SUSHI TERMS (08/01/2019)


To make nigiri sushi, or the whole movement of taking sushi rice from the rice bowl and making nigiri sushi together with a slice of fish. The word “tsukeru” means “to soak”, and the original form of Edomae sushi was “nare-zushi” made by “soaking” fish and rice in wooden bucket. So people used the word “tuskeru” instead of “nigiru” to order sushi in the old days. Now the expression is disappearing and used only at some old restaurants.



To make a unit of nigiri sushi using a whole piece of fish, also called “ichimai-zuke”. Usually made with small fish such as “kohada” (medium-sized konoshiro gizzard shad) or “kasugo” (baby sea bream) but ancient Edomae style includes rolling or folding long slim fish like “anago” (sea eel) and “sayori” (Japanese halfbeak).



Red meat of “maguro” (tuna) that remained on the backbone after the filets have been removed. At fish markets, refers to the meat scraped off the backbone with clamshells or big spoons. “Nakaochi” used to be for workers’ meals at fish markets and not commonly seen at restaurants or supermarkets but later became one of the popular sushi ingredients.




Especially fatty part of non-farmed “maguro” (tuna), only 20 percent of all the toro meat. Those with marbled fat similar to beef is called “shimofuri” which translates “fallen frost” and it is called “jabara” if the lines of white fat looked like the belly of a snake. Also “kama-toro” found below the collar of maguro is classified as a kind of otoro.


Medium fatty part of “maguro” (tuna). The belly side of chutoro varies from otoro-like extra fatty part to less fatty almost red meat while chutoro on the back is evenly fatty. Especially high quality chutoro on the back is called “setoro” and classified as same rank as the precious otoro.



General term for the fatty part of “maguro” (tuna) also used for other fish nowadays. Originally just called the “fatty meat” but it is said that a patron of a sushi restaurant, Yoshinozushi at Nihonbashi, called it “toro” from how it “toro-keru” (melts) in the mouth in the Taisho period and the name has spread to become the common name. The most popular sushi ingredient for all generations.



A small portion of sushi rice made into ball shape to make nigiri sushi. The chef must be careful not to mash rice grains when taking out of “shari hitsu” (container to keep sushi rice) and molding into a small ball with only one hand. It requires extremely high technique to make the perfect sharidama, the right size and weight for each ingredient.



One of the methods of nigiri for ingredients that tend to fall off easily such as “awabi” (abalone) or “ika” (squid). The sushi on the palm of the left hand is flipped over instead of holding with the right hand fingers. The shorter side of the rectangular sushi becomes the axis when turning over so it is called “tategaeshi”, the vertical turnover.



The most traditional method of making nigiri. Sushi has to be moved from the left hand to the right hand, so more process and complicated movement compared to “kotegaeshi”. Sushi made by this method is firmly shaped and does look more beautiful but not many sushi chefs has mastered this method since it requires speed not to let the heat of the hand affect the ingredients.




The most popular method of making Edomae nigiri sushi. Most sushi masters adopt this method for it requires fewer steps to mold sushi. First, put sushi on the palm of the left hand (for the left-handed, otherwise) and use the fingers of the right hand to change the direction a couple of times as shaping the sushi. It is difficult not to press hard to take in some air in the rice ball and requires much training.


The space inside the counter where sushi masters work, slice fish, or make nigiri. “Tsuke”, or “zuke”, is the noun for the verb “tuskeru” meaning “to soak” or “to preserve”. “Ba” means “a place”. The original form of Edomae sushi was “nare-zushi” made by “soaking” fish and rice in a wooden bucket. “Tsukeba” is the sacred place in sushi restaurants and guests may never step inside without permission.



Vinegar-added water used when making nigiri sushi to avoid rice from sticking to the hand. Basically, the amount of water and vinegar are equal and it is kept in a ceramic or metal bowl in “tsukeba” (a place inside the counter).



The original meaning was to let the fish die on its own but today “nojime” signifies to place a large amount of fish such as “iwashi” (sardine) and “saba” (mackerel) in iced water to let die naturally. It is unlike “ikejime” in the way the fish is not killed instantly but the technique is used to maintain the quality by preventing rise in the temperature of the fish.



A method of killing fish instantly without pain to maintain freshness of its meat. This technique prevents the fish from becoming sour due to lactic acid produced by the rise of the body temperature from reflex motion upon catching the fish. There are several methods as cutting the hindbrain or inserting a spike.



Hot green tea served at sushi restaurants. Generally powder tea left from the production of “sencha” (ordinary green leaf tea) is used instead of high quality leaf tea because liters need to be prepared quickly.



A style of serving sushi, neither “omakase” (up to the chef style) nor “okimari” (fixed set), in which the guests choose sushi ingredients they prefer and order in however order they like.

This was the standard style until about 20 years ago although rarely seen now that omakase has become more popular.



A fixed set of nigiri sushi for one person served at sushi restaurants. Consists of about ten nigiri, often ranked in three grades as “matsu” (pine), “take” (bamboo), and “ume” (plum). The price is lower than “okonomi” where the guests order nigiri at random. Most sushi restaurants had okimari, but nowadays exist only in few so you need to be careful.



Traditional “tamagoyaki” in Edomae sushi is a type of Japanese omelette usually made with eggs, ground shrimp or white fish, sugar, and miso. Special pan is used and it is completely different from “dashimaki tamago” of Kansai in its taste and appearance. Every restaurant has its own style of tamagoyaki, some don’t use ground fish and others use Japanese yam. Thinner tamagoyaki of about 1 cm is called “usuyaki” (thin omlette) and the thicker is called “atsuyaki” (thick omlette) and are distinguished.




A condiment indispensable for Edomae sushi used to reduce fishiness and give accent to the taste. It is a plant of the Eutrema genus of the Brassicaceae family and the stem is grated before putting on ingredients for sushi. It is called “honwasabi” (real wasabi) to distinguish from horseradish and processed powder wasabi. A kind called “Mizuwasabi” (water wasabi) grown by clear mountain streams or using spring water is famous for the best aroma and the taste.




A type of sushi made by decorating several kinds of ingredients on top of sushi rice, or mixing ingredients with the rice. “Chirashi” literally means “scattered”, and this is where the name came from as variety of ingredients are “scattered” on rice. In Edomae sushi, prepared ingredients such as vinegared “kohada” (medeium-sized konoshiro gizzard shad), boiled shrimp, simmered “anago” (sea eel), chopped and spread on sushi rice is called “bara-chirashi,” and when raw fish is used it is distinguished by calling “nama-chirashi”.



A type of sushi made only by hand without using “makisu” (thin mat woven from bamboo and string). Rice and some ingredients are wrapped with seaweed. It is said that Tuskiji Tamazushi began this style in 1971, although some say Kyobashi Yoshino started earlier. This easy style has spread widely and now it is a standard of home made sushi.



A type of sushi made by wrapping seaweed around sushi rice and placing ingredients on top. This style was created originally by Ginza Kyubei to make sushi with ingredients that are too soft or easily fall apart such as “ikura” (salmon roe) or “uni” (sea urchin). “Gunkan” means “warship” and the name comes from the way the sushi look.



Rolled sushi with larger diameter. In Edomae sushi, “kanpyo” (dried strips of gourd simmered and flavored with soy sauce and sugar), eggs, “oboro” (fish crumbles), boiled shrimp, simmered “anago” (sea eel), and flavored shiitake mushrooms are used. Generally the size is about 5 to 10 centimeters diameter. Usually made to take home rather than to eat at the restaurant.



A kind of “hosomaki” (rolled sushi of small size) that uses maguro. There are various theories as to where the name came from. One is that the meat of maguro is as red as hot iron, which name “tekkamaki” is written “iron,” “fire,” “roll” in Chinese characters. Or another is, tekkamaki was eaten in Japanese casinos called “tekka-jo.” When “toro” (fatty part) is used instead of red flesh it is called “toromaki” and scallions added, the name becomes “negitoromaki.”



Rolled sushi of small size, about 3 centimeters diameter. From the way they look, sometimes called “teppo maki” (gun roll). The most popular of these small rolls in Edomae sushi is “kanpyo maki” which dried strips of gourd are flavored with soy sauce and sugar, and then rolled inside sushi rice. It used to be the traditional style to conclude sushi course with kanpyo maki.



A general term for rolled sushi. First, place a piece of square seaweed on a thin mat woven from bamboo and string called “makisu,” spread sushi rice, put ingredients, and roll. It is too long to eat so usually cut into several pieces. It requires high technique and speed to roll before the seaweed softens with moisture from the rice.



Picked ginger. Ginger is peeled, sliced, and picked in sweetened vinegar. Fresh and spicy flavor of ginger eliminates fishy smell so it is served with sushi to refresh your mouth. These days there are more unique types, not sliced but cut in small cubes or unsweetened, for example. The name “gari” is said to be from the expression “gari gari,” the sound of biting in Japanese.



Sushi ingredients that have arrived at the market for the first time in the season. Sometimes called by another name “hashiri”. Traditionally in Edomae sushi, “hatsumono” have been very much preferred especially the spring “hatsu-gatsuo” (first bonito), early sumer “shinko” (baby konoshiro gizzard shad), or summer “shin-ika” (Japanese spineless cuttlefish).


〈Kakushi Bocho〉

A technique to use knife to cut tendons or hard parts of sushi ingredients that are hard to bite such as raw “ika” (squid), “awabi”(abalone) or fresh fish. It is called “kakushi bocho” (hidden knife) because the cuts are usually done on the hidden part of the ingredients, reverse side for example.


〈Kazari Bocho〉

To decorate sushi ingredients with knife to make them look beautiful. There are many techniques of “kazari bocho.” For example, cutting the edge around “akagai” (red clam) to make them look like flower when made into nigiri sushi, or making lines both vertically and horizontally on “ika” (squid) or “aji” (horse mackerel) so the decoration appear when “nikiri” (sweet soy sauce)is applied.



Paste of ground shrimp or white fish, seasoned, and then mildly roasted until crumbly. In Edomae style “ebi (shrimp) oboro” is often used. It is made by adding egg yolk to the paste of shiba shrimp and carefully kneaded. Oboro is usually sweet from the sugar, so it is used for vinegar marinated fish to soften the sourness or add accent to fish with simple and mild taste.



A technique to flavor ingredients not by simmering but by marinating or soaking in seasoned liquid, often applied for “hamaguri” (hard clam) and “asari” (Japanese littleneck clam). “Zuke” is a kind of this “tuskekomi,” where red flesh of “maguro” (tuna) is marinated with condensed soy sauce. Commonly it takes overnight for hamaguri, and the marinade for which is made by adding soy sauce, sugar, “mirin” (sweet sake) to water used to boil the clams.



Sushi ingredients simmered with broth of soup stock, soy sauce, sugar, sweet sake, and Japanese sake. The most popular are “nianago” (simmered sea eel) and “niika” (simmered squid). Often served with “nitsume”, sweet thick sauce made from broth used to simmer anago. Every sushi restaurant has its own way of making nianago, not to mention the flavoring of the broth but amount of time to simmer anago differs from a few minutes to half an hour.



A technique to add “umami” (tasty flavor) of “konbu” (kelp), such as glutamic acid, to fish and shellfish with simple taste. Used for white meat fish like “hirame” (sole), “suzuki” (Japanese sea bass) or  “ama-ebi” (sweet shrimp), “shira-ebi” (Japanese glass shrimp), “hotaru-ika” (firefly squid). Ingredients are wrapped with konbu and let stand for a few hours to a few days until the flavor is transferred. Dried konbu absorbs the moisture of fish so it is also used to sharpen watery taste of the ingredients.


〈Teichi-ami Ryo〉(Set net fishery)

It is one of the coastal fishing methods using the fishing net placed in a certain area in the ocean to capture migratory fish that passes a certain area at a certain time of the year. This method is used for “maguro” (tuna), “katsuo” (bonito), “buri” (yellowtail). As this is a passive method, it causes less damage to the fish compared to purse seine fishing. Also known as environmentally friendly method to avoid excessive fishing.



Sweet sauce used for sushi ingredients such as “anago” (sea eel). Basically “nitsume” is made from the broth used to simmer anago, the stock from the backbone, sugar (or crystalized sugar), and sake, simmered until it becomes a thick sauce. There are some sushi restaurants where they add the broth of squid. Nitsume made from water used to boil “hamaguri” (hard clams) is called “hamatsume” and used just for hamaguri.

Some of the long-established Edomae sushi restaurants use   aged nitsume for many years by adding fresh nitsume little by litte, and these nitsume are considered very precious.



A technique to keep raw fish fresh and reduce fishy smell by bactericidal, deodorizing effect of vinegar. Salting the fish is necessary before curing in vinegar. In doing so, excess moisture is removed due to osmosis. Without this process, the fish becomes soggy and tastes dull. The longer time in vinegar, the longer the conservation but as the acid coagulates proteins and changes the texture of the fish, a few minutes to about half an hour should be adequate. The balance is important.



Silver-white skinned fish such as “kohada” (gizzard shad), “aji” (mackerel), “sayori” (Japanese halfbeak). Often confused with “blue fish” with bluish color at its back but in Edomae sushi, those not categorized as “blue fish” like “kisu” (Japanese whiting) and “kasugo” (baby sea bream ) are also included.

Since most of which tend to lose freshness faster than white fish, for example, a technique “sujime” (curing with vinegar) has been used traditionally to keep fresh. Still now sujime is generally applied for kohada and saba.



Salt water used to prepare fish meat for sushi. In Edomae sushi, it is used for small or thin body fish to salt them evenly. Generally the salinity of tatejio used for saltwater fish is higher than seawater, over 5 percent.



To leave it up to the chef what you eat. Most of high-rank sushi restaurants follow this “omakase” style. Just by saying “omakase” after taking your seat, nigiri (hand-pressed) sushi and side dishes are served like a course menu. Some restaurants only serve nigiri sushi. Guests cannot change the lineup of omakase menu but you can let master know your dislikes in advance.



A name for soy sauce prepared especially for sushi. Abbreviated word for “nikiri-shoyu.” Made by boiling, just for a few seconds, condensed soy sauce, sake, mirin (sweet sake used to add falvor), fish broth, and sometimes more ingredients. The word comes from the verb “Nikiru” which means “to heat alcohol of ‘sake’ and ‘mirin’ out of the sauce”. Putting “nikiri” on top of sushi with a small brush as a finishing touch is the traditional way of serving Edo-style sushi.



Vinegared rice cooked and seasoned for sushi. It is said that the word “shari” originally came from “busshari,” meaning the remains of Buddha, or referred to the sound “shari, shari” (crunching sound) as stirring rice grains in the water to wash them before cooking but no established theory. Generally, in Edomae sushi, cooked rice is flavored with “awase-zu,” mixture of rice vinegar, salt, and sugar. However, using sugar was not common before 1940’s, and until then, red vinegar made from “sakekasu” (lees left over from sake production) was used instead of rice vinegar and added salt only.

Young generation of sushi masters is revaluating red vinegar and many take in this old style of making sushi rice. It has a unique taste rice vinegar does not have to bring out the best in each pieces of fish.