Difference between Sushi and Sashimi

Published on November 30, 2016

Both sushi and sashimi are staples of Japanese cuisine. While many people use the terms interchangeably, they are actually very different in terms of preparation and the way they are served and eaten. This article will discuss both their similarities and differences.

Definitions

Sushi

Sushi vs Sashimi
Different kinds of sushi, including roe, eel, shrimp, salmon and squid, served in Kanagawa, Japan

Sushi is a Japanese dish consisting of cooked, vinegared rice with a topping of one of many different ingredients, such as raw fish, vegetables, meat and sometimes fruit. The first forms of sushi, made from fermented rice and salted fish, barely resemble today’s variety. This technique of salting the fish, taken from Southeast Asian fishermen, allowed fish to stay edible for as long as eight months. The Japanese ate only the fish and discarded the rice. During the 14th century, sushi chefs used vinegar to increase the sourness and shelf life of the rice, and gradually abandoned the fermentation process. Sushi, as we know it, took its present form in the 19th century. Centuries later, the basic ingredients of sushi still remain the same. These ingredients include vinegared rice (sushi-meshi), seaweed wrappers (nori), toppings or fillings (neta) and condiments such as soy sauce, wasabi, grated Japanese horseradish or grated ginger.

There are six traditional types of Japanese sushi and two main classes of Western-style sushi. They vary in terms of preparation, shape and toppings or fillings. The correct way to eat sushi is to put a very small amount of wasabi on top of the fish, use fingers or chopsticks to dip the sushi into the soy sauce and consume the entire piece in one bite. 

Sashimi

Sashimi
Different kinds of sashimi, including salmon, tuna, and squid, served in Honolulu, Hawai’i

Sashimi is a Japanese dish consisting of  fresh and thinly sliced raw fish, meat or other seafood. The Japanese consider sashimi to be the pinnacle of their cuisine, and it often is served as either the first course or the main course in formal meals. The Chinese were the first to adopt the culture of eating raw fish; by the 8th century, the Japanese were doing it as well. Chefs use only special grades of fish that were caught using specific methods that ensure freshness. Different knives and up to four cutting methods are used to make sashimi, depending on the kind of fish or seafood being prepared. The most popular main ingredients for sashimi include salmon, tuna, mackerel, octopus, squid, and sea urchins. 

Sashimi usually comes with a dipping sauce, such as soy sauce, grated wasabi, and/or ginger and other garnishes. To eat sashimi, the wasabi and soy sauce are mixed, then the sashimi is dipped in the mixture using chopsticks and the whole piece is eaten in one bite. Of course, one may choose to skip the condiments altogether, focusing instead on the freshness of the fish or seafood.

Sushi vs Sashimi

So, what is the difference between sushi and sashimi? Although these foods share some similarities, they differ in their origins and the ways they are prepared and eaten.

Origins

Sushi has its origins in Southeast Asia, where fishermen used fermented rice to preserve fish for long sea journeys. In the 14th century, vinegar started to replace fermentation as the primary flavoring agent for the rice. Sashimi, on the other hand, originated in China, and first arrived in Japan in the 8th century. 

Ingredients and Preparation

Sushi consists of vinegared, cooked rice, a topping (usually raw fish or seafood) and a seafood wrapper called nori. Sashimi, in its purest form, consists solely of thinly-sliced raw fish, such as tuna or salmon, or other seafood, such as squid or octopus. Both are served with soy sauce and wasabi.

Eating Method

Both sushi and sashimi are eaten in one bite by using chopsticks, and both are served with wasabi and soy sauce. However, with sushi, wasabi is first placed on top, and then the sushi is dipped in soy sauce. With sashimi, the soy sauce and wasabi are mixed together before dipping the sashimi.

Comparison Chart

Sushi Sashimi
Originated in Southeast Asia; current form ca. 19th century Originated in China; introduced to Japan in the 8th century
Base of vinegared cooked rice with raw fish or seafood topping wrapped with seaweed Raw fish and seafood
Wasabi is placed on top of the sushi; sushi is dipped into soy sauce, eaten using fingers or chopsticks Wasabi is mixed into the soy sauce; sashimi is either dipped into soy sauce or eaten as is

Video

Click on the video below to watch Japanese Culinary Studio owner Misako Sassa discuss the differences between sushi and sashimi: