How To Order & Eat Sushi In A Restaurant, From A Supermarket or At Home

If you are a sushi or sashimi lover, you probably have your favorites. If you have always been intrigued about sushi and sashimi, we have what you need to know – and for those of you who are well-versed we bet there’s some new information within this guide for you as well. From fish (cooked and raw), how to order, information about condiments, seaweed, to etiquette, and more. Even the proper way to handle your chopsticks, and when to eat with your fingers!

Sushi & Sashimi, Defined

Overhead image of assorted sushi.
Image Andrei Iakhniuk via Shutterstock.

Many people mistakenly equate sushi with raw fish, but the accurate term for raw fish is sashimi.

I wrote a Dummies guide to Japanese food, in which I addressed the fundamental question: “What is sushi?” This query is crucial as sushi is frequently misunderstood, particularly among the American public.

According to Dictionary.com, the term “sushi” did not enter the Japanese language until 1895–1900 and translates to “it is sour” or “sour tasting.” This sourness arises from the vinegar-flavored sushi rice, which also contains sugar and salt. For many palates, the sweet and sour flavors are harmoniously balanced, with the saltiness serving as a subtle background note.

Sushi Is More Than One Thing

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Sushi comprises vinegared rice, often molded into finger-shaped portions (as seen above), serving as a canvas for a variety of delicious toppings, including raw fish and occasionally other ingredients such as cooked shrimp, eel, or rolled omelet. This particular style of sushi is referred to as nigirizushi and is what many people think of when they hear the term “sushi”. But there is much more to sushi than nigirizushi.

Let’s Talk Sushi Rice

Making sushi rice.
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As explained above, sushi rice is a combination of specialized rice, water, sugar, and salt. Restaurants will make their sushi rice fresh every day, but if you are buying prepared sushi, such as from the supermarket, you might want to read the label because you might find high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other ingredients that you would prefer not to have.

It is traditionally made in a wooden bowl with a wooden paddle, as shown above, to add the sugar mixture to the rice.

Brown Rice & Quinoa

Brown rice sushi.
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Brown rice is not traditional for sushi, but some restaurants and supermarkets offer brown rice sushi. Some stores, such as Whole Foods and Wegman’s also offer rice and quinoa blends.

Nigirizushi – Hand-Formed Rice Portions with Toppings

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Nigirizushi consists of vinegared rice fingers topped with raw fish or alternatives like cooked shrimp or sweet omelet. A small amount of wasabi is often placed between the rice and the raw fish with nigirizushi. 

Makizushi – Maki Rolls

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Makizushi, or maki rolls, are sushi rolls made using a bamboo mat called a makisu. These rolls typically include a sheet of nori seaweed filled with sushi rice and a central filling. Some variations, known as inside-out rolls or uramaki, have rice on the outside and nori and fillings on the inside.

Temaki – Hand Rolls

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Temaki, also known as hand rolls, involve manually stuffing nori sheets with rice and fillings to create a conical shape meant to be eaten by hand, without chopsticks.

Oshizushi – Sushi Made with a Mold

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This particular specialty, originating from Osaka, requires a distinct mold for its preparation. Sushi rice is firmly packed into a wooden or sometimes metal mold, then adorned with fish or other toppings. The top part of the mold is then attached, applying pressure to compact the rice. When removed, it yields a sizable sushi “cake” that can be sliced into bite-sized pieces. Importantly, owning one of these molds enables a convenient method for making a large number of sushi pieces, making it perfect for gatherings. These molds are commonly found in select Asian grocery stores and online.

Inarizushi – Rice Stuffed Fried Tofu Pouches

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Offering a vegetarian option, inarizushi is easy to assemble using prepared fried tofu pouches called “aburage.” These pouches are stuffed with sushi rice and seasoning, making them ideal for picnics and lunch boxes.

Chirashizushi – “Sushi Bowl”

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Chirashizushi, or “scattered” sushi, is a simple dish consisting of a bowl of sushi rice topped with an assortment of fish and vegetables. Similar to oshizushi, chirashizushi is suitable for gatherings, as it can be prepared in a communal bowl for self-service or as individual portions for more intimate dinner parties.

Not All Wasabi Is Created Equal

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Wasabi, scientifically known as Eutrema Japonicum or Wasabia Japonica, belongs to the Brassica family, alongside mustard, horseradish, turnip, and radish. While it’s often likened to European horseradish, its flavor is distinct, although it is similarly derived from the grated root or rhizome.

Traditional wasabi graters are traditionally crafted with sharkskin, offering an ideal texture for creating fresh wasabi paste. However, modern versions made from metal are also available.

While some high-end sushi restaurants offer fresh wasabi, most supermarket or prepared sushi include wasabi made from powder or paste. 

Pickled Ginger – Use Judiciously

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Pickled ginger, used to cleanse the palate between sushi bites, may contain HFCS and sorbitol, while others have a more straightforward ingredient list, such as organic ginger, organic cane sugar, organic rice vinegar, water, salt, citric acid found in the product made by The Ginger People, which we love. Some varieties are dyed pink using beet juice or shiso leaves, which is more about visuals, adding very little taste.

Nori: The Seaweed Wrap

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Nori, the seaweed used in maki rolls and hand-rolls, contains vitamins A, B1, B2, C; 10-100 times more than that of ordinary vegetables, according to the Nagai Nori Company.

Soy Sauce & Tamari: Know The Ingredients

Use Naturally Brewed Soy Sauce.
Photo credit Dédé Wilson.

Both soy sauce and tamari can be offered with sushi and sashimi. There are low sodium versions, and gluten-free as well. If you want gluten-free, check tamari labels. It is usually gluten-free, but please check to be sure.

The labels will also indicate whether the soy sauce is chemically produced, as shown above on the left, or naturally brewed, as shown on the right. The flavor different is dramatic. Chemically produced is harsh and unpalatable to our taste. Naturally brewed is elegant and preferred; we love San-J brand.


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Daikon, a type of radish, is known for its mild flavor. Often served shredded alongside sashimi, it acts as a palate cleanser between bites. It provides a fresh, crunchy addition.

Additional Sauces & Condiments

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Apart from soy sauce, which is commonly offered, you may encounter other sauces. Let’s take them one by one:

  • Spicy Mayo: Typically made with mayonnaise, Sriracha, and sometimes Shichimi or Nanami Togarashi, you can often find it drizzled on maki rolls, as shown in the image.
  • Eel Sauce: Generally made with soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and possibly dashi. It is thick, dark, glossy and sweet.
  • Ponzu: Typically made with soy sauce, sugar, citrus juice, mirin, and possibly dashi, it often accompanies various dishes such as tempura and sashimi. 
  • Sweet Soy Sauce: Similar to thick, sweet soy sauce, it is another sweet/salty option.
  • Yum Yum Sauce: Variations may include mayonnaise, ketchup, vinegar, sugar, paprika, and sometimes garlic.
  • Ginger Dressing: Typically made with ginger, carrots, rice vinegar, sugar, soy sauce, oil, and often onion. Fantastic on a side salad.
  • Shichimi or Nanami Togarashi: Seasoning blends including hot red chili, dried orange peel, sesame seeds, peppercorns, ginger, poppy seeds, and nori. 
  • MSG: Monosodium glutamate enhances food’s flavors and hasn’t been proven to be a dietary or health concern. Read more about MSG and “umami”.

Sushi & Japanese Restaurant Choices

Assorted sushi on round platter.
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This guide offers suggestions for ordering at a sushi restaurant, covering more than just sushi itself. For starters, consider miso soup!

  • Raw Fish: Raw fish is sashimi; some very popular choices are salmon, tuna, yellowtail, flounder, red snapper, scallops, sea urchin, and mackerel.
  • Cooked Fish & Shellfish: Depending on preparation, cooked options like shrimp, octopus, and squid are often found on menus. Briefly seared salmon or tuna may also be available.
  • Smoked Salmon: While not traditional, you can find maki rolls and nigirizushi made with smoked salmon.
  • Cooked Eel (unagi): While the thought of eel might make some of you squeamish, it is an incredibly popular offering. Try it!
  • Fish Roe (tobiko): Fish eggs provide a burst of salty flavor and texture.
  • Japanese Rolled Omelet (tamago): A traditional non-fish ingredient.
  • Avocado: Salmon and avocado, or tuna and avocado are popular combos.
  • Cucumbers: Common in many sushi rolls.
  • Sweet Potato: Typically found in sushi rolls.
  • Surimi (Imitation Crab): Some brands contain HFCS, some do not. Read labels and choose accordingly.
  • Tempura: Made with a crunchy, wheat-based coating, this is a deep-fried dish that can include fish as well as vegetables.
  • Teriyaki: A popular marinade and glaze made from combines soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and sake. 
  • Miso soup: Miso is a fermented soy condiment that makes a classic soup. A great way to start your sushi meal. It will often contain a small amount of cubed tofu and a scattering of scallions.
  • Seaweed Salad: Crunchy, sweet and salty. Give it a try.
  • Edamame: These are young soybeans, steamed and typically served in the pod with a sprinkling of salt. Use your fingers to open the pods and eat the soybeans inside.
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Here are some commonly ordered sushi rolls, but keep in mind that ingredients may differ depending on the chef. It’s important to ask if wasabi has been added, as it’s often not visible.

  • California Roll: Surimi, avocado, cucumber, rice, and nori, sometimes with fish eggs on the outside. 
  • Caterpillar Roll: Cooked eel, avocado, rice, and nori, with eel sauce. 
  • Dragon Roll: Shrimp tempura, avocado, eel sauce, rice, and nori, often topped with sesame seeds. 
  • Rainbow Roll: Typically contains tuna, salmon, avocado, rice, and nori, sometimes with surimi.
  • Philadelphia Roll: Smoked salmon, cream cheese, cucumber, rice, and nori. 
  • Spicy Tuna Roll: Tuna with spicy ingredients like chili powder or Sriracha, rice, and nori. 
  • Kappa Maki: Simply nori, rice, and cucumber. 
  • Salmon Avocado Roll: Raw salmon, avocado, rice, and nori. 
  • Spider Roll: Fried soft shell crab, avocado, cucumber, rice, and nori. 
  • Green Dragon Roll: Avocado on the outside; varies by chef. 
  • Crunchy Sushi Roll: Toppings can vary, so ask about ingredients. Typically includes tempura batter or panko breadcrumbs.

Sushi & Sashimi Etiquette

People enjoying sushi in restaurant.
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When dining at high-quality sushi restaurants, you may be offered a warm, moist towel to clean your hands before the meal. This gesture not only reflects hospitality, but also ensures cleanliness, especially if you plan to eat with your fingers, which is perfectly acceptable.

Here are some etiquette guidelines to keep in mind:

  • Each place setting should include a small dish for soy sauce and a pair of chopsticks.
  • A small bottle of soy sauce is usually provided on the table. Some restaurants may offer a house sauce made with soy sauce, mirin, sake, and bonito flakes, but plain soy sauce works just fine.
  • Pour a small amount of soy sauce or dipping sauce into your personal dipping dish.
  • Nigirizushi (rice topped with fish) is typically served as two pieces of each variety.
  • Use chopsticks or your fingers to pick up each piece of nigirizushi and dip the fish (not the rice) into the soy sauce in your dish. Dipping the rice side can cause it to fall apart.
  • It’s considered proper to eat nigirizushi in one or two bites at most.
  • Sushi rolls can be eaten with chopsticks or fingers, while hand rolls are always eaten by hand.
  • Wasabi and pickled ginger are commonly served with sushi and sashimi. Add a small amount of wasabi to your sushi or sashimi according to your taste; consume pickled ginger between bites to cleanse your palate.
  • Sashimi may be accompanied by finely shredded daikon radish, which can be eaten between bites of fish to refresh the palate.
  • When taking a break, place your chopsticks horizontally in front of you, parallel to the edge of the table nearest to you.

Is Raw Fish Safe To Eat?

Woman asking questions. Wondering. Question marks.
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Consuming raw fish can be a safe choice for most healthy individuals, as long as proper safety precautions are followed. Raw fish is a common ingredient in various culinary traditions worldwide, including sushi, ceviche, and crudo, appreciated for its aesthetic appeal and delicious flavors and texture.

Although the risks associated with raw fish are generally low for healthy individuals, they can be higher for certain populations. Symptoms of foodborne illnesses in healthy individuals usually include nausea, diarrhea, fever, and abdominal discomfort. However, for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems, the risks can lead to severe and potentially life-threatening illnesses.

What And Who Are At Risk?

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According to aboutibs.org, infectious gastroenteritis, commonly known as foodborne illness or post-infectious irritable bowel syndrome (IBS; PI-IBS), is a common trigger for IBS. With PI-IBS, individuals may continue to experience gastrointestinal symptoms even after the initial infection has resolved, potentially leading to long-term digestive issues. However, many people with IBS still enjoy sushi. Ultimately, the decision to consume raw fish is yours to make.

When consuming raw fish, ensuring that it is suitable for raw consumption is crucial. It’s important to note that “fresh” doesn’t necessarily mean safe for raw consumption, as frozen fish is often used for sushi, which is a good practice.

Freezing Fish Is A Good Thing

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Contrary to popular belief, freezing sushi fish is actually beneficial. Freezing helps eliminate parasites that can pose health risks. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends freezing fish at specific temperatures and durations to ensure safety. However, certain types of fish, such as certain tuna varieties and farmed fish raised in certain conditions, may not require freezing according to FDA guidelines.

Sushi and sashimi chefs are typically knowledgeable about these guidelines and should adhere to them. It’s advisable to inquire about the freezing practices when purchasing raw fish for sushi or sashimi.

It’s not recommended to buy raw fish from a fish counter for homemade sushi or sashimi unless it’s specifically labeled as sushi-grade. Appropriate fish can often be found in upscale supermarkets or specialty markets like Whole Foods and H-Mart.

Supermarket Sushi

Supermarket sushi in Italy.
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Have you noticed if your local supermarket chains offer sushi at their counters? It’s mainly chains that provide it, although a few independent stores may do so as well, and the quality can vary.

In the U.S., supermarket chains with sushi counters include Kroger’s Albertson’s, The Fresh Market, Whole Foods, Wegmans, Sprouts Farmers Market, Gelson’s, Publix, H-Mart, and Costco.

A Reddit user commented about Costco sushi: “I never thought I would enjoy sushi from the same place I buy my tires, but wow! This is super fresh and really delicious. Also, very fun to watch them making it.”

Here’s a tip: All Publix locations offering sushi participate in “$5 Sushi Wednesday”.

The supermarket sushi above is in Italy!

Common Supermarket Sushi

Supermarket sushi.
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The most common types of sushi found in supermarkets are nigirizushi and makizushi. Some markets also offer “bowls” or chirashizushi, along with inarizushi and sashimi.

Who Makes Supermarket Sushi?

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Kroger, which sells more sushi than any other U.S. supermarket outlet, works with franchisers like Snowfox and Yummi Sushi to ensure high-grade fresh fish sourcing and operate the sushi departments. Snowfox alone has 1300 chefs working across the nation for Kroger.

Genji Sushi operates in many grocery stores, and there are others like Hissho Sushi, Bento Sushi, and Sushi Avenue. Some supermarkets indicate with signage where the sushi is sourced, while others do not.

According to TopFranchise.com, Advanced Fresh Concepts Corp. (AFC) is the largest sushi bar franchisor in U.S. supermarkets, with over 4,000 stores. Their sushi is made fresh in-store daily throughout their franchise locations.

Is Supermarket Sushi Less Expensive?

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On average, restaurant sushi is about 50 cents more per roll than supermarket sushi, based on studies comparing tuna avocado rolls.

Supermarket Sushi Quality

Supermarket sushi in France.
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The quality of supermarket sushi varies hugely. Pre-made containers of sushi bought and sold at supermarkets, made off-site, tend to have a degraded sensory experience, even with quality ingredients. Sushi that has been sitting around loses its freshness. 

If sushi is made in-house upon request and eaten soon after, the quality can be quite good, even comparable to some restaurants. However, sushi left in the grab-and-go refrigerator case for a while is typically not as fresh.

The raw fish used is generally safe to eat, even if it has been sitting around for a bit, assuming it was appropriate for raw consumption. The biggest challenge lies in the rice, as refrigerated sushi rice loses its optimal texture over time.

The overall quality of supermarket sushi depends on factors like how well it was made, the quality of additional ingredients like wasabi and soy sauce, and the freshness of the proteins, especially the raw fish.

The image above is supermarket sushi in France. You truly can find it around the world.

The Takeaway

Assorted sushi.
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You can enjoy sushi and sashimi in restaurants, and even in supermarkets. Be adventurous! You can try raw fish, or stick with cooked, but don’t overlook the other offerings as well, such as inarizushi and sushi bowls. Just make sure you are eating safe and properly prepared raw offerings. Enjoy! Itadakimasu!

Click here to learn how to say “Bon Appetit” in Japanese!

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  • Dede Wilson

    Dédé Wilson is a journalist with over 17 cookbooks to her name and is the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners LLC, currently publishing through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone.

Last update on 2024-04-12 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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