Sushi a la Carte

A General Guide to Sushi and Sushi Bars

Randy R. Johnson

An entertaining and authoritative guide to sushi,
dining at sushi bars, and the complete sushi eating experience.
(This is not a restaurant guide, and there's nothin' in here about making sushi.)

Copyright © 1991-2013, Randy R. Johnson.
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Recommended by Lonely Planet's "Japan" Guide book:
"Randy Johnson's 'Sushi a la Carte' is a must for sushi lovers --
it explains everything you need to know about ordering and enjoying sushi."

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Food Photo Links: Plastic Sushi  replicas!  More Plastic Sushi.    + Here are some pricy Sushi Replicas (4 pages).

Sushi a la Carte

A Guide to Sushi and Sushi Bars

Introduction to Sushi

So, you'd like to know more about sushi.  You have friends who like sushi -- some even claim that raw fish is delicious -- but you've never given it a try. Or maybe you've sampled sushi a couple of times but were not very impressed. A number of people have enjoyed a few trips to sushi bars but never ventured into eating raw fish, partly because they couldn't figure out just what to order.  Or maybe you are a regular sushi-goer but feel that you're stuck eating the same dishes every time, and you know there is a lot more to discover.  Or perhaps you're pretty much of a sushi veteran, just looking for that "something extra".

For any and all of you, here is my personal 'low-down' on what is available in sushi bars -- I now list about 200 items -- what's in it, how to order it, what it tastes like, and how to participate in the customs of enjoying sushi!  Yes, I have eaten everything I've listed here; I didn't just copy it from someone else's book.  I spent over four years living in Japan (way too much of it in sushi shops and drinking houses), so I think I have some useful experience to share.  (And, nope, there is nothing in here about making sushi at home.) 

There is also a sushi glossary of terms and mini-phrasebook of sushi.  Even you old-hand sushi aficionados will find plenty of interesting new stuff in here to enhance your sushi experience, and maybe even entertain you.  And since I include a number of notes on customs and ordering in Japanese sushi bars -- not to mention all the names in Japanese -- I hope that those of you living in Japan will find something useful to add interest to your sushi outings.  For you new-comers to sushi, check out my "First Time" section, towards the end, for practical advice on your first forays into a serious sushi bar.

Yes, sushi is starting to show up in some mainstream locations in the U.S., like your local supermarket and at food fairs. A growing number of Asian fast-food eateries have appeared, many of which have some sushi on the menu. Most of this sushi is pre-prepared rolls of rice and seaweed with various vegetables and maybe some prepared fish inside. But this is only one kind of sushi, and it barely hints at the variety, quality, and exotic nature of what awaits you at a real Japanese sushi bar.

A good sushi bar is rich with Japanese traditions and atmosphere. And a cozy little sushi bar with a familiar staff and regular customers can become as special a place for you as your favorite local coffee house, diner, bistro, or tavern. It just comes from the other side of the world, and is full of flavors, smells, and customs that you aren't so used to.

You can enjoy a good sushi bar without knowing anything about Japan, but you will get even more from the sushi experience if you learn a bit about its traditions. And it helps to know something about the dozens of varieties of food available to really appreciate all that a sushi bar has to offer. There are (hopefully!) a lot of good things that are not even on the menu!  Get to know the food, the customs, and a few friendly sushi chefs, and you just might get 'hooked'.


Sure, you can pick up some sushi and take it home, and you can also make your own versions of sushi at home and save money.  A sushi-making party at home can be a lot of fun. But enjoying and participating in the atmosphere of a genuine Japanese sushi bar -- like going out for dim sum -- is an experience that transcends mere "eating" or "dining out".  And like dim sum, the amazing variety of dishes available far exceeds anything you could dream of making or picking up at a shop.

Sitting at a sushi bar is an interactive personal experience. You talk with the sushi chef as you order, and watch him preparing some pretty interesting food right in front of you throughout the evening. Customers also get to know each other, sitting elbow to elbow at friendly sushi bars, sharing their converstations and often swapping nibbles of good sushi.  "That looks interesting, what is it? And how do I order some?" ... "Here you go, try a bite!"  If you haven't found a sushi bar like that, you still have something to look forward to.


Below you will find a fairly comprehensive list of the dozens and dozens of various dishes you may find in a sushi bar in the U.S. -- as well as a few you probably won't find, but are interesting food for thought.  Now, don't expect to find all of this stuff at once in any one place; but part of the excitement of going out to a sushi bar is the awesome variety of unique dishes that you could never provide at home.  In this guide, I sometimes hyphenate dish-names in their first instance, as an aid to both pronounciation and web searching.

In Japan, a sushi bar will specialize in sushi only, with perhaps a small selection of cold and cooked appetizers, and some miso soup.  Since most U.S. sushi bars are also Japanese restaurants, you are also likely to find a wide variety of other Japanese main dishes, dinners, and cooked specialties available from the kitchen -- only a few of which can be mentioned herein.  While enjoying some of these cooked appetizers along with your sushi is part of the fun, you are normally discouraged from ordering full cooked meals off the dinner menu when seated at the sushi bar. There are typically only about six to twelve stools at the sushi bar proper, and these are the domain of those who want to eat Sushi, a la Carte.

Raw Fish and Other Flavors

First of all, you don't have to eat raw  fish to enjoy sushi and the sushi experience. Among the hundred choices available at a good sushi bar are numerous fish varieties that are served broiled, smoked, or slightly steamed or marinated. If you want to avoid raw fish altogether, just tell the sushi chef ahead of time.

There are vegetarian sushi aficionados who get along quite well with various pickle, egg, and vegetable rolls and side dishes. Check out my Vegetables  section for an eye-popping cornucopia of non-fish dishes that everyone will find tasty!  There is not any sushi I know of available in the U.S. that contains meat -- unless you count the SPAM sushi(!) for Hawaiians (does that have meat in it?). But there will be some meat side dishes available from the restaurant's kitchen. I know several regulars at my local sushi bar whose fare is limited to six or seven favorite dishes that don't include any raw fish. They adventurously enjoy the sushi world with a limited palate; they just like the place.

Is it Fishy?  While just the idea of eating raw fish repulses some people, most raw sushi does not taste (or smell) 'fishy' at all. The fresh delicate flesh usually has a mild clean flavor and is often tender enough to 'melt in your mouth'.  The few fishy-tasting exceptions include saba mackerel and sardines (or maybe some fish that's been around for way too long at a cheapo sushi bar!)

Still, many of the flavors of Japanese food are unusual to western tastes, especially soups, noodles, and stews served in a broth (dashi) based on fish flakes and kelp. There are also a few people who don't care for the flavor of the crisp nori seaweed that wraps almost all roll-type sushi (nori-maki), and a few other varieties (indicated below). A few sushi varieties come wrapped in just a small strip of seaweed. But many otherwise normal people really like the seaweed flavor and prefer their sushi wrapped in it.

The most palatable raw fish for first-timers are tuna and yellowtail. A tuna roll, with raw tuna in a roll of rice and seaweed, is all the raw fish some people will eat. Smoked salmon is really just lox, you've probably had that before; so next try raw salmon.

Many Westerners like fancy sushi rolls, where the fish is rolled up in rice and seaweed along with vegetables and various other flavors, then sliced in to several rounds.  A 'California Roll' is the most common example.  (The "various flavors" often include such non-traditional ingredients as mayonnaise, avocado, or cream cheese.)  There are a lot of people in the West who only order such fancy sushi rolls, and a good number of American sushi bars seem to make their reputations by catering to this taste and by creating ever more unusual such fancy rolls. They may also be cheaper, because you don't really need very good fish if you're just going to wrap it up in all that other stuff. But to many people, (including many restaurant reviewers) fancy rolls are most of the sushi they eat, and it's as good a way as any to get introduced to the sushi experience.

Personally, I like to savor the individual taste and texture of the raw fish, so I seldom order fancy rolls, and you won't see a whole lot about them in this page. There are only one or two "fancy" rolls to be found in sushi bars in Japan, but yes, California Rolls have appeared as an exotic American import!

In Japan, there are also very few traditional spicy  foods (that's right:  no 'spicy tuna, scallop or hamachi' rolls!).   Mentaiko -- spicy cod roe -- is a modest exception; small amounts of it are sometimes added to a few dishes.  But sushi chefs State-side tend to concoct "spicy" combinations to "enliven" the menu, including combinations using chile sauce, cream cheese, or mayonnaise.  Please enjoy this stuff all you like, but I'll just stick to Japanese sushi.

Sushi or Sashimi?

"Sushi" generally includes rice with each slice of fish or vegetable; one order of an individual kind of sushi is two pieces on rice -- or else the ingredients are rolled up with rice in some seaweed.  "Sashimi" is just the ingredients (usually fish), without any rice at all; one order will be several slices on a separate dish, and the serving may be larger (and more expensive) than one order of the sushi -- so think about sharing it.  Below, in my Sushi Vocabulary section, there is more detail about these and other sushi types, how they are prepared, and how to order them.

Any sushi bar -- including in Japan -- also serves the fish as sashimi, it's up to you.  For very fresh seafood with a subtle flavor, I prefer to eat it all by itself with no rice or seaweed. For me, this includes uni, squid and halibut, for example.  If the fish is not quite so fresh or tasty, it's better to get some rice under it. 

Most kinds of fish and shellfish can be ordered either way -- sushi or sashimi; but clearly the "fancy rolls" with multiple ingredients must be wrapped up with the rice.  I often order a mixture of both sushi and sashimi, because I like to taste some delicacies all alone.  Below you will also see listed some cooked foods and mixtures of raw ingredients that have their own special presentation -- often in a bowl -- that may be available in US sushi bars.  Watch what everybody else is eating and just ask "How do you order that?"  You're not alone at the sushi bar, and you can learn a lot by observation and by chatting up your neighbors!  That's all part of the fun of eating Sushi a la Carte!

Okay, let's eat sushi!

Fishes and Dishes

Everything you might get at a Sushi Bar

Fugu Usu-zukuri
Fugu Usu-zukuri
thin sliced fugu sashimi

Sustainable Sushi
White Fish Silvery Fish Darker Fish ShellfishFish Roe EelsSimple Rolls Hand Rolls Fancy Rolls Sushi Sets Vegetables! Cooked AppetizersAfters Dessert Specialty FishDrinks
Main Table of Contents
Symbols used:
Sustainable Sushi:  If you get serious about seafood, you will hear about the issue of sustainability of wild seafood stocks.  Here is a new website which specifically addresses Sustainable Sushi.   It seems to be associated with the book Sustainable Sushi, by Casson Trenor.  [I have no relationship with either].  No way I'm going to try to keep you up to date with sustainability issues with sushi, but the site (linked to just above) lists a number of sushi fish, and discusses seafood sustainability in general.

          English                  Japanese                       Description

WHITE FISH:   (shiromi  )

Halibut hiRAme All white, tasty, small East Coast halibut. A specialty in Japan, almost translucent when fresh.  You may find hirame sashimi served on a bed of ice in some (very) nicer places
@ Halibut Fluke Muscle enGAwa The small muscle around the side fin of halibut (sometimes salmon) is considered a delicasy; usually raw. But it can be a bit 'chewy'. Note that 'Engawa' may also  mean the "skirt" around a scallop.
@ Flounder kaREi Occasionally served raw; but usually Deep-Fried.  Sometimes called 'halibut', its cousin.  But flounder is a smaller fish and has more tender flesh. Also sometimes referred to as another close cousin: "sole".  All are bottom-feeding flatfish.  Fish lovers will recognize that "plaice" is another variety of flounder -- in Japanese it is called Ishi-garei = 'Stone Flounder'.
Sea Bass suZUki Nowdays, suzuki  is usually Striped Bass, not Chilean Sea Bass, which is quite similar.  Translucent, tender, some red bits in white flesh.
Sea Bream tai In the U.S., Red Snapper is what is usually served under the name "tai", but tai  is properly a Sea Bream, a cousin of snapper more common in Japan, where true tai is considered a delicacy. In fact several species are often called various versions of the word "tai"; read on...
Red Sea Bream madai Another close cousin of red snapper; looks a lot like tai; sometimes served with cod roe as madai tarako-ae.
Tilapia iZUmiDAI Looks a lot like Suzuki; firm translucent flesh with red stripes.  Izumi-dai  is often substituted for tai, and they may just say "It's snapper".  Originally an African fish, most sushi tilapia is now farmed in Hawaii!
* Whitebait Shirauo Seldom found in the US. Usually thin slices of white fish
@ Swordfish maka-jiki Occasionally found raw for sushi.  Makajiki can also refer to Blue Marlin.
* Blowfish fugu The 'deadly' one. Illegal in U.S.  Only the liver is poison; flesh is safe if the fish was cleaned properly. Since only specially licensed chefs can cut fugu, it's not found in sushi bars. Famous for translucent, iridescent flesh.  A slang term for fugu is 'teppo' = gun; fugu sashimi is also called tessaRead More on Fugu.
* Shark SAme Almost never eaten raw or in sushi bars
@ Thin-sliced Fish Usu-zuKUri
HiRAme UsuzuKUri
Usu-zukuri  just means "thin sliced". Halibut, fugu, or other white fish sashimi is sliced very thin and arranged flat on a plate, usually in a circle, so you can see the pattern of the plate. Served with garnishes and a dipping sauce.  (You will find the word -zukuri or tsukuri in many food names; it's a generic term that just means "to make".)
Seared Raw Fish TaTAki Tataki  is a general term that usually means a larger piece of fish that has been slightly seared on the outside, then sliced into sashimi slices that have that whitish, smoky bit on just the very outside.  This is commonly done with maguro, ahi, albacore, and bonito.  (Aji no Tataki, however, is an exception!)  The slices can also go on nigiri sushi.
Raw Fish Served on its Carcass SuGAta-zuKUri Sugata-zukuri  is a raw fish, filleted, cut or chopped up, and then served over its carcass -- head, tail, and bare bones and all.  ('Sugata' means shape or form)  This is most commonly done with Aji, which paradoxically is actually called Aji no Tataki, although it is really an example of Sugata-zukuri.  In Japan, halibut, tai, madai, etc. are commonly done Sugata zukuriSee... we're learning new stuff, already!

                                Madai, red sea bream                 Aji no Tataki
                               Madai, red sea bream                         Aji no Tataki

SILVERY FISH:   (hikarimono  )

Mackerel SAba A bit fishy and oily, but good. The Big mackerel; usually has been slightly salted and marinated.  Saba is often used in Hako (box-style) Sushi
Horse Mackerel Aji Stout 7" fish, silver outside, dark pink flesh; comes with onion and ginger-paste. Only available 'in season', usually beginning in late spring.  Aji  is not at all fishy-tasting like SabaNote that Aji  is very often translated as 'Spanish Mackerel'
Horse Mackerel sashimi Aji no tataki One small (6" to 8") fish, chopped up raw with a ginger garnish.  In Japan, it's served on its carcass.  A few places (bless 'em) serve its deep-fried bones (Aji no HOne) as nibbles! Yum! This is really an example of Sugata-zukuri, but it's called tataki, nonetheless.
@ Spanish Mackerel saWAra Off-white, looks like a white fish, but rich and a bit oily like mackerel; nice. Occasionally available in winter, but not found at all in most places.  As mentioned, what many places call 'Spanish Mackerel' is really "Aji", Horse Mackerel, which is much more red/pink
@ Sardine iWAshi Not often served in the US. Fishy and firm.
@ Spotted Sardine
    Gizzard Shad
koHAda Kohada is not a true sardine and is larger and more common than iwashi; it's also called Gizzard Shad or Sweet Sardine. Often marinated, it's somewhat similar to Saba, but more delicate and at least as tasty, if you can find it.  Yum!
* Half-Beak Sayori Sayori  is a juvenile Needlefish; it has tender white flesh, but silvery skin and is prepared for sushi (marinated) like saba, with some of the skin left on. Not often found as sushi in the US; more often in cooked appetizers, especially in Spring.
haMAchi A Sushi staple: Silvery to light brown or pink, by season and diet. Often pinkish-brown in US, but silvery in Japan -- which is why it is considered a hikari-mono, even though it is seldom marinated, usually served raw.  In fact, at least three other names are used for yellowtail in Japan, depending on its maturity (and color):  Buri, Kanpachi, and Inada.
@ Striped Mackerel
or Yellow Jack
shima aji Not a mackerel at all, Selaroides Leptolepis  is one of the "Jack" fish, more closely related to the Japanese Amberjack (Seriola quinqueradiata = hamachi!)  Among its common names are Yellow Stripe, Yellow Jack, and Trevally.  Red stripes in white flesh; it's also called "Striped Jack"; a little oily, it's only occasionally found in U.S. sushi bars.
* Trout masu Usually only at specialty restaurants near trout fishing grounds in Japan, where you get a "trout set" with 5 different ways of preparing it.  "Niji-Masu" is Rainbow Trout.
* Catfish NAmazu Usually served only in specialty restaurants, where you can get Catfish soup, sashimi, nuggets, etc.

Saba Sushi         Katsuo & Kohada
(left to right)
Saba, Katsuo, and Kohada

DARKER FISH:   (akami  )

Tuna MAguro The best "sushi-grade" is Blue-Fin tuna meat, usually deep red.  Also called "hon-maguro" ("real maguro").  What you really  get at a U.S. sushi place may be Big-Eye tuna or Yellow-Fin tuna (kihada maguro), or just (sigh) common Ahi.
Tuna flank CHU toro In between maguro and toro in color and price; the "side belly" of (hopefully) a blue-fin tuna.  Try this if you find it on a specials menu!
@ Tuna belly TOro The fatty belly of the blue-fin tuna. Sometimes called Otoro. Very oily, light pink. Pricy! and rare in US where chu-toro is often served as "toro".  You can sometimes get some nice toro for a fair price, but too often it is taken from a section where the white strips of connective tissue ("sugi") are so tough as to make the fish unchewable!  This section of lower-grade "toro" should  have been scraped out with a spoon to make a nice  Negi-Toro hand-roll.
Big-eye tuna Mebachi Maguro The Big-eye tuna; Sometimes called "ahi" but it's usually better than ahi, and is often served as "maguro" when big-eye is more available. It's not a bad substitute.
Ahi tuna Ahi A grade of Yellowfin tuna; not normally a good enough quality for sashimi, it may be used in "mixes" such as "spicy tuna" or "tuna salads" (like Hawaiian poke) and can be nice when seared.  But it is sometimes served raw (in lesser places) as "maguro" (but don't expect them to admit  it).
Fish steak in sauce Sai-kyo-yaki A fish steak -- often black cod (gindara) -- marinated in a sweet white miso paste, then seared outside, raw inside. Saikyoyaki  is usually done with a white fish, but...
Tuna steak in miso Maguro sai-kyo yaki Seared tuna (or ahi) steak in a miso paste marinade; should be raw inside.
Tuna in taro yamaKAke Raw maguro in a bowl of "toROro" (grated mountain potato - like poi!) with wasabi, quail egg, seaweed. Stir it up.  The maguro is thick cut (hira zukuri) or cube-sliced (kaku zukuri).   Warning: this is a challenge to eat with chopsticks, but very entertaining to share!
@ Tuna in miso MAguro nuta (nyuta) An appetizer of raw maguro in a bowl with wakame seaweed and green onion (or scallion), topped with sweetish miso paste  You may occassionally find nuta made with squid or octopus, instead.
Albacore tuna binNAga,
BINcho MAguro,
or Shiro-MAguro
Light pink delicate flesh; often slightly seared on the outside ("tataki");  served with a ginger or garlic garnish.  Yum!  In the US, also called shiro-maguro ('white tuna').  Bincho maguro is sometimes considered slightly different from binnaga but they are both albacore.
Escolar Abura Bozu Sometimes called "super white tuna", this fish is now starting to appear quite widely in many U.S. sushi bars and is often sold raw or seared as "white tuna" (shiro maguro)  or "albacore".  It is not albacore!  N-O-T albacore!  The flesh is very white throughout, while albacore should be a pale pinkish.  I find the taste pretty bland, but I no longer touch it, because: Escolar is banned in Japan -- since 1977 -- because it can cause temporary but quite unpleasant and embarrassing intestinal problems in some people  (yeah, me!).  The U.S. FDA tried to ban it, but now just has an Escolar warning  saying it "can cause severe diarrhea".  You have been warned!
Salmon SHAke or SAke Smoked salmon -- "Kunsei Sake" -- is like lox. (Salmon is translated as 'sake' but the Tokyo-dialect "shake" distinguishes it from the drink)
Raw Salmon nama shake Raw, fatty salmon; not smoked, but it has been deep frozen (by law) to kill any parasites.  The best is in the NorthWest (often from Alaska).  Rarely eaten raw in Japan because they don't have native-born salmon, except in Hokkaido
* Sturgeon cho-same Never eaten raw (fresh water flukes!), but very nice grilled. The name means 'butterfly-shark'
Bonito (skipjack) KAtsuo Deep red flesh; as sushi, topped with ginger-paste and onion.  Because of the rich flavor and scent, it must be very fresh and in season -- usually in fall. So it's not often found in U.S. sushi bars, and may not be fresh enough where it is found.
Bonito sashimi KAtsuo no taTAki Aged and seared thick slices of dark young bonito, as sashimi, with a ginger and green onion garnish. Good is thick, red and moist; bad is dry and 'fishy-tasting'.
Bonito flakes KAtsuo-BUshi Dried (hard as a brick!), then shaved bonito; looks like wood shavings; garnishes various dishes, including cold tofu, tako-yaki, okonomiyaki, and nasu-yaki.  It wriggles, as if alive, when broiled! (See the photo of O-shitashi)
Monkfish liver anKImo Steamed or sauteed; like a paté, served as an appetizer. A Japanese delicacy. Tastes like liver to me.  Anko  is monkfish, not often served as sushi.
* Whale KUjira Red and rich, like beef. Illegal in U.S.
* Horse meat BAsashi Raw horse, as sashimi; dark red with pink striations and aged.  Ba = horse; -sashi = sashimi.  Also colloquially called "Sakura-Niku" (cherry blossom meat).  Japanese who miss whale, eat ba-sashi

Shellfish  (Crustaceans and Mollusks)

Mentaiko no Ika Maki             Sazae, Turban-Shell             Uni in the box
Mentai no Ika Maki            Sazae                   Uni, as kept in the box

# Shrimp Ebi Whitish pink. Slightly steamed. Can get tough when it's been around awhile.  Note that all 'shrimp' mentioned here should actually be prawn-sized, at least.
Sweet Shrimp
Raw Shrimp
ama ebi Raw shrimp is a long way from "Ebi" (steamed shrimp)!  It is soft and translucent and succulent (yes, perhaps even a bit sweet) when fresh. It can have a brownish tinge when poorly frozen.  The best is fresh from the acquarium, but nowdays the proper freezing process produces very good raw shrimp. Lesser places only have sweet shrimp on the menu -- they don't actually serve any. Don't eat the tails, but the deep-fried heads come along as a side dish.  Yum, Yum!  If you aren't adventurous enough to eat the heads, just ask at the sushi bar -- you will find someone who thinks they're the best part!
Shrimp Heads ebi no atama You can't order these separately, they come with ama ebi.  I thought I'd mention that the better ones are cooked in a light corn starch -- or maybe fine panko crumbs.  More common are those cooked in tempura, which is 'OK' if done lightly; worse ones are thick with greasy (and tasteless) tempura batter.  The real pits are those with the carapace (outer shell) left on, which cut your mouth up!  There really is a lot to this sushi stuff...
#! Shrimp in seaweed ebi  iSObe-Age Shrimp wrapped in seaweed (with no rice) and deep fried, usually without batter.  Several to the order.  A good option for sushi novices, if you can find it.  This is also done with crab, salmon, tuna, etc.  Technically, Isobe-age  is a deep-fried version of  Isobe-Zukuri,  but they usually have different ingredients.  ("age" is pronounced "AH-gay" and means deep-fried).
@ Mantis shrimp SHA-ko Grayish, flat, small and crunchy; look like primordial crustaceans. Not much flavor to my taste. Sometimes translated to English as squilla. Shako is very common in Japanese sushi shops, but rare in the US. Japanese customers sometimes refer to it colloquially as gareji, the Japanized pronounciation of the English "garage".  In Japanese, 'shako' (written with different characters) can also mean a garage.
Octopus TAko Lightly marinated tentacle. Fresh is chewy, old is tough
# Octopus in vinegar TAko-SU An appetizer bowl of sliced octopus in a marinade with cucumber and wakame seaweed; "tako salad".  The marinade ("amazu") is made of vinegar & sugar.  A nice starter.  You should also be able to get this appetizer with bay shrimp, or crab ("ebi-su", "kani-su")
Baby octopus ii-dako Pronounced 'EE-dako'. Whole, boiled and marinated in a sweet brown sauce, as an appetizer.  About 2-inches long and Cute little rascals.
Squid (cuttlefish) Ika The freshest is "fuzzy" on the tongue and more translucent. The shinier, the older and tougher; often garnished with nori or shiso.
Raw squid Ika saSHImi Just the raw sliced squid on a plate, with garnish of shiso and shredded daikon
" "
Ika no senGIri "A thousand slices", same as above, but always very thin-sliced.  This technique is called ito-zukuri, or 'thread cut'.
Squid "noodles" Ika SOmen Raw thin-sliced squid in a bowl with quail egg, wasabi, seaweed. (Somen is a kind of noodle) This term may be interchangable with Ika sengiri, above.
Squid with stinky beans Ika nat-to Sliced squid with fermented soybeans (natto) added.  Can be an appetizer, roll, or hand-roll.   The appetizer traditionally comes in a bowl with shiso, wasabi and a quail egg.
Squid with spicy roe Ika MENtai Raw sliced squid and spicy red "mentaiko" cod roe; as sashimi (in a bowl) or a hand-roll with rice and nori. Another sashimi version is just the squid rolled up with mentaiko (and maybe a little shiso or nori) inside, & sliced into rounds, (no rice!); this may be called "mentaiko no ika maki" ('mentai rolled up in ika').
# Marinated squid salad Ika sansai Slightly smoky flavored, thin squid strips in tasty vinaigrette, hopefully with lots of crunchy wild vegetables, in a bowl
@ Fermented squid Ika no shioKAra Pink, pungent, fermented, god-awful salty 'goop' in a dish.  Good nibbles with sake, but not for the faint of heart. (This is really a drinking-house snack.)
Scallop HOtategai (kaiBAshira) Rarely called "kai-BAshira". Hotate means 'sail-unfurled'; slightly nutty flavor. Better places have fresh, whole scallops as sushi; others only serve hotate as...
! Spicy Scallop mix
Scallops chopped up in a white sauce (or mayonnaise), often with hot chile. Can be a hand-roll
! Sea Urchin Uni Actually their gonads. Very fresh, creamy, and 'sweet' from the Northwest US! The best has a mild 'nutty' or custardy flavor; within a few days it can become darker and very yukky. I take mine straight (sashimi) -- no soy sauce, no rice, no seaweed; so they better be fresh!
Red-tipped surf clam HOkkigai Also called "hen clam"; looks like a cockle, white with a dark red tip; just slightly crunchy.  kai or -gai means shellfish
Geoduck (=goeduck) MIrugai Also called Giant Clam or Long-necked clam. A bit crunchy, naturally. Not bad when fresh, can get gnarly when old.
@ Yellow Round clam Aoyagi Cream colored throughout; a bit crunchy. A nice but subtle flavor.
@ Red clam
Akagai Also called Ark Shell. Rarely get 'em here; orange throughout. Very mild flavor.
Dark cockle TOrigai Looks similar to Hokki-gai (surf clam) but a bit softer and dark blue on the tip.  Not as common as Hokkigai, but some U.S. places have them.
* Fan Mussel or
   Pen Shell
TAIragi Becoming scarce in Japan. Small "scallop eyes" in fan-shaped shell;  also called taira-gai
@ Conch HOragai White, firm, usually mild flavor. The big pink-shelled Caribbean conch.
Oyster KAki Not always available or the best. As always, the smaller ones are tastier. As sushi or on the half-shell. See also Fried Oysters
* Clam hamaGUri Rarely served raw or in sushi bars; usually fried as yaki hamaGUri
* Razor Clams MAte-gai Rarely served raw or in sushi bars, but may come as a cooked appetizer in the US, sautéed in butter -- yum!
# Crab KAni Fresh crab -- usually snow crab, ocassionally dungeness -- as sushi, if you can find it.  Fake 'krab' (surimi)  is pressed fish cake flavored with crab 'juices'; it is often used in rolls. Ask if they have real crab.
@ Abalone
   (rhymes with
aWAbi Crunchy but quite tasty. Becoming very scarce and very expensive. You might find an "abalone salad" with seaweed and tiny smelt eggs.  Hopefully, increased farming of sustainable abalone (about 4 inches long) will bring them back to your sushi bar in the future!
@ Jellyfish kuRAge Marinated, crunchy, bland flavor; perhaps in a "jellyfish salad" bowl, with other flavors.  Worth eating some just to impress your friends.
Sea Snail saZAe The 'turban shell' (or 'turbo') snail, as an appetizer: steamed in the shell (yuk), sliced and marinated (yum), or boiled in sauce  It comes in a conical shell about 4 or 5 inches in diameter. (see photo)


! Flying-fish eggs TObiko Tiny bright orange eggs, loose and crunchy; wrapped in nori on rice. The flying fish is tobi-uo. (Tobu is 'to fly')
! " with quail egg tobiTAma Tobiko with a quail egg on top. Tama="ball", quail is "uzura"
! Smelt eggs
  (or Capelin roe)
maSAgo Tiny eggs look just like tobiko but slightly paler orange and sweeter; a garnish on many other dishes and rolls (since they are much cheaper than tobiko), but masago can be ordered alone, an alternative to tobiko. I like 'em!
! Salmon eggs Ikura OK, I used to go fishing with this stuff as bait! So I've breached the 'sushi = bait' joke, now... Ikura are pea-sized, red-orange eggs; not always very fresh, but... excellent when they really are! So ask if they're fresh.
This reminds me of why I love a regular sushi bar, where the chef will tell me when he has some really great fresh ikura, which I would otherwise not order.
@ Herring roe kazuNOko Crunchy and salty yellow roe chunks, a winter -- and New Year's -- specialty; a bit pricy.  The herring itself (niSHIN) is mainly served in soups.  Note that if you buy this to have at home, it is caked in salt and must be rinsed off to be palatable.
@ Herring roe on kelp kazuNOko KOMbu Another specialty: kombu kelp strips caked with herring roe bits. Usually as sushi. Also called komochi kombu.
@ Cod roe TArako Yellowish white, in chunks. Could be pollock roe, very similar. Served the same as kazunoko, see photo.
! Spicy roe menTAIko Red paste of tiny pollock (or cod) roe with a bit of hot chile; often garnishes other dishes -- see also Ika-Mentai. Mentaiko is also called karashi-mentaiko
*! Milt shirako Soft white codfish milt (sperm sacs); euphemistically called "soft roe"

              Tobi-Tama and masago         Kazunoko -- herring roe         Shirako, cod milt         Ikura
               Tobi-tama and Masago                   Kazunoko                         Shirako                       Ikura


There's nothing 'fishy' about eels; they are well-cooked, and a favorite for many who shy away from raw fish!

Eel Sushi
Unagi (left), and Anago

# Freshwater eel
uNAgi Pre-cooked, then broiled when you order it, and topped with thick brown sauce. Hearty flavor.  Virtually all unagi served in the U.S. has been bought preprocessed, cooked, frozen, and shipped (from Asia -- farmed in China, Taiwan, and Vietnam) in vacuum sealed packets; all the chef does is slice it and heat it up.  So it should be about the same everywhere (sigh) -- even though a reviewer may rave about the especially wonderful unagi at a particular restaurant. 
# Sea eel
aNAgo While Unagi  is much more common in U.S. sushi bars, Anago is the eel of choice for sushi in Japan, where unagi  is not very often served as nigiri (unagi is considered too bold-flavored for sushi).  Lighter colored than unagi,  and with less fat, a more delicate flavor and texture, Anago  is served in the same way.  (Good) U.S. sushi chefs can buy fresh anago, then fillet and pre-cook it by boiling in a special sauce at their shop.  Yum!
#@ Eel on rice UNa-ju or ANa-ju Broiled eel in thick dark sauce, topping a rectangular lacquered box of rice; a lunch or dinner menu item.  Unaju  is made with Unagi, Anaju  with Anago.  This is how unagi is most often served in Japan and in a Japanese unagi-ya (eel specialty restaurant), the deep-fried eel bones are served as a snack!
#@ Lightly fried conger Anago no Karu-age I used to get these lightly-fried anago served as an appetizer dish -- just fried in a very light batter -- at a favorite sushi bar, but it is not common.  Neither is the term "karu-age" = 'lightly fried'. But very nice it was.


Sushi roll (generic) maki-sushi
A cylindrical roll of rice surrounded by seaweed and filled with various foods. Sliced into five or six sections. (Also called makiZUshi or nori-maki The little bamboo mat used to roll this up is called a MAkisu
Tuna roll tekka maki Maguro in a roll; the name means "iron roll". Adding mountain potato ('yama-imo') makes it a yama-kake roll (try it!).
# Cucumber roll kappa maki Kappa  is a mythical green gnome who loves cucumbers!
# Pickled radish shinko maki or TakuAN maki Bright yellow crispy pickled daikon. Takuan is the name of an early priest who invented shinko. I like mine rolled with shiso.
# Pickle roll tsukeMOno maki Various pickled vegetables.
# Vegetable roll yaSAI maki Carrots, cucumber, mountain potato, burdock root, etc.
# Combination roll FUto-maki The only traditional Japanese fancy roll, Futomaki  contians:  Omelet, spinach, kampyo  (gourd), gobo  (burdock root), mushroom, and a special sweet pink 'codfish powder' called oBOro  or sakura-denbu;  it should come out pretty big!
# Mackerel & Vegie Saba-Shiso Saba mackerel with shiso (perilla leaf) rolled in nori, often with burdock root or shinko pickle strips.  Makes a good isobe-zukuri  roll (without rice), as well.
Roll without Rice iSObe zuKUri Isobe-Zukuri  is a generic name for a nori-maki  roll made without  rice.  Don't expect every sushi chef to know what this is; you may get blank stares...  (It's sometimes called Isobe-Maki, but see the next entry.)  Usually made with raw fish, most often white fish or mackerel, often with an accompaniment of some vegetable or garnish (e.g. Takuan and kaiware).  But you could ask for any roll as isobe zukuri, and see what happens!   "Isobe" means beach; imagine someone bringing nori seaweed along for surf-fishing... Chop-Chop!  Isobe-zukuri!
#@ Rice Cake Roll [Mochi] iSObe-MAki The term Isobe-Maki  is usually used to describe a specialty New Year's dish which you aren't likely to find in a sushi bar.  It is made with sticky rice cakes (mochi,  a New Year's specialty); first broiled until they swell up and turn brown, then wrapped in nori  seaweed.  (photo below).


Isobe-Maki (mochi)

Don't stop here, there's plenty more Sushi a la Carte on the next pages...


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