Translated by Lester Somera
Sashimi - Guide To A Delicious Seafood Dish In Japan
Written by ニコ
Sashimi is a classic Japanese dish of raw fish, sliced into bite-sized pieces. Read to learn about the difference between sashimi and sushi, sashimi varieties, how to eat it, and where to enjoy this delicacy in Japan.
What Is Sashimi?
Sashimi is a dish of raw seafood or some other ingredient, sliced into bite-sized pieces and eaten with a condiment such as soy sauce. In the broad sense of the word, sashimi doesn’t have to consist of seafood; it refers to savoring an ingredient on its own.
Surrounded by ocean, Japan has had easy access to fresh fish throughout history. Fish typically scale and cut up their catch, then eat the slices raw. To be able to enjoy good sashimi, the fish need to be fresh and in-season. Since sashimi is uncooked, using fresh fish is also a must for hygiene and safety reasons.
In this article, we introduce the difference between sushi and sashimi, how to eat sashimi, popular varieties of sashimi, and the best restaurants where you can taste sashimi in Japan.
Table of Contents:
1. The Difference Between Sushi and Sashimi
2. How To Eat Sashimi the Right Way
3. Tuna, Salmon, and 33 Other Main Sashimi Varieties
4. About Sashimi Condiments and Garnishes
5. Calorie Estimates for Sashimi
6. Sashimi Cuisine
7. Where You Can Eat Sashimi in Japan
The Difference Between Sashimi and Sushi
Sushi and sashimi are similar foods, so it can be easy to get them mixed up. Sashimi is raw seafood, thinly sliced: the most common types are tuna and salmon. Sushi contains vinegared rice with other ingredients, like raw seafood.
The preparation for sushi and sashimi are fundamentally different, although sushi will often include the main ingredient in sashimi. Sashimi is eaten usually with soy sauce, wasabi, or ginger. Sushi can be enjoyed in the same way.
How To Eat Sashimi to Best Enjoy the Flavor of this Dish
Here we’ll introduce the standard way to eat sashimi (keep in mind, though, that there are no strict rules). First, prepare a small dish of soy sauce. Now it’s OK to pick up the sashimi with your chopsticks, dip it in soy sauce and enjoy.
How To Use Condiments
Some diners might be confused about how to use condiments (yakumi in Japanese) with sashimi.
Place a small amount of wasabi on top (about the size of a grain of rice), dip the sashimi in the soy sauce, and pop it in your mouth.
Some people mix the wasabi into the soy sauce. While this is not bad manners, if you put too much in, it can get too spicy for some palates. Wasabi kills the umami flavor in the soy sauce, so we recommend that you eat it on top of the sashimi.
If you put too much wasabi on sashimi, the sharp heat will become very intense. You may tear up, or find that your tongue has gone numb. Be careful.
Children and people who don’t like spice do not have to use wasabi.
Horse mackerel, bonito, and some other sashimi varieties are served with ginger instead of wasabi. You eat it the same way as wasabi. Use a separate small dish so that the wasabi and ginger do not mix.
Maguro, Salmon and 33 Other Main Sashimi Varieties
In the following section, we’ll look at some of Japan’s most beloved sashimi varieties.
Bluefin Tuna (Maguro)
People have been eating tuna in Japan since time immemorial. This beloved fish can be served as sashimi or sushi, grilled, made into steaks, or canned.
Particular slices of tuna have different names in Japanese depending on the part of the fish. Maguro generally refers to the tuna’s red flesh, or akami, while chutoro and otoro refer to particularly fatty cuts of tuna. Compared to akami, chutoro and otoro have a characteristic peach color, tinged with white.
With its smooth mouthfeel, akami is popular with a wide swath of people, irrespective of gender and age. When compared to akami, chutoro has a fattier, more intense flavor, and otoro’s taste is even stronger, so these cuts are less universally liked. First, how about trying the maguro akami for yourself?
Salmon’s richness pairs well with sliced onions and a drizzle of mayonnaise, so you often see it as an ingredient in rolled sushi and other similar recipes. It is called "sake" in Japanese (not to be confused with the word for alcohol).
Squid, or ika, is a staple sashimi ingredient. Its slickness and firmness are appealing, and it has a refreshing taste. We recommend seasoning it with soy sauce and wasabi to accentuate the flavor. In terms of nutritional value, it is also rich in Vitamin E and taurine, zinc, DHA and EPA.
Other squid varieties, like the spear squid (yari-ika) and the Pacific flying squid (surume-ika) have their own flavor profiles.
Octopus (tako) is similar to squid sashimi as it has a refreshing flavor profile, the firm, almost crunchy texture of octopus sashimi is quite popular. Octopus is a familiar ingredient in Japanese cooking; in addition to being made into sashimi, it is also served boiled or cooked into takoyaki.
When not being eaten as sashimi, bonito (katsuo) is often cooked tataki-style, with its exterior being flame-broiled. When bonito heading north are caught, these are called hatsugatsuo, or the first bonito of the season. Their flesh has a clear, refreshing taste. Bonito heading south are called modorigatsuo, or returning bonito. Their flesh is said to have a deeper, richer flavor.
While bonito has a very long history as an ingredient in Japanese cuisine, it is also known for going bad relatively quickly, and there is a huge difference in taste and smell when not at peak freshness. Places along the Pacific Ocean, such as Kochi Prefecture, are famous bonito producers.
Amberjack tuna, or buri, is one of Japan’s most beloved fish varieties. It is known as a shusse-gyo, a term for a fish which has different names at different growth stages.
Amberjack tuna are best in winter, when they have not yet given birth and their flesh is rich in fat. Amberjack during this time are called kanburi. Amberjack have been farmed for generations, and are an annual winter staple at markets and restaurants. Cheap and delicious, you could say that they are a working-class fish. Their firm, almost crunchy texture makes them popular as sashimi.
It is a commonly held belief that amberjack’s flavor declines in other seasons, so try it during the winter months!
Caught all over the world, bluefish mackerel (aji) are distinct for having the flavors of both red and white flesh. In Japan, jack mackerel is a common sight on the dining table, with a simple umami taste that is agreeable to all palates. Jack mackerel is so delicious that its Japanese name, aji, is a homonym for flavor.
Sea bream, or tai, sounds like the word “omedetai” in Japanese, meaning “happy.” It is common at celebrations and festivals. You can taste a light flavor with just the right amount of umami and sweetness.
A white fish with hardly any dark-red flesh, the Japanese name of sea bass - “omsuzuki,” meaning “washed” - is derived from its neat flesh, which looks as though someone gave it a good rinse. The tender flesh resembles that of sea bream, a light-tasting fish without a sharp aroma. Sea bass are said to improve in quality during the summer when they gain weight, and their flesh develops more fat content. They are used in all sorts of recipes, to the point that no part of the fish goes to waste.
Saury (sanma) is best in the fall, and its flavor represents the coming of autumn to many people. When eating saury as sashimi, it is common for ginger or slices of apple to be served alongside the fish to minimize its aroma.
Kanpachi, or rudderfish have taut, richly fatty flesh, and are enjoyed by many people. When caught in the wild, they are sold as delicacies on the market. Farmed rudderfish are prevalent in the Japanese market, so sample both varieties if you can.
Chub mackerel, or saba, is one of the world’s most consumed fish varieties, along with tuna and bluefish. It is often grilled, stewed, used as a sushi topping or made into shimesaba (*1). It is also frequently canned. While generally, chub mackerel is not for eating raw, some fish from brands such as Sekisaba or fresh ocean-caught fish may be eaten as sashimi. They have also garnered attention for their plentiful DHA and EPA nutrient content.
*1: Shimesaba is chub mackerel cured in salt and vinegar.
These shrimp (ama ebi) can be anywhere from a pink tone to a reddish-orange color. Thanks to their soft shells, they are easy to peel. When eaten raw, the shrimp’s amino acids, like glycine and alanine, lend the flesh a sweet taste. Due to that sweetness, they are a favorite seafood item for children.
In the past, the Sakhalin surf clam (Hokki-gai; scientific name: Pseudocardium sachalinense) was widely eaten in Hokkaido and the Tohoku region, and even commonly served as a sushi topping. Their popularity has now spread from the Kanto region to Western Japan. Most of the clams sold on the market have already been cooked, shucked and frozen, so raw and unshelled clams are a rare sight.
Usually used in sushi and sashimi, red clams, or aka-gai, make an appearance in Japan’s oldest historical record, Kojiki, or the ”Records of Ancient Matters.” Their firm, almost crunchy texture makes them a favorite of shellfish lovers.
While hotate, or scallops were once widely caught in the ocean, they are currently farmed. Scallops are full of amino acids and glutamic acids that give them an umami flavor, and you can taste their concentrated sweetness. Scallops are a perennial seafood favorite for women and children.
Sea urchin, or uni, is thought to be one of Japan’s three great delicacies. However, the sea urchin that typically appears in markets is not fresh, but has been treated with salt, alcohol or other preservatives.
In Japan, sea urchin are generally eaten raw. Some dishes include sashimi, sushi, and sea urchin rice bowls.
Salmon roe (ikura) refers to salmon fish eggs. Usually, people eat uncooked salmon roe that has either been pickled in salt or drizzled with soy sauce. Families in Hokkaido love eating salmon roe, which signals the coming of autumn. With an unusual texture full of bubbles, salmon roe is a favorite menu item for people of all age ranges.
Tiger globefish and the purple puffer are two edible blowfish varieties (fugu) sold on the market. Tiger globefish is known as a particularly luxurious foodstuff, with a price to match. It is usually caught in the Kansai region in the winter, the best time for blowfish. However, since its glands cannot be removed through normal cooking methods, it is hazardous for an amateur to try cooking with it. On the other hand, it is also exceptionally delicious. In particular, the taste of blowfish innards is said to make gourmets groan with delight. Currently, only authorized blowfish restaurants can prepare blowfish, so you can have peace of mind while you enjoy your meal. To learn more about fugu cuisine, take a look at Fugu - Where To Enjoy Delicious Pufferfish in Japan.
While people may have an impression that carp (koi) are just for aesthetic appreciation, they are also edible. Most edible carp come from Fukushima Prefecture and are generally stewed with vegetables or boiled. They can also be sliced and chilled in iced water to firm up, then eaten with vinegared miso. Some regions prefer this sashimi preparation, but because of the risk of parasites, it is not particularly widespread.
The turban shell (sazae) is one of Japan’s most common shellfish varieties. It can have a distinctive bitterness and is a polarizing ingredient.
Known as a high-grade ingredient, abalone (awabi) is a type of shellfish with a cartilaginous texture. Its innards are eaten as a delicacy in some areas. Chefs familiar with abalone both in Japan and overseas since some countries use dried abalone as an ingredient in various dishes.
Herring (kibinago) is eaten as sashimi, and its flesh is translucent, with many small bones. It has little fat and a sweet taste. People usually eat herring with ginger, soy sauce, and vinegared miso to minimize its odor.
Horsemeat (basashi) is not fish, but it appears on menus alongside seafood sashimi at places like izakayas. It is eaten with condiments like ginger and garlic. It has a deeper, more intense flavor than sashimi, and is more filling.
Sashimi Delicacies of Different Prefectures
Fish can have different flavor profiles depending on where they’re caught, even if they’re the same species. These “brand-name fish” are highly valued, and in some cases, they are regional specialties. If you have the chance, you should try eating them. Here we will introduce a few notable brand-name fish.
Oma Tuna from Aomori
First, we have Oma tuna, from Aomori, which has a distinct rich flavor and excellent coloration. It is famous for not being sold in markets until the latest possible moment, to avoid any decline in freshness. Oma tuna is widely known for its superb quality.
Mackerel from Oita
The chub mackerel and jack mackerel from the Saganoseki Coast in Oita Prefecture are quite famous. Both varieties are understood to be migratory fish, but they tend to stay in the area of the ocean around Saganoseki. Compared to normal mackerel, the fish which grew to adulthood in the swift currents of the Hoyo Strait have superior texture.
Young Salmon From Shiretoko, Hokkaido
Nicknamed “phantom salmon” for their rarity, it is said that only around 480 of these young, infant salmon are caught in the waters of Shiretoko every year. Exceptionally rich in fat, their entire bodies have the richness of toro cuts.
Seito Saury From Kushiro, Hokkaido
These fish lack the characteristic fishy aroma of saury and have a melt-in-your-mouth texture reminiscent of salmon. Their taste is appreciated even by people who don’t particularly like blueback fish.
Matsuwa Chub Mackerel From Miura, Kanagawa
Matsuwa chub mackerel can be caught in Kanagawa’s Miura Peninsula. They have round, protruding bellies and their fat lends their flesh a cherry blossom tinge, making it obvious that they are different from normal chub mackerel. They are said to be fattest and most delicious after July. Because only a small number of fish are caught each year, they are prized for their rarity. Seito saury from Kushiro is similarly valued.
About Sashimi Condiments and Garnishes
While Japanese people get used to eating sashimi from a young age, those not used to seafood may struggle with the smell and texture of raw fish. Use soy sauce, wasabi, and ginger before you get used to the natural odors of the sashimi.
Garnishes served with sashimi, such as pieces of daikon radish, perilla leaves, and seaweed, are called tsuma. Typically tsuma are cut into pretty shapes, used to adorn the platter, then eaten along with the sashimi. Even on supermarket display shelves, you will often see sashimi in the fresh fish corner accompanied by beautiful garnishes. Raw daikon radish and wakame seaweed are common, but there is a wealth of variations, with garnishes such as seasonal vegetables, flowers, and edible wild plants.
Calorie Estimates for Sashimi
While you want to savor sashimi, it is natural to wonder about the calorie content in each bite. It is said that Japanese food is healthier than Western or other Asian cuisine types, but how healthy is sashimi, really? Let’s look at the calorie counts of the most popular sashimi varieties.
This list shows the average sashimi serving size for one person in grams (g).
Tuna akami 30g 38kcal
Horse mackerel 25g 30kcal
Scallop 25g 24kcal
Squid 25g 22kcal
Sweet shrimp (3) 15g 13kcal
Tuna toro 30g 103kcal
Saury 25g 78kcal
Amberjack 30g 77kcal
Sardine 25g 54kcal
Chub mackerel 25g 51kcal
King salmon 25g 50kcal
Sea bream 25g 49kcal
Bonito (caught in fall) 25g 41kcal
Flounder 25g 31kcal
Sea bass 25g 31kcal
Bonito (caught in autumn) 25g 29kcal
Razor clam 25g 25kcal
Octopus 25g 25kcal
Mantis shrimp (5) 25g 25kcal
Blowfish 25g 21kcal
Geoduck clam 25g 21kcal
Filefish 25g 20kcal
Surf clam 25g 18kcal
Red clams (3) 4g 18kcal
You can enjoy your sashimi served atop vegetables at izakayas and other casual places. We recommend regular dressing; anything soy sauce-based or wasabi-based is a natural pairing for sashimi salad.
Sushi is the most famous dish to use sashimi in its preparation. Some sushi variations include nigirizushi, sashimi on top of hand-formed rice; chirashizushi, sashimi mixed with vinegared rice; and makizushi, rolls of vinegared rice and sashimi wrapped in nori seaweed.
Tataki, or “pounded,” is another way to prepare fish. It refers to two methods: In the first, you cut the fish into pieces one or two centimeters in size, cover the pieces in herbs or miso paste, then use your knife to “pound” the pile and mix it together. In the second, you cut the fish into blocks, put them on skewers, and grill the blocks briefly on an open flame. Tataki is common preparation for horse mackerel, bonito, and other sashimi.
Through special preparation, you can add another layer to your enjoyment of sashimi.
Where You Can Eat Sashimi in Japan
Finally, we will talk about where you can eat sashimi in Japan. You can actually enjoy it at sushi restaurants.
Nigiri-zushi is standard at sushi restaurants. However, if the place is a counter-style restaurant and not based around a conveyor belt, you can also order sashimi. You can see the chef expertly scaling, slicing and proportioning out the fish, so if you visit a sushi restaurant, by all means, try ordering the sashimi as well.
You can also order sashimi while enjoying drinks with your friends at izakaya. Because sashimi goes so well with Japanese sake, it is commonly served in izakayas, with regional specialties heavily featured on the menus of izakayas in those areas.
Many Japanese restaurants have sashimi on their menus, so you can order sashimi in small bowls or dishes. There are also sashimi platters that can be shared with family or friends.
Sashimi Price Ranges
For two people, expect to pay around 500 yen to 1200 yen for sashimi at an izakaya, depending on the variety. Sashimi at more expensive places will cost from 800 to 1600 yen.
Order a “moriawase” sashimi platter if you want to try several varieties of sashimi, or if you’re in a group. Expect to pay around 1,000 yen to 1,500 yen at an izakaya, or from 2000 yen to 3500 yen at a high-class restaurant.