Is there any difference between sashimi, nigiri and sushi ?

Different types of sushi, nigiri and sashimi on a rush plate
Sushi. Photo: DesignNPrint, c/o Pixabay.

The difference between sashimi and sushi actually comes down to one ingredient and that is rice.

When you visit Japanese restaurants you often see sashimi and sushi on the menu together but clearly they are different dishes. You often see nigiri too but a bit more about that later. Both types of food come from Japan. Whatever your taste it is the way the fish is prepared that intrigues the customer. Quite often the chef prepares the dishes in front of your very eyes. We can only marvel at the almost infinite variety of fish that appears on a seasonal basis.


Sushi has rice and that is definite. However, sushi soaked in vinegar defines this particular dish. In Japanese, sushi means ‘sour tasting’ because the flavour of vinegar permeates the raw fish. Raw fish incidentally is a key feature of any sushi dish but not an essential ingredient. More modern forms now include vegetables, other forms of seafood and even meat. Extra ingredients are often used like avocado and cucumber.


Sashimi refers to raw and fresh seafood. Tuna and salmon are common fish found in sashimi. The rawness of the fish implies that salt water species are used because freshwater types contain more parasites including roundworm. Sashimi is served as a thinly sliced dish which is eaten with soy sauce and served on beds of daikon rather than rice. The other additions include pickled ginger, soy sauce and wasabi.

The word sashimi means ‘pierced body’. The word construction is as follows:-  “刺身” = sashimi, where 刺し = sashi (pierced, stuck) and 身 = mi (body, meat).

For many Japanese chefs, the fish is sliced into different widths to emphasise the quality of the fish and enhance the appearance. The most famous cut is the hira-zukuri cut. This is the ‘rectangular slice’ which is the standard sashimi cut.


Nigiri is usually on a Japanese menu. Most sushi served in sushi restaurants throughout the islands is nigiri-zushi as it might be called. The term actually means ‘hand-shaped sushi’ which marks it out from the other types,

It is raw seafood and is related to sashimi but served on a type of vinegar infused rice as with sushi. For some it is a variant of sushi but it doesn’t get dressed up with other ingredients.

Not to put you off but some seafood such as salmon can be infected with tapeworms. Wild salmon caught in the Pacific North-West is occasionally infected with the Japanese tapeworm Diphyllobothrium nihonkaiense. 

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