Nigiri and sashimi: What’s the difference?
Sashimi and Nigiri are both among the most famous forms of Japanese cuisine, to the point that it’s very common to confuse the two names when talking about sushi. But the fact is that nigiri sushi and sashimi are two different things (one of them might not even be sushi at all) and it’s worth knowing what makes each one of them so great.
Today you will learn the major differences between Nigiri vs. Sashimi. You will also learn about Maki Sushi and the differences between Nigiri vs. Maki sushi.
- What Is Nigiri?
- What Is Sashimi?
- What Is Maki?
- What’s The Difference?
- What Are The Best Knives For Nigiri And Sashimi?
1. What Is Nigiri?
Nigiri is one of the purest and most traditional manifestations of Japanese sushi. Nigiri is a small rice ball (or rice mound) consisting of vinegared rice (a.k.a sushi rice or sticky rice) and a piece of raw fish on top. Sweet, salty and tasty flavor, nigiri sushi has it all.
Usually, it’s raw fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel...) but you can also find shrimp nigiri (the shrimp is cooked) and eel nigiri (the eel is usually grilled).
The sushi chef may add sweet soy sauce or wasabi between fish and rice in the nigiri bite. Nigiri is a very popular type of sushi.
2. What Is Sashimi?
This may be a surprise (It was for me, I’ll admit) but sashimi is not actually considered sushi. The one essential, non-negotiable ingredient in sushi is rice (not fish) and sashimi does not contain rice at all.
Sashimi consists of thin slices of raw meat serviced without rice, which is usually strips of raw fish (salmon, tuna, shrimp or octopus) but not necessarily fish, it can be other meats as well.
Some people dip sashimi in soy sauce or add a fish topping of their choice. It can also be served with pickled ginger, wasabi, daikon radish or even avocado. The quality and level of detail put into making sashimi, sometimes results in a higher price than nigiri.
3. What Is Maki?
When we, westerners, think of sushi, what comes to mind is a black roll containing sushi rice and other things. This black roll is called maki or makizushi, probably the most popular form of sushi on our side of the world.
In short: maki is a roll where the ingredients (rice, raw fish or cooked fish, other seafood like shrimp, vegetables, cream cheese) are all wrapped up inside a sheet of “nori” or dried seaweed.
The major difference of Nigiri vs. Maki is that Nigiri features the seaweed inside sushi rolls and Maki features the seaweed outside sushi rolls.
4. What’s The Difference Between Nigiri and Sashimi?
Let's take a look at the differences between Nigiri vs. Sashimi and Nigiri vs. Maki.
- Nigiri is made of rice and fish.
- Sashimi is made only of meat (either fish or another). It doesn’t contain rice.
- Maki is made of rice, nori and other ingredients (vegetables, fish, other meats and diverse ingredients)
- Nigiri is served as a "ball" or "rice mound" with two halves: rice and fish. There is traditionally no fish topping.
- Sashimi is served as thin slices or strips of raw fish or meat (no rice)
- Maki comes in a long roll or tube, cut into pieces.
- Nigiri sushi is the most traditional and a very popular type of sushi in Japan.
- Maki is the best-known type of sushi outside of Japan.
- Sashimi is not technically sushi, but is served in sushi restaurants.
- Use your hands to eat Nigiri sushi.
- Use chopsticks to eat sashimi.
- Use either chopsticks or your bare hands to eat maki (it’s always best to go with your hands).
5. What Are The Best Knives For Preparing Nigiri And Sashimi?
The Yanagiba knife features a long, narrow and thin blade, beveled on one side only. Specially designed for sushi and sashimi, this is the perfect knife for filleting raw fish like salmon or tuna with clean and precise cuts. The edge is so sharp that no pressure or force is needed to cut the fish.
If you’re thinking of getting the ultimate sushi knife, here’s 3 recommendations:
“A sashimi slicing master” is a fair description. You can also use it for nigiri sushi and other meats other than fish. The blade is perfect for slicing raw fish. The super sharp 9.5” blade is engraved with the Japanese kanji for ‘phantom’ or ‘ghost’. Single-bevel, as the Japanese tradition dictates.
- The scalpel-sharpness of the blade will retain the edge for longer.
- The precisely tapered blade with high levels of chromium guarantees durability and stain-resistance.
- Besides fresh fish, you can also use it for slicing steak, pork, ham and other raw meats to perfection.
- The blade is thicker than average, providing stronger, yet easy cuts.
- If you want a more versatile Japanese knife consider other types, like the Santoku.
- Depending on your personal preference, you might want a longer blade.
- Extra sharpness means extra precautions.
The best of both worlds? This Yanagiba knife combines classic Japanese characteristics with high-carbon German steel and the Gladiator Series’ versatility and robustness. The length of the blade is ideal for cutting in a single stroke.
- The longer blade allows you to cut through the fish or meat on the first slide; without tearing anything apart or sacrificing flavor.
- Minimal friction also maximizes the taste of meat, which is essential in sashimi and nigiri preparation.
- The ergonomic handle provides a comfortable pinch grip and maximum comfort.
- Japanese knife purists might prefer traditional Japanese steel (like the Yanagiba from the Phantom Series) rather than German steel.
- Considerably longer than a typical paring knife, you may need some time to get used to it.
The Kiritsuke is a multi-purpose knife (not a common feature in Japanese knives) widely used for sashimi and vegetable prep. It is a combination of the Yanagiba knife mentioned above (perfect for filleting fish), and a vegetable knife.
In many sushi restaurants, only the head sushi chef can use one as a form of establishing status. The original Kiritsuke knife has a single-sided edge (the flat side prevents rice from sticking to the blade), although nowadays there are more versatile models. A few examples:
Menacing Design, Exceptional Craftsmanship: Designed from the ground up to be as sleek, aggressive and muscular looking as they are effective, the Dalstrong Shadow Black Series stands out from the pack. They’re not simply cutting-edge, high-performance tools; they're a statement about who you are and your unique sense of style as a chef.
- The edge is painstakingly hand sharpened to 16-18° per side, maintaining the perfect balance between blade sharpness and maximum resilience.
- Beautiful hand-polished satin finish blade.
- Fiber-resin military grade G10 handle is nearly impervious to heat, cold and moisture.
- Double-bevel means more versatility; but if you want to honor the Japanese style completely you might want to look at single-bevel Kiritsuke knives.
This is a chef's knife with a kiritsuke shape, featuring a long, narrower blade from ice-tempered steel. This all-purpose knife has been designed with the tasks of slicing fish and chopping vegetables in mind, which makes it ideal for preparing nigiri or sashimi.
- Narrower width for more agility.
- The blade is longer than other models, perfect for push cuts.
- Forged from Japanese steel with high levels of chrome for more resistance and durability.
- The traditional Japanese D-shaped handle allows for greater control.
- Some might find the shorter blades more maneuverable.
- The single bevel might be comfortable for right-handed users, but not so much for the left-handed.
- The engraving on the blade, beautiful as it is, requires extra cleaning precautions.
The Kiritsuke 8.5" chef's knife brings the special aesthetic of the Crusader Series, but with the feeling of an ancient sword. The full groove also reduces friction and prevents rice from sticking to the knife.
- Clean and precise cuts.
- Excellent edge retention.
- The steel structure makes it a very resistant knife.
- The fact that it is a single piece makes it more hygienic.
- The unconventional design might not be what you’re looking for in your first sushi knife.
- The handle, while better for some, is very different from traditional handles. The grip needs time getting used to.
Ok, I know! A santoku is not a sushi knife. However, in practical terms, they can be used at home to prepare ingredients for sashimi and nigiri; and the best part is, you can use it for a lot more than that! “Santoku bōchō” translates to "three virtues" or "three uses” which may refer to its three main applications: slicing, chopping and dicing; or the three foods for which this knife is mainly used: fish, meat and vegetables.
You won’t have a problem preparing sashimi or makizushi with this elegant Santoku from the Quantum series, designed for slicing, chopping and filleting with minimal effort and maximum control and efficiency.
- This is an extra durable knife forged from high-carbon American steel.
- “Effortless prep”, the Quantum 1 motto, will come in handy when preparing elaborate tuna or salmon sushi rolls for your guests.
- The unique blade pattern prevents drag and allows for greater efficiency.
- This knife is a western version of a Japanese classic. But if you prefer the whole deal, look for a knife with a Japanese blade.
- The price is a bit higher than other Dalstrong Series.
- You will need to use a cutting board and not just cut on any surface, if you want to protect the edge.
All the power in one compact piece. The shorter blade and handle are perfect for precision cutting, like filleting salmon or tuna for nigiri sushi and sashimi.
- Great value for the price
- As a good santoku, you can use it for slicing, dicing and chopping anything you need.
- Strong where you need it to be, and flexible when you need it to be.
- The handle is ambidextrous and ergonomically designed.
- If you’re looking for a more “premium” look, consider our other Santoku recommendations.
- This model is a bit heavier than traditional Japanese knives.
The Shogun Series 7” santoku knife is a ruthless kitchen warrior, ready at your command to unleash all manner of slicing, dicing and mincing mayham. The Japanese word ‘santoku’, roughly translates to meaning ‘three virtues’, indicating the versatility of this style of knife and the type of cuts it excels at (slicing, dicing and mincing).
- 7” precision forged blade with an ultra-premium Japanese AUS-10V ‘super steel’ cutting core at 62+ Rockwell hardness for unrivaled performance and incredible edge retention.
- Ruthlessly sharp scalpel like edge is hand finished to a mirror polish within a staggering 8-12° degree angle using the traditional 3-step Honbazuke method.
- Blade’s spine is hand polished to a smooth finish for enhanced pinch grip comfort
- Because this is an ultra-premium knife, the price is higher than the other series.
- This is a long, thick and heavy knife; which might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Written by Eva ContrerasFood & travel writer based in Buenos Aires. Superpowers include relentless curiosity and high tolerance to spicy foods.