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Nigiri sushi is what most sushi connoisseurs regard as the real sushi. It's your selected seafood on rice with a touch of wasabi between the two. The raw fish on top of the rice is called sashimi and can be ordered without the rice as an appetizer. This is not the kind of sushi wrapped in nori; nigiri sushi is just fish, fish eggs or even vegetables on rice. Sashimi can be served on rice as a chirashi as well, which is a bowl of rice topped with fresh fish slices and oftentimes some vegetables. Chirashi sushi is very easy to assemble.

Maki sushi roll

Maki sushi roll

For your first sushi experience, order the tuna, albacore tuna or the salmon nigiri. Other great choices are mackerel (salted and marinated), barbequed eel, shrimp, scallops, squid or halibut. Stronger tasting fish such as hamachi (yellowtail) or kingfish (harimasa yellowtail) also make a good topping for nigiri sushi.

You can replace the sashimi with fish eggs. Salmon eggs are the most common, wrapped in a bit of seaweed to hold them on top of the traditional rice base. More popular in Japan are the little eggs, or roe, harvested from the inside of sea urchins (uni).

Not all nigiri is raw fish though. Shrimp (ebi) and crab (kani) are both cooked before they are laid to rest on the rice, eel (unagi) is grilled and then marinated in a sweet sake sauce for several days. Nigiri sushi can also be made with vegetables such as avocado, or with eggs.

Nigiri sushi

Nigiri sushi

Finally, try blanched scallops, still raw in the middle, for their delicate buttery taste and amazing texture.

Called simply sushi roll, maki or futomaki sushi is probably the first image of sushi that comes to your mind. Maki combines toppings and rice wrapped in sheets of seaweed, or nori, and served in six or eight slices. Typically, maki sushi has less raw fish and often some vegetables, and allows for more creativity and flavor mixes. Some typical rolls include: tekka, or tuna; kappa, or cucumber; avocado; California, which is a combination of avocado, crab and cucumber; Philadelphia, a combination of smoked salmon, cream cheese and cucumber; and Rainbow, which rolls up on the outside slices of fish such as tuna, salmon and snapper. Another type of maki is temaki, or "hand-roll," which is a large, single cone-shaped roll that usually contains larger items, like pieces of vegetables and salmon or tuna.

Sushi can be classified as a health food, being low in fat and calories while high in protein. Seaweed is extremely high in vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C and niacin. Salmon is high on omegas (brain food) and vitamin D (cold and flu fighter). If handled correctly raw fish is much safer than cooked beef and chicken. By eating fish you could also reduce your exposure to Genetically Modified Organisms, steroids and antibiotics with which chicken, beef and pork are commonly treated.

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Chef George Krumov
About the author: George Krumov is a Red Seal certified chef with many years of culinary experience working around the world in Europe, the Middle East, the cruise line industry and North America. In the last two decades he has headed the kitchens of several restaurants in Canada, and ran his own restaurant.

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