Know your sushi

Although the technical terms and sheer variety of sushi might seem confusing, this guide will help you navigate the seven main styles, which are quite simple to tell apart.

1 | Makizushi | Hosomaki
Mayizusi, often shortened to “maki”, is the all-encompassing term for sushi rolls: these have been rolled into long cylinders using a bamboo mat, then sliced into discs, usually around one or two inches thick.

There are four different styles of maki: hosomaki,  futomaki, uramaki and temaki (see below). With the exception of uramaki, most of these sushi rolls are wrapped in nori seaweed, although soy wrappers, paper-thin omelette or translucent slices of cucumber are sometimes used too.

Hosomaki is the most basic style of makizushi, which contains just one filling, perhaps salmon, crab sticks or cucumber batons. Because there is only a thin filling, hosomaki sushi is often rolled quite tightly, creating delicate little discs.

2 | Makizushi | Futomaki
Futomaki is usually bigger than hosomaki, as it contains two or three fillings, rather than just one. Often raw fish or shellfish is paired with a vegetable, such as pickled daikon, avocado, cucumber or carrots. Pastes can also be used as a filling, such as smoked mackerel.

3 | Makizushi | Uramaki
Like futomaki, uramaki usually has two or more fillings. The difference is that, instead of being wrapped in a sheet of nori seaweed, uramaki is inverted: the rice is on the outside and the tightly-furled seaweed sheet is on the inside.

Uramaki was invented in America, where seaweed was viewed as a foreign ingredient that was best concealed inside the sushi roll, rather than paraded on the outside. A California roll is a classic example of uramaki, and is often rolled in rolled in sesame seeds or roe to decorate the plain rice exterior.

4 | Makizushi | Temaki
Temaki sushi is distinguished by its big, nori-shaped cone. Unlike other forms of makizushi, temaki is usually eaten with the hand rather than with chopsticks. It’s the most substantial form of makizushi, but beware: the nori gets soggy really quickly, so they should be eaten straight away.

5 | Nigiri
This is a hand-moulded piece of rice, topped with slivers of raw fish, or occasionally rolled omelette, cooked shrimp or smoked fish such as eel.

Sushi chefs often use a small dab of wasabi to affix the fish to the rice, so it’s unusual to serve extra wasabi with nigiri. Sometimes strips of nori are used to secure the fish to the rice instead. Unlike makizushi, which is eaten with chopsticks, nigiri is picked up and eaten by hand. It’s customary just to dip a corner of the fish in soy, so as not to over-salt the nigiri.

6 | Nigiri | Gunkanmaki
A style of nigiri sushi where the rice is wrapped with a thick strip of nori seaweed which protrudes over the top, so that it can be filled with delicacies such as fish roe or even oysters or sea urchin.

7 | Sashimi
Sashimi is raw fish, served without rice. It’s usually eaten with chopsticks, with a little wasabi mixed into the soy sauce to give it a kick. Chirashi, also known as “scattered sushi” or a “sushi bowl”, is a dish filled with sushi rice, topped with raw fish and vegetable garnishes – a sort of deconstructed sushi.

Share this article

    Related posts


  • Sushi bowl

    This quick and easy recipe by blogger Bella Bucchiotti features a simple sushi vinegar and spicy mayonnaise. It uses salmon, but raw tuna or smoked mackerel both make delicious alternatives.

    read more

  • Sushi rice

    All good sushi starts with the rice. So follow this recipe by Reiko Hashimoto for a sweet-sharp vinegar and perfect consistency: sticky enough to hold together, but with all the grains still discernible.

    read more

  • A feast for the sensei

    Rachel Walker visits the annual Sushi Awards at a mobbed Hyper Japan Christmas Market to find out what it takes to be a sushi champion.

    read more