Nigiri vs Sashimi vs Sushi: Key Differences Explained

January 18, 2024

If you're a fan of Japanese cuisine or planning to start your own sushi bar, understanding the subtle distinctions between nigiri vs sashimi and sushi is essential. Each of these dishes offers a unique experience in taste and presentation, and knowing the differences can significantly enhance your culinary journey or the success of your establishment.

In this blog post, we will delve into the world of nigiri, sashimi, and sushi to help you appreciate their differences and make informed choices for your menu or dining experience. Let’s get started!

What is Sushi?

Sushi, a traditional Japanese dish, is more than just a specific dish. It’s a category of food that primarily uses vinegared rice, known as sushi-meshi. This rice is combined with a variety of ingredients, including seafood (often raw), vegetables, and sometimes even tropical fruits. 

The beauty of sushi lies not only in its unique combination of flavors and textures but also in its presentation and preparation. These aspects are so highly regarded in Japanese cuisine that sushi is often considered an art form. The type of sushi is determined by its ingredients and the way it is assembled, leading to a wide array of sushi types, each with its distinct taste and appearance.

Types of Sushi

Sushi comes in many forms, each with its unique preparation and presentation style. Understanding these varieties is crucial for anyone aspiring to delve into sushi.

1. Nigiri: A type of sushi made with a slice of raw fish or seafood placed on top of a small ball of vinegared rice. It's often seasoned with a touch of wasabi and may be bound together with a thin strip of seaweed called nori.

2. Maki: Also known as rolled sushi, maki is prepared by wrapping ingredients in sushi rice and nori. The roll is then sliced into several pieces. There are several variations, including:

  • Hosomaki: Thin rolls with only one filling ingredient.

  • Futomaki: Thick rolls that contain multiple filling ingredients.

  • Uramaki: Inside-out rolls where the rice is on the outside, and the nori and fillings are on the inside.

  • Temaki: Also known as hand rolls, temaki is made by wrapping sushi rice, fish, and other ingredients in a cone-shaped piece of nori.

5. Chirashi: A bowl of sushi rice topped with various sashimi and garnishes. It is also referred to as "scattered sushi."

6. Inari: Sushi rice stuffed into a small pouch of deep-fried tofu called inari-age.

7. Oshizushi: Oshizushi is pressed sushi, where ingredients are layered and pressed into a box mold, then cut into bite-sized pieces. It offers a neat, uniform appearance and a compact flavor.

These are just a few examples of the many types of sushi available. Each type offers a unique taste and experience, highlighting Japanese cuisine's versatility and artistry. Whether you prefer the simplicity of nigiri or the rich flavors of a complex maki roll, there's a type of sushi for everyone to enjoy.


What is Nigiri?

Nigiri is a type of sushi consisting of a small, bite-sized portion of vinegared rice, often hand-molded into an oval or rectangular shape. What makes nigiri unique is its topping – a thin slice of raw fish or seafood, though occasionally, you might find other ingredients like egg or tofu gracing the rice. The name "nigiri" itself means "gripped" or "hand-pressed" in Japanese, reflecting the method of its preparation.

Types of Nigiri

Nigiri sushi comes in numerous varieties, featuring different toppings (neta) over the sushi rice (shari). Here are some common and popular types of nigiri sushi that you can find in a sushi bar:

  1. Salmon (Sake Nigiri): This is one of the most popular types of nigiri. The salmon is often buttery and can melt in your mouth. 

  2. Tuna (Maguro Nigiri): Tuna comes in different grades, the most prized being the fatty belly portion called toro. The leaner part of the tuna is known as akami.

  3. Yellowtail (Hamachi Nigiri): Yellowtail is known for its rich flavor and buttery texture. It's a favorite among many sushi enthusiasts.

  4. Eel (Unagi Nigiri): Eel nigiri is often served with a sweet and savory sauce. Unagi is freshwater eel, while anago refers to saltwater eel. 

  5. Octopus (Tako Nigiri): Tako is usually served cooked and seasoned. It has a firm texture and a slightly sweet taste. 

  6. Shrimp (Ebi Nigiri): Shrimp nigiri can be found in many sushi restaurants. The shrimp is often boiled and then chilled before being placed on the rice. 

  7. Scallop (Hotate Nigiri): Scallop nigiri is known for its soft, buttery texture and sweet flavor. It's often served raw or lightly torched.

  8. Squid (Ika Nigiri): Squid is usually served raw in nigiri sushi. It has a firm texture and a mild flavor. 

  9. Sea Urchin (Uni Nigiri): Uni is a delicacy in Japanese cuisine. It has a creamy texture and a rich ocean flavor. It's actually the edible part of the sea urchin's gonads. 

  10. Egg (Tamago Nigiri): Tamago is a sweet, layered omelet served on sushi rice. It's a favorite among children and those who prefer non-fish options. 

  11. Salmon Roe (Ikura Nigiri Sushi): Ikura, the salted and cured eggs of a salmon, add a burst of flavor and a delightful textural contrast to nigiri.

Is Nigiri Sushi?

Nigiri is a type of sushi. This traditional Japanese dish reflects the essential qualities of sushi, which is characterized by its vinegared rice combined with various ingredients.

While nigiri showcases a specific style within the sushi family, it unmistakably upholds the core components that define sushi, making it a celebrated part of this culinary tradition.


What is Sashimi?

Sashimi is a Japanese delicacy made of thinly sliced raw fish, shellfish, and occasionally meat served without rice. People appreciate it for the freshness and quality of the ingredients. Typically, it comes with condiments such as soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger.

The Japanese term ‘sashimi’ translates to ‘pierced body.’ However, it’s common for many to mistake sashimi for sushi. The primary distinction lies in the fact that sushi always includes rice, while sashimi consists solely of raw items.

Types of Sashimi

Sashimi comes in various types, each offering a unique taste and texture. Here are some common types of sashimi:

  • Maguro (Bluefin Tuna): Served as akami (lean tuna), chutoro (medium fatty tuna), and otoro (fatty tuna), each offering different levels of fat content and flavor​.

  • Ahi (Yellowfin & Bigeye Tuna): Known for a mild flavor and firm texture (yellowfin) and a higher fat content with a buttery flavor (bigeye)​.

  • Engawa (Halibut): A part of the flounder fish, known for its slightly tough texture with a fatty portion high in collagen​​.

  • Hotate (Scallops): Known for their incredible sweetness and creamy texture when served fresh​​.

  • Ebi (Sweet Shrimp / Prawns): Includes varieties like amaebi (smaller sweet shrimp), botan ebi (larger sweet shrimp), aka ebi (red shrimp high in fat), and kuruma ebi (Japanese tiger prawns)​.

  • Clams (Hokkigai, Akagai, Tsubugai, Mirugai): Varieties include surf clam, red clam, whelk, and geoduck clam, each with unique textures and flavors.

  • Ika (Squid): Often julienned into thin slivers for an attractive presentation, known for its light flavor​.

  • Tako (Octopus): Typically served boiled due to its chewy texture, sliced very thinly for sashimi to enhance its subtly sweet aroma.

Is Sashimi Sushi?

While often associated with sushi due to its raw ingredients, sashimi is its own entity. The absence of vinegared rice and the focus on the purity and quality of the sliced fish or meat define sashimi’s unique identity.

Comparison Chart: Nigiri vs Sashimi vs Sushi

To provide a clear overview, let's summarize the differences and similarities between nigiri, sashimi, and sushi in a concise comparison chart.



1. Nigiri:

  • Meaning: "Two fingers" in Japanese

  • Origin: Refers to the way the rice is hand-pressed and shaped for nigiri sushi.

  • First use: The term "nigiri" first appeared in writing in the late 19th century, but the dish itself is believed to have originated in the early 19th century.

2. Sashimi:

  • Meaning: "Pierced body" or "pierced meat" in Japanese

  • Origin: Refers to the way the fish is thinly sliced for sashimi.

  • First use: The term "sashimi" first appeared in writing in the late 18th century.

3. Sushi:

  • Meaning: "Sour tasting" or "vinegared" in Japanese

  • Origin: Refers to the vinegared rice that is the main ingredient of sushi.

  • First use: The term "sushi" first appeared in writing in the 8th century, but the dish itself is believed to have originated much earlier, possibly in Southeast Asia.


The world of nigiri, sashimi, and sushi is rich with tradition, artistry, and flavor. Each dish, from the hand-pressed nigiri to the delicately sliced sashimi, tells a story of culinary excellence and cultural heritage. As we explore these Japanese delicacies, we not only satisfy our palates but also connect with a centuries-old culinary tradition that values precision, respect for ingredients, and the joy of sharing a meal.

Sushi dreams on fire?  

Elevate your vision with the best Japanese restaurant POS system. Sushi POS built for success: streamline operations, impress guests, and savor the sweet taste of profit.  Book your free demo today with Chowbus POS!

All-in one Hardware

Frequently Asked Questions About Nigiri vs Sashimi vs Sushi

Still have questions? Check out our FAQ section for answers to common queries about Nigiri, Sashimi, and Sushi.

Which is More Expensive, Sashimi or Nigiri?

Sashimi is generally more expensive than Nigiri. The higher cost of Sashimi is due to its use of high-quality fish in larger quantities and more expensive garnishing ingredients. On the other hand, Nigiri, which includes a slice of fish on a small bed of sushi rice, is often made with more affordable fish, making it a more budget-friendly option.

What is the Difference Between Sushi and Sashimi?

The primary distinction lies in the presence of vinegared rice. Sushi is an ensemble of rice with various toppings or fillings, while sashimi is purely about the sliced fish or meat, with no rice in sight. This fundamental difference defines the two dishes, setting them apart in preparation, presentation, and taste.

Recommended Articles: