Rolls or Sashimi? A Beginner’s Guide to Eating Sushi

There are over 4,000 sushi restaurants across America, and our love affair with this Japanese dish continues to grow. It wasn’t always so. Sushi found its way to America a decade post World War II, and Americans had to learn to love it.

Those years after the great war found Americans resentful of Japanese foods, but as younger generations discovered sushi, it grew to become part of the American food lexicon.

Still, you may walk past a sushi restaurant on your lunch break without considering it. It’s time to reconsider. Eating sushi might seem too adventurous for your palate, but once you try it, you’ll wonder what took you so long.

So why not give it a try? Learn more about how to eat sushi in this handy guide.

Types of Sushi

Your first time in a sushi restaurant could be intimidating. You need to know what you’re ordering. It’s best to have a basic understanding of the types of sushi available before you place your order.

Let’s talk basics. Sushi rice is Japanese short-grained rice seasoned with sugar, rice vinegar, and salt. On your sushi plate, you’ll find wasabi. Wasabi is a spicy plant related to the mustard family. It’s green in color and packs a punch.

With your sushi, you’re also served pickled ginger called Gari. To dip, you’ll get Japanese soy sauce, Shoyu, made from fermented soybeans and wheat.

These are the items meant to accompany your sushi, but what about the sushi itself? Here are the types you need to know.


While not sushi itself, nori is a key sushi ingredient. This is the wrap that holds your roll together. It’s made from Japanese seaweed that’s pressed into sheets and roasted.


This is rolled sushi where nori is wrapped around raw fish and sushi rice. This is the most traditional and also the most simple form of sushi you can order. California rolls, an American sushi innovation, are Maki.

Maki rolls make the best sushi for beginners.


Uramaki is a roll similar to Maki, but the rice is on the outside of the nori. Your typical spicy tuna rolls, crunch rolls, and rainbow rolls come in Uramaki form.

If it’s the thought of eating raw fish that holds you back from trying sushi, know that there are many Uramaki rolls made with cooked seafood. Try a roll that features crab meat or shrimp tempura to avoid raw seafood.


You’ll see Temaki called hand-rolls on many sushi menus. These are similar to Maki rolls, except they are not sliced into pieces.

Meant for one person, they look like sushi burritos. Restaurants love to experiment with these rolls, so if you’re thinking about ordering one for your first time, study the menu. If you’re not sure, ask.


This is a deconstructed roll without nori or other ingredients. Nigiri sushi is a mound of formed sushi rice with raw fish as the topping.

Popular Nigiri is made with salmon, tuna, halibut, and shrimp. These firm fish stand atop a mound of sushi rice, and in their raw form, provide a pleasurable eating experience. Nigiri is great for those who eat based on texture.


You hear this term thrown out a lot by servers and chefs at non-sushi restaurants when they describe their seafood options. They’ll describe their tuna or salmon as “sashimi grade.” It sounds important. Serious, too. What does it mean?

It means nothing. Sashimi-grade and sushi-grade are marketing terms.

Though you’ve heard the term, what is sashimi in terms of sushi? Sashimi is thin slices of raw fish like tuna or salmon eaten alone. There is no rice and no nori. You’re encouraged to eat it as is, or with a dab of soy sauce.

How to Eat Sushi

So you’ve determined sushi is your next great lunch idea. You’ll be surprised at how happy your office or workmates will be. Sushi lovers are so fond of great sushi they’ll jump at the opportunity to eat it.

If this is your first time, you don’t want to embarrass yourself. Follow these tips for eating sushi and you’ll look like a pro.

It’s Ok to Ask Questions

New cuisine can be tough to navigate, especially one with so many unfamiliar terms and names. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your tablemates or your server.

Your server is there to guide you through the experience. Sushi for beginners is all about new eaters falling in love with the dish. Your server wants you to love sushi, and they can guide you through the experience.

Chopsticks, Fork, Hands

Though you’ll receive a set of chopsticks to use, there’s no correct way for how to eat sushi. You may struggle with chopsticks, and end up with more sushi on your shirt than in your mouth.

Proper sushi etiquette dictates that you shouldn’t play with your chopsticks. Leave them on the table until you’re ready to eat and if you’re uncomfortable with using them, ask your waiter for a fork.

If you can’t find a fork, it is an acceptable practice to eat sushi with your hands!

What to Do With The Sauces

If you take your sushi to go, you can do whatever you want. If you’re dining in a renowned sushi restaurant for the first time, there are certain etiquette tips you need to know.

You should taste the fish before adding any sauce. If you decide to dip in soy sauce after the first bite, feel free, but don’t use too much. Sushi chefs take this as an insult. Feel free to add wasabi, but again, not too much.

Sushi chefs pride themselves on the balanced flavors they create. Likewise, don’t mix wasabi and soy sauce. Eat the pickled ginger in between pieces of different fish to clean your mouth and prime your tastebuds.

Remember, sushi etiquette is far different than the anything-goes American steakhouse dining experience. Follow these simple rules for a great time.

Have Fun Eating Sushi

Eating sushi is fun. It’s a sharable dish to enjoy with friends and family. Enjoy a glass of sake or beer and get those chopsticks working.

If you’re new to sushi, don’t worry about it. Do a little research and dive in. You’ll never look at a late-night snack the same way.

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