Sashimi 101: Tips You Should Know Before Enjoying One of Japan’s Greatest Specialties

Sashimi is a widely popular Japanese specialty that will complete your gastronomic adventure in the Land of the Rising Sun. So whether you are a fan of raw food or not, it’s a must to try sashimi on your trip! Luscious and indulgent, it’s among the most addictive yet healthful delicacies of Japan. 

Want to know more about sashimi? Read on as we give you a lowdown on this dish:



Sashimi 101

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Essentially, sashimi is thinly-sliced raw food, usually fish and other seafood like squid, shrimp, and scallops—among many others. However, sashimi may also be derived from other meats such as beef, horse, deer, and even chicken! 

If you’re a vegetarian, you may still give sashimi a try, as there are types of sashimi that are not meat-based like the konnyaku sashimi (made with konjac jelly) and yuba or tofu skin sashimi. 

Sashimi is traditionally served neatly arranged on a bed of shredded white radish (daikon) with perilla leaves (shiso) on the side. These garnishes may be eaten with the sashimi, as they give off a fresh, minty taste that cleanses the palate. 



Sushi vs. Sashimi

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For many, sushi and sashimi can be a bit confusing, but the difference between the two is actually very easy to spot—sushi, depending on its type, is thinly-sliced food served atop a small mound of vinegared rice or rolled with vinegared rice and other ingredients like seaweed and vegetables or fruit, while sashimi is served as is. 

Just think of it this way: If it’s not served with a small mound or roll of vinegared rice, it’s sashimi. As simple as that.



Most Common Types of Sashimi

There are a lot of types of sashimi being served in Japan and the rest of the world, but here are some of the most common varieties:


Maguro (Tuna)

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It’s almost impossible to walk into a Japanese restaurant and not find this on their menu if they serve sashimi. Maguro or tuna sashimi is arguably the most popular type of sashimi, and it’s categorized according to the part of the fish from which it was taken:

Akami – is the part with the lowest grade as it doesn’t contain fat.
Toro – the pink and fatty belly meat that gives off a buttery flavor.
Otoro – taken from the lowest part of the tuna’s belly, just right below the head, it is very high in fat and is considered as the most expensive cut of tuna. 


Sake (Salmon)

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Next to tuna, sake or salmon sashimi is also widely popular and consumed in Japan. It has a distinct bright orange color and is highly regarded for its tender and fatty flesh. 


Saba (Mackerel)

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Saba or mackerel is typically served grilled in Japanese cuisine. However, it can also be enjoyed as sashimi. It is characterized by an oily flesh that gives the meat a smooth texture and bold flavor. 


Tai (Sea Bream)

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In all its simplicity and subtlety, tai or sea bream is among the most-prized white-fleshed fish in Japanese cuisine. Because of this, it is usually seen on tables during special occasions like weddings and the New Year.


Katsuo (Bonito or Skipjack Tuna)

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Compared to maguro, Katsuo has a darker color, which also means it has a stronger flavor. Because of that, it is used in many dishes in Japan and is the most important ingredient in making dashi or fish stock. 


Kanpachi & Buri/Hamachi

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Both are varieties of yellowtail, but kanpachi has a lighter color that’s almost translucent, while buri or hamachi has a pinkish-white flesh. The latter also has a high fat content.


Tako (Octopus)

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Sure, sashimi is ideally served raw, but it has some exceptions, like with the tako or octopus sashimi. The tentacles may be eaten raw, but most restaurants will poach them first to give the meat a firmer texture. 


Ika (Squid)

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Ika or squid is almost as widely served as maguro and sake sashimi. It has a rubbery texture and almost-translucent meat.


Amaebi (Sweet Shrimp)

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Amaebi is the type of shrimp that is specifically preferred when making sashimi, as it gives off a sweet, subtle flavor.


Hotate (Scallop)

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Scallop sashimi has a firm texture, which contrasts its sweet and creamy taste. 


Hokkigai (Surf Clam)

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Like tako, hokkigai or surf clams are lightly boiled to firm up the meat and bring out its naturally sweet flavor. They are enjoyed all year round but are most popular during winter.


Uni (Sea Urchin)

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Uni or sea urchin is considered an exquisite delicacy in Japan. The yellow meat is scraped from the inside of the sea urchin and is best served immediately. It has a slimy texture and a briny flavor.


Ikura (Salmon Roe)

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It’s hard to miss these bright orange salmon eggs when you see them. They’re just slightly smaller than an average pea and the most fun part about eating them is how they’d burst in your mouth as you take a bite. Ikura is traditionally prepared by curing it in salt or soy sauce. 



How To Eat Sashimi

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The proper way to eat sashimi is a lot like the ABCs of eating sushi. For one, you don’t make a pool of soy sauce and wasabi for dipping. Instead, you should smear a small amount of wasabi directly on the sashimi before lightly dipping it into soy sauce, which should be poured into small dipping dishes conservatively. 

Sashimi can also be enjoyed on its own—try this to have a deeper appreciation of its natural flavor. And as mentioned earlier, you may eat the garnishes, too. 

After your meal, depending on where you are having your sashimi, make sure to give your compliments to the chef or itamae who prepared your meal and give them a bow as a gesture of respect. 



Where To Eat Sashimi in Japan

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Sashimi is widely available in Japan—from restaurants to izakayas to supermarkets and convenience stores. But if you want the complete sashimi experience, you may join the Tsukiji Fish Market Food Tour or place a reservation at a Michelin-starred restaurant in the city. 

Feeling adventurous? Give fugu (pufferfish) sashimi a try. This infamous dish is known for the risks that come with consuming it since pufferfish have high levels of toxins. So much so, that only licensed chefs can prepare it. 



Are you excited to try sashimi? Which type are you looking forward to tasting on your trip to Japan?



*Featured image by K321 via Shutterstock