Nigiri: What Is It and How Does It Differ from Sashimi or Maki?

Konnichi wa / Great Outdoors

Introduction

Nigiri is a traditional Japanese dish popular in Japanese cuisine that consists of small pieces of sushi rice with wasabi and fish.

Nigiri sushi is often served as an appetizer, but can also be found in bento boxes or on its own. The word nigiri means "to grip" in Japanese. This type of sushi was created by fishermen who would make hand-formed balls out of their catch to eat them quickly without needing chopsticks or other utensils, but is more commonly today found at a sushi restaurant made by a sushi chef.

Watch this video on the right way to eat sushi!

What is nigiri?

Nigiri is a type of sushi which consists of sliced raw fish or other seafood on top of molded a sushi rice ball.

Nigirizushi, or "hand-pressed sushi," literally means to handle this dish with the fingertips while pressing and shaping it so that it forms an oval shape for eating.

Nigiri sushi can be made from any kind of meat or shellfish as long as they are not cooked before they go into the pressed nigirizushi form. The most common topping used in nigiri is fresh fish like tuna (maguro), fatty tuna (toro), salmon (sake) and shrimp (ebi). Other toppings may include sea urchin roe, squid salad, octopus, or eel.

How does nigiri differ from sashimi?

Nigiri is a popular Japanese dish made of cooked white rice that has been shaped into bite-sized pieces, topped with a thin slice of raw fish and lightly seasoned. It can be served in sets of two to six for a meal.

Sashimi is just the thin slice of fish (usually somewhat thicker than nigiri) that is on top.

Unlike nigiri, sashimi slices are not typically garnished with seaweed nor do they have any toppings on them besides soy sauce and or wasabi; however, they are sometimes served on daikon radish.

The word "sushi" is often used interchangeably with either nigiri and / or sashimi but actually refers more specifically to sushi containing rice seasoned with rice vinegar like nigiri; it does not refer exclusively to these forms of seafood.

How does nigiri differ from maki?

Nigiri is a type of sushi that features rice and raw fish, specifically slices of fish, laid on top.

Maki (or a traditional sushi rolls) typically contains vegetables as well as the raw seafood, with other ingredients such as seaweed wrapped tightly around it like in an inside-out roll.

One popular version of maki is the California Roll. Another version, gunkan maki, contains salmon roe. One way to remember nigiri over maki is by remembering they are "hand pressed" versus "rolled".

Both dishes are often served on a black stone slate and may contain sesame seeds as a topping, but this is more common with maki than with nigiri. Soy sauce and wasabi are typically served on the side. Pickled ginger is eaten to cleanse the pallet in between pieces. A seaweed salad is sometimes served on the side.

Final thoughts on nigiri

Hope you enjoyed this article on nigiri!

If you're looking for the Nigiri Project, a project to restore salmon to floodplain habitats that serve as rice fields in the summer, located in Knaggs Ranch between Interstate 5 and the Sacramento River and sponsored by the UC Davis Center for Watershed Sciences, go here.

Looking for more on Nigiri and other similar content? Try these:

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Konnichi wa / Great Outdoors