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Be a Sushi Lingo Expert in 15 Minutes or Less

on 06th Nov, 2018
Decades ago, there are very few of Dubai’s food loving population who would think about heading out to the type of Japanese restaurant Dubai is now famed for. This is because there were hardly any Japanese restaurants for them to go to, plus the fact that sushi and other Japanese foods were still pretty new in the region, and so were the names of the dishes and terms used to describe them.

As sushi and Japanese food in general became more and more popular amongst the diners, the sushi trend began to develop and build momentum. Dubai’s hospitality industry began to cater to this new need which led to an influx of sushi and Japanese restaurants popping up all over the region. And with these restaurants and this cuisine came a whole new language to explain it.

True sushi lovers will now be able to order their meal using the real Japanese terms, though some words are being misinterpreted and used out of their original context. For those who are yet to discover the amazing world of sushi and other Japanese cuisines, this can be quite confusing. So we have compiled this list of terms that will make it much easier for first timers or long time sushi lovers alike.

Learn 30 Terms about Sushi and Anything Japanese!

Sushi Lingo – Novice Level

First we will begin with some easier and readily recognizable terms.

1. Sushi – pronounced (Soo-Shee) has become a term used to describe an entire section of Japanese cuisine. The term comes from the Japanese for ‘sour rice’. It originally referred to as a Japanese dish which consisted of small balls, blocks or rolls of vinegar-flavoured rice garnished with vegetables, raw seafood, fish or egg and served cold. Sushi can be found in a number of varieties with each having its own name. Although the term sushi is what people think about when you mention Japanese food, it is just one type of Japanese food and there are so many more. Read this article for more information on other Japanese foods.

2. Nigiri – pronounced (Nee-Gee-ree) also known as Nigiri-zushi is the term given to a specific type of sushi where blocks of rice which have been flavoured with vinegar are then topped with thin slices of raw fish. The term is taken from the Japanese ‘Nigiri’ which means gripping or grasping and traditionally, this type of sushi should be eaten using your fingers, thus explains the name. Because it was first made popular in Tokyo (once called Edo) it is, also known to the Japanese as Edo-style sushi.

3. Maki – pronounced (Maa-Kee) which is also known as Maki-zushi, is another term that even most beginner sushi lovers would have heard before. Maki refers to a type of sushi which is rolled and consists of a filling of raw fish, seafood, egg or vegetables, rolled in rice and then wrapped in seaweed, makisa or bamboo leaf. The word Maki is Japanese for ‘roll’ and this means that whenever the word ’maki’ appears in the title of a dish, it will be rolled.

4. Temaki – pronounced (Te-Maa-Kee) is as its name would suggest, a rolled piece of sushi. Temaki, however, is not your average small piece of rolled sushi, but these are a larger and often shaped like an ice cream cone. The term Temaki means ‘hand roll’ and they are traditionally eaten with your hands. Temaki are made using a mix of fillings which can include egg, fish, seafood or vegetables and rice which is wrapped in seaweed.

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5. Nori – pronounced (No-Ree) is the term that you may have never heard before but have probably eaten it each and every time that you ordered sushi. Nori is a standard on the menu of most of the sushi restaurants in the UAE. Nori is the name given to the specially prepared seaweed used to wrap the rice and sushi fillings. This edible seaweed can be eaten both fresh or dried.

6. Sashimi – pronounced (Saa-Shee-Mee) is often mistaken with Nigiri-zushi as technically one is part of the other. This term is used to describe the authentic and very traditional Japanese dish which is essentially a thinly sliced piece of raw fish that is normally eaten on its own with soy sauce or wasabi paste for a little more heat. In recent years, the term has been used to refer to thin slices of beef, or even vegetable sashimi which has become a part of the vegan sushi Dubai has on offer.

7. Miso – pronounced (Mee-So) is another regular on the menu of Japanese restaurants. Miso itself is actually a type of traditional seasoning used in Japanese cuisine. The seasoning is made by fermenting soybeans with koji and salt. Sometimes other ingredients are used as well such as rice or seaweed. The more commonly known Miso Soup is made using soft miso paste which is then mixed into a traditional Japanese soup stock. This soup is one of the most common soups on the Japanese menu.

8. Tempura – pronounces (Tem – Poo-Raa) has become more common in recent years and is a dish from traditional Japanese cuisine which consists of seafood or vegetables that have been deep fried in batter. This type of cooking was introduced to the Japanese by the Portuguese who were living in Japan in the 16th century.

9. Edamame – pronounced (Eda – Maa-May) is a standard on any good restaurants sushi menu. These immature soy beans are cooked in a salted water  or steamed while still in their pods. Edamame are served as a starter or as a palate cleanser.

10. Yakitori – pronounced (Ya –Kee- To- Ree) is a term that in Japanese basically translates to ‘Grilled Chicken’. However, Yakitori can be used to refer to a type of Japanese kebab served on bamboo skewers that can include most parts of a chicken as well as vegetables and other meats. This is another term that refers to one specific item but can be used to describe a wide range as well.

Sushi Lingo – Intermediate to Expert Level

Here are some of the more complex Japanese terms.

11. Agari – pronounced (A-Gaa-Ree) is the term used to describe a green tea which is traditionally served after a meal of sushi. The term has also been known to be used by the chef and the serving staff when a diner is about to finish their meal.

12. Gari – pronounced (Gaa-Ree) is present during most sushi meals of good quality. Traditionally, the term is used to refer to the sweet pickled sushi ginger that is eaten between courses. The sweet pickled ginger is thinly sliced and is used to cleanse your palate and prepare it for the next course. The term comes from the sound that is made when you bite into a piece of crunchy fresh young ginger.

13. Hikarimono – pronounced (He-Kaa-Ree-Mo-No) This term comes from the Japanese for ‘thing’ which is Mono and the Japanese for ‘Sparkle’ or ‘shine’ which is Hikari. The term refers to any type of fish that has a shiny scale or skin. Common types of fish that are referred to as Hikarimono are Mackerel and Shad.

14. Shari – pronounced (Sha-Ree) It is another common component to most sushi dishes that many people would not recognize by its actual name. Shari is the term used to refer to the rice used by sushi chefs. The term’s origin is in Buddhism where it was believed to be sacred and comes from the Sanskrit term for the ‘bones of Buddha’ as the rice looked similar to the fragments of bone found in Buddha’s ashes or ‘busshari’.

15. Chirashi – pronounced (Chaa-Raa-Shee) Chirashi is another sushi term that has made it onto the menus of the best sushi restaurants in Dubai. The term Chirashi, also known as ‘Chirashizushi’, refers to a much-loved and traditional sushi dish. The dish is comprised of a mixture of different ingredients which include mixed rice, fish and vegetables. The dish gets its name from the term chirashi which means ‘scattered’ as the original dish was served in a scattered fashion.

16. Sabi – pronounced (Sa-Bee) It is simply a shortened form of the word ‘Wasabi’ and refers to the spicy green paste famed throughout Japanese cuisine and sushi in particular. Another term used for Wasabi paste is ‘Namida’ which from Japanese that translates to mean ‘tears’, usually following a person’s first time consuming too much of the fiery paste. 

17. Tartare – pronounced (Taar-Taar) is a dish that has become a firm favourite amongst Japanese food and sushi lovers. Tartare is a seafood or meat dish that is usually made with raw ground meat, fish or seafood that is spiced or seasoned before being shaped into small cake like forms. This great dish is often served with fresh vegetables or onions.

18. Ceviche – pronounced (Ser-Vee-Chay) which is also known as ‘cebiche’ or ‘seviche’ is a dish that while served at Japanese restaurants and sushi houses in the region, had its beginnings in Latin America. The dish is made using fresh raw fish or seafood that has been cured in the juice of a citrus fruit (usually lemon) and then it is spiced and flavoured with various herbs and spices. Ceviche has now become one of Japan’s favourite dishes.

19. Tekka – pronounced (Te-Kaa) Tekka is again not something that you will find on all the sushi menus, whether you are heading out to your favourite sushi restaurants in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or even in Saudi. Tekka maki is a type of maki or rolled sushi that consists of a thinly rolled piece of sushi filled with red tuna. This type of sushi has been rumoured to have got its name from the gambling dens where it was a popular fast food. Those dens were called ‘tekkaba’.

20. Nikiri – pronounced (Nee-Kee – Ree) This is present in almost all good quality sushi kitchens and Japanese restaurants. It is a type of very light soy sauce that is used by the sushi chef to brush across the top of the fish. By using mirin (rice wine vinegar) and soy sauce which has been cooked to reduce, the chef is able to add a delicate flavour to certain types of white fish or other mild tasting fish that would be overpowered by usual soy sauce dipping.

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21. Okonomiyaki – pronounced (O-Ko-No-Mee-Ya-Kee) It is a term used to refer to a Japanese dish that is more commonly found in home kitchens than restaurants. Okonomiyaki is the name given to a type of Japanese pancake. These pancakes are savoury and are used to create meals out of left over ingredients.

22. Shabu Shabu – pronounced (Sha-Boo-Sha-Boo) Shabu Shabu is a great Japanese dish and one that proves that Japanese cuisine is not all about Sushi. This term refers to a traditional form of Japanese dish that involves taking thin strips of meat and placing them in a hot broth until they are cooked. The term Shabu Shabu comes from the sound that the meat makes as you swirl it around in the hot broth. This meal is often served to share at a table with one large pot of broth.

23. Yakisoba – pronounced (Ya-Kee-So-Baa) This is another great dish from the Japanese street food menu. Yakisoba are noodles which are fried in an often thick and sweet sauce. Made from a wheat noodle similar to Ramen noodles, this dish is popular with street vendors as well as regular stores.

24. Himono – pronounced (Hee-Mo-No) This is not a dish that you will find on every Japanese restaurant’s menu or indeed many sushi ones. Himono is a type of sun-dried fish that is grilled and commonly served as part of a hotel breakfast in Japan. This great tasting fish has a chewy texture and a unique taste and is considered a delicacy.

25.  Tonkatsu – pronounced (Ton-Kat-Soo) Tonkatsu is an amazing nonsushi dish from the traditional Japanese menu that everyone should know about. Tonkatsu is the term used to refer to a cutlet of pork that has been breaded and deep fried. This delicious dish is usually served alongside shredded cabbage and of course the famous Tonkatsu sauce which is a sweet Japanese sauce used frequently in Japanese cooking.

26. Ikayaki – pronounced (EE-Ka-Ya-Kee) Ikayaki is definitely one for the seafood lovers out there. This traditional Japanese dish is a whole squid that is grilled and cut into rings before being served with a side of mayonnaise. Ikayaki is a very popular type of street food in native Japan.

27. Debana – pronounced (De-Baa-Naa) It is one of the delights of an authentic Japanese meal experience. While 'Agari’ is the term used to describe the green tea that is served after a meal, ‘Debana’ is the same green tea that is served at the beginning of it.

28. Obizuke – pronounced (O-Bee-Zoo-Kee) is another word that you may be hearing now for the first time, but have seen and eaten before. In certain types of sushi, a block of rice is topped with a piece of fish or some other filling which is bound to the rice using a piece of seaweed. The word ‘Obizuke’ means ‘belt’.

29. Gyoku – pronounced (Gee-O-Koo) This is one type of sushi that has begun to rapidly rise in popularity recently. This is mainly due to the large number of vegetarian diners who are now favouring Japanese food and sushi over most other cuisines. Gyoku is the term used to describe sushi that contains omelette or cooked egg.

30. Shiromi no sakana – pronounced (Shee-Row-Mee no Sa-Kaa-Naa) It is a term that you will not hear that often but is a good one to impress your friends or the waiter at your favourite sushi place. It is also a great term to end our list with. Shiromi no sakana refers to any piece of sushi or sashimi which is white in colour or close to white. The term refers to the foods’ lack of colour.

Practising the sushi lingo

When it comes to trying out foods from other culture, it helps if you are able to explore and find out more about the dishes to ensure that they perfectly suit your taste and dietary requirements. With this list, we hope you will be able to do just that. You will be surprised how much more enjoyable your sushi experience will be now that you know what you were missing out on and how to order them using their actual Japanese names. But, many of the Japanese dishes listed above are not found among the very many sushi menus available in Dubai and across the UAE or even in Saudi. This have caused the terms to be jargons up until now.

If, after reading, this you are craving your favourite sushi or any Japanese dish, why not try out what you’ve learned today by dropping in to your nearest Sushi Counter restaurant? If not, you can still opt for online sushi delivery in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Now, you too can impress your peers with these terms the next time you visit one of our stores. You can also order your favourite Sushi Counter dish online and let us bring some of the best sushi right to your door.


Be a Sushi Lingo Expert in 15 Minutes or Less

Decades ago, there are very few of Dubai’s food loving population who would think about heading out to the type of Japanese restaurant Dubai is now famed for. This is because there were hardly any Japanese restaurants for them to go to, plus the fact that sushi and other Japanese...