or tuna. To me, it just tastes pretty disgusting. White fish, crab, lobster, squid, octopus, scallops, oysters and mussels on the other hand, I all love. Then one day I was reading a book, Arnon Grunberg’s Thirza (a Dutch novel) and the protagonist was preparing sushi in the kitchen throughout the novel. Somehow the concept of the fresh fish and rice, wrapped in seaweed, tickled my fancy – even without me knowing the flavour. I slowly started obsessing about sushi and how it would taste. And then one day, on my way to work, I bought a little fresh basic box of sushi. With fish in it.
And I loved it. AndI have been in love ever since.

So don’t let your resentment of ’scary’ fish or ’strange’ ingredients turn you off. Don’t think you’re just going to eat raw fish – it’s a combination of different ingredients and flavours that are all part of the one and the same sushi experience. Not to forget that there is a lot of very nice vegetarian sushi out there as well, if you don’t want to involve yourself with the fish.

Sushi: the Basics


The maki rolls are the most well known types of sushi. They have seaweed (nori) on the outside, rice on the inside and one ingredient in the middle. Classical maki’s are sake maki (salmon) or tamago maki (sweet omelette), inari maki (fried tofu), unagi maki (eel), oshinko maki (spicy radish) and shiitake maki (Japanese mushrooms).

Futo maki is a sub-type of maki, consisting of multiple ingredients and sometimes referred to as ‘big rolls’, as they are rather big rolls, in comparison to normal maki. They are thicker and have more ingredients rolled into the sushi roll. A classical futo maki would consist of crab, avocado, tamago (egg) and cucumber.

Inside-out rolls are bigger than basic maki, but smaller than a futo maki. They mostly have sesame seeds or caviar eggs sticking to the outside and seaweed on the inside. Some other classical inside-out ingredients are cucumber + salmon and avocado + crab.
An America-style inside-out roll that is very popular in Europe as well is the Philadelphia roll. This inside-out combines cream cheese with salmon, cucumber and sesame seeds.

Special rolls are basically all other sushi rolls that combine regular maki-style with futo maki and inside-out rolls. It is not an official category, but it helps with categorising the different types of sushi in your head. And it allows me to sum up some very nice combinations that sushi restaurants can come up with.

Fried rolls (also known as ‘crunchy rolls’ or ‘tempura sushi’) ia another sub-category to the special rolls. These sushi rolls are commonly supplemented by special batter on the outside and subsequently fried. A naughty and less-healthy type of sushi, but sometimes you just need that extra twang that comes from deep-frying food. Most fried rolls have different ingredients on the inside, such as crab, chicken, mussels, salmon, tuna or squid – mostly combined with a variety of vegetables. Additionally, tempura sushi is often accompanied by a teriyaki or sweet and sour sauce.

Nigiri sushi is another classical type of sushi. Instead of it being a roll, a nigiri is a small rectangle of sushi rice with a slice of fish, omelette or tofu on top. Very simple, but therefore the taste of both primary ingredients are perfectly savour-able. Since I am a big fan of tamago (the sweet Japanese omelette) I love tamago nigiri’s, since it gives me a nice big piece of tamago to enjoy. Same goes for your favourite ocean animal on rice.

Temaki sushi is an optically exciting type of sushi. It consists of the nori seaweed rolled into a little triangular pouch, filled with rice and a variety of fresh ingredients. A traditional temaki can be filled with cucumber, lettuce, surimi (crab) sticks, avocado and fried eel.

Try sushi

In the end, there is only one tip I can give you: give the sushi a try. Start with a veggie maki (with cucumber, radish or tofu) if the fish scares you or go for an inside-out roll with multiple flavours. Then slowly work your way to the other variaties of sushi and you will find yourself loving it. And did I mention that sushi is very healthy? (Well, apart from the deep-fried rolls, of course.)

Happy sushi eating!

Ready for giving sushi a try? Read our restaurant reviews on eating sushi in Berlin.

Photo: Flickr