Sushi is one of the most popular Asian foods in the world. While it may be scary to some, as it often consists of raw ingredients, those who love it can never get enough of this. Sushi is not just a thing you eat to fill up your tummy. It is a work of art. It takes years and sometimes decades to master authentic Japanese sushi.
If you are a person who is feeling adventurous and courageous to try out sushi but unaware of what to order, then you are in the right place, my friend. Today I shall teach you all there is to know about one of the most common forms of sushi: Nigiri.
In this article, we will discuss everything about what is Nigiri, Nigiri types, and how to eat nigiri in a restaurant.
What is Nigiri?
Nigiri is a kind of sushi that primarily consists of two things, a bed of rice smeared with wasabi paste and topped with seafood or fish. Nigiri is usually made with raw fish and seafood; sometimes, the topping is charred or cooked. Nigiri may or may not contain seaweed, but its fundamental elements remain the same, i.e., a bed of rice and seafood topping.
A nigiri is the best of both worlds as it has the freshness of sashimi which is just raw fish, and the textures and flavors of sushi which is usually a roll with fillings wrapped with nori (seaweed).
Usually, the seafood is highlighted literally by adding a glaze of soy sauce or other condiments. When delicate ingredients are used, for instance, Uni (sea urchin), then nori is used to wrap the rice ball and the topping so that it retains its shape and is easier to consume.
Most Famous and Popular Nigiri Types
1. Sake Nigiri Sushi (Salmon)
This is must-have sushi as it is made from a fish most U.S people are accustomed to, which is Salmon! However, don’t think of this Salmon like the ones you find in grocery stores and malls. This Salmon is primarily raised for sushi-making purposes. It will have a sweet-salty taste to it with a relatively firm texture which is buttery and on the sweeter side.
2. Maguro Nigiri Sushi (Tuna)
Maguro Nigiri is traditional Japanese sushi that highlights Maguro or Tuna. It is one of the most popular sushis and the go-to option for tuna lovers. The tuna used in maguro sushi is usually kami meaning red meat, and relatively lean.
3. Chutoro Nigiri Sushi (Medium Fatty Tuna)
Chutoro Nigiri Sushi is also another tuna nigiri, but this is made from a slightly fattier cut of tuna. The tuna used in this sushi is usually more buttery and has a soft texture that makes it melt in your mouth. It is loved by all sushi lovers and first-time sushi eaters as well.
4. Ootoro Nigiri Sushi (Fatty Tuna)
Even though this is another tuna nigiri, it is the most expensive. That is because this Nigiri is made from the lower belly of the bluefin tuna. The belly of tuna is a prized cut of tuna and is considered a delicacy. The belly of a tuna is the fattiest and butteriest part of a tuna. If you want the ultimate melt-in-your-mouth experience, this is the sushi for you, my friend.
5. Ebi Nigiri Sushi (Shrimp)
Ebi Nigiri is simply shrimping sushi. It can be of three different kinds. Amaebi is a raw nigiri and is made from Alaskan pink shrimp. It is sweet and delicate. Nama Ebi can be any shrimp, depending on the time of the year, location, etc, and is served raw. Ebi nigiri lastly is made with cooked shrimp, making it gateway sushi for those who don’t like raw fish.
6. Hamachi Nigiri Sushi (Amberjack)
Hamachi Nigiri is made from the flash of small and young amberjacks. It has a subtle, firm texture that sushi lovers love. It has a wonderfully creamy and sweet taste. It is simple and elegant, all in a small bundle.
Another variety of Hamachi Nigiri is Buri Nigiri, made from older and more mature amberjacks.
7. Saba Nigiri Sushi (Mackerel)
This sushi has a very fishy taste and smell because of the mackerel. It has a beautiful texture and flavor. Mackerel has a fishy buttery taste that, when paired with things like wasabi and soy sauce, creates a gorgeous flavor combination that most sushi lovers adore and seek. It is trendy across Japan.
8. Anago Nigiri Sushi
Anago nigiri is made from saltwater eels. Anago, when used in sushi, is always cooked. It is usually cooked with a sweet, tangy sauce resembling a barbeque flavor. The bed of rice is topped with the Anago, and then it is brushed with the sauce the Anago was cooked in. This gives the Nigiri an excellent shine, and the glaze stains the fish in a rich dark brown color that will make you drool just by looking at it. Anago is very fatty, so when it is cooked, it develops a buttery, fluffy, flaky, unmatched texture.
9. Unagi Nigiri Sushi
Unagi is yet another kind of eel, but it is a freshwater eel. It has a soft, firm texture and a very mild seafood flavor. It is usually served with soy sauce and pickled ginger. It is never served raw as it is always glazed with a sauce and often seared tableside for some extra theatrics or served pre-seared from the kitchen.
10. Gunkan Maki Sushi
Gunkan Maki Sushi is a kind of Nigiri with nori wrapped around it. They translate to warship rolls as they resemble the shape of boats and ships. The nori is used here to wrap the delicate topping on top of the rice. It provides structure and form and acts as a wall so that the topping doesn’t spill over. Some of the most common toppings are fish roe, and mostly salmon roe is known as Ikura Nigiri. It is loved by people who love the taste of the ocean and caviar. It is a true delicacy and coveted by sushi lovers worldwide.
11. Uni Nigiri Sushi
Uni is sea urchin gonads and is an acquired taste. Uni is the ultimate delicacy for seafood and sushi lovers as it is a highly prized and coveted ingredient. Sea urchins are harvested for their gonads. This is a thorough and delicate process as the gonads must be intact. What makes this especially difficult is the sea urchins themselves. Sea urchins are like black spiny balls if you’ve never seen sea urchins. The spines on sea urchins are very sharp and often contain toxins. So it requires a lot of patience and skill to harvest these gonads.
Uni tastes like the oceans. It has a creamy and smooth texture and is very delicate. It is almost always served with wasabi and nothing else. Soy sauce is a viable option, but no other ingredient is added so that the flavors of Uni can shine and be the star. If you love seafood, then I urge you to try this delicacy if you get the chance.
12. Ika Nigiri Sushi
Ika means squid, and so Ika nigiri sushi is squid sushi. Squid is cut into thin slithers that are carefully scored and cut to make the texture firm and slightly chewy. It is served with pickled ginger and shiso leaf to boost its flavor profile. It is one of the most popular sushi out there.
13. Tako Nigiri Sushi
Tako means octopus. Usually, the tentacles of a giant octopus are used here. The tentacles are cut extremely thinly so that it’s palatable and not rubbery. It is traditionally cooked. Like squid sushi, it is also a popular choice among sushi and seafood lovers.
14. Hotate Nigiri Sushi
Hotate means scallops. Scallops are harvested and used on the same day as they must be fresh. Scallops are a fantastic ingredient. They are firm yet soft in texture and taste like the ocean. Usually, whole scallops are used and placed on top of the bed of rice and glazed with soy sauce and accompanied by wasabi and pickled ginger. It is a must-try item for sushi lovers.
15. Tamago Nigiri Sushi
Tamago means egg. It is primarily an egg omelet that is cut into a rectangular piece and placed on top of a bed of rice. It is usually cooked with dashi and has a beautiful earthy and sweet taste. It is a safe choice for anyone starting to eat sushi as it is made with an ingredient almost everyone is familiar with.
Some Honorable Mentions
1. Shima Aji Nigiri Sushi: Nigiri made with a striped jack.
2. Iwashi Nigiri Sushi: Sardine Nigiri
3. Kurage Nigiri Sushi: Jellyfish Nigiri
4. Sumi Ika Nigiri Sushi: Cuttlefish Nigiri
5. Hirame Nigiri Sushi: Olive Flounder Nigiri
6. Engawa Nigiri Sushi: Halibut Nigiri
7. Akamutsu Nigiri Sushi: Rosy Seabass Nigiri
How to Eat Nigiri at a Restaurant?
Some Do’s and Don’ts of eating sushi at restaurants:
- Be friendly with the chefs and others dining with you; a simple smile goes a long way!
- If you want to see the preparation, politely ask the Itamae (sushi chef) to allow you a seat at the bar.
- Do not ask if the food is fresh or not. It is insulting to the chef to question their freshness as the best sushi places take pride in their freshness. If you have to ask for freshness or question the freshness of the food, you are at the wrong restaurant, my friend.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions to the chef and waiters. They will always politely answer your questions and offer recommendations if you are new.
- Never rub chopsticks together.
- Ask for specials, or ask if there is anything they offer that’s not on their daily menu.
- Eat Nigiri with your hands. It is meant to be eaten that way and doesn’t use chopsticks.
- Always eat Nigiri in one bite.
- Eat and drink palette cleansers in between sushis.
- Always eat sashimi with chopsticks.
- Tip the chef and waiter. If you want to tip the chef, there is usually a tip jar and politely place the tip there as the chef won’t touch the money since he is preparing food.
- When sharing or passing food, pass the entire plate and do not pick up the food with chopsticks as it is rude.
- Do not put Gari(pickled ginger) on the sushi, as it is meant to be a palette cleanser.
- Don’t mix wasabi into the soy sauce.
- Do not dip the rice portion of Nigiri into the soy sauce; dip the fish portion instead.
- A simple thank you goes a long way.
Sushi can be intimidating especially ordering sushi at a Japanese restaurant can be scary to some. So go out there, be adventurous and try out Nigiri; life is too short, so make the most of it! Hopefully, after reading this article, you better understand Nigiri, and now you know what to order and avoid.
Eva M. Smith is the owner of this website. She is a 4 year old mother of two kids and a professional chef. Eva loves to cook for her family, but being a working mom has a lot of challenges. From squeezing in time to do the groceries to make three meals for the day. Eva knows how challenging cooking can be without a kitchen game plan.
That’s why she perfected techniques of preserving staple ingredients and several foods so that you have something pre-cooked or pre-baked to use for an array of meals. And they do not come short in flavor! And she does not want to sacrifice flavor with convenience. That’s why she is the best person to ask.