What's The Difference: Sushi Vs. Maki Vs. Nigiri

Are you confused about what kind you're eating?

IMAGE Pixabay
ILLUSTRATOR Roselle Miranda

Let's get something straight: all those rolled-up pieces of dried seaweed with raw seafood and rice are all sushi. Chirashi, California maki, sashimi, temaki, and gunkan are all sushi. That's because "sushi" is an umbrella term that encompasses the dish as well as the different ways of preparation for this kind of dish. That's why you can find different kinds of sushi that can be prepared at your favorite Japanese restaurant. 

Did you know that "sushi" originally refers to fish that's been preserved in vinegar? By this old definition, few of the "sushi" we know and love to consume fall under this category. The sushi we think of when we hear the word now has changed from this simple definition to the more modern definition. It's the term we use to describe a Japanese dish that consists of raw fish or other seafood with rice seasoned with vinegar and rolled in dried seaweed. 

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Sushi can be as simple as this. 

These are different kinds of sushi. The nigiri and the norimaki, or simply maki, are just two kinds.  
Photo by Pixabay
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However, there are more ways to wrap and enjoy sushi than this one kind, and that's where the confusion really lies. Are you confused about what you're eating when you dine in a Japanese restaurant?

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Here's what you need to know about two of your favorite kinds of sushi: maki and nigiri. 

If you're eating one of these maki rolls, you're eating one of the traditional kinds of sushi.
Photo by Pixabay

1 Maki is rolled sushi. Nigiri is rice topped with seafood.

Did you know that "maki" is short for "norimaki"? "Nori" means seaweed which is the green sheet that is wrapped around the rice and seafood, so you're probably having a norimaki or maki when you enjoy one of these traditional sushi rolls. In fact, any rolled sushi in dried seaweed is considered a norimaki of some kind. That's why the California maki is a kind of sushi that was named after the state it was created in, tuna maki are raw tuna sushi rolls, and those thick sushi rolls with more filling than rice are called futomaki. 

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You might be wondering if the folded cones of nori and sushi fillings are called "maki" as well, and these "rolls" are called temaki. 

Nigiri meanwhile is not a rolled sushi. Instead of being in a roll, nigiri is made with rice rolled into balls and topped with raw fish or seafood. It's a distinctive style that makes the seafood the star of any sushi platter. 

The nigiri is a kind of sushi where rice topped with raw seafood.
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2 Maki has fillings that can be either cooked or raw. Nigiri is topped with raw seafood. 

If you love the modern kinds of sushi, you have probably had sushi that contained either raw or  cooked seafood. While all sushi can be stuffed and topped with different fish, seafood, and even other proteins, maki has the distinction to be the most tweaked to meet the modern palate. You have to admit that it's fun to decide what to stuff into your sushi, so the possibilities can be endless!  

Nigiri however is not as versatile or flexible in its creation. Each one is almost always topped with a kind of raw seafood with the exception being some shellfish such as shrimp which is rarely eaten raw even in other kinds of sushi. It is however briefly cooked to preserve its natural sweetness and texture. 

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