One thing that will be forever synonymous with Japan is sushi. The centuries-old dish has been celebrated the world over through interpretations and recreations. In fact, sushi is presented in so many forms nowadays that many aren’t familiar with the traditional rolls of ancient Japan. Today, we’re forgetting about the California Rolls (even though we love ‘em!) and embracing true Japanese culture. Here are 10 traditional rolls you may not have heard of!
Tamagoyaki – Tamagoyaki is traditionally served in the form of nigiri, which basically means that it is draped over a mound of sushi rice. Nigiri is one of the five forms sushi and is traditionally presented in Japan. What makes the Tamagoyaki Nigiri sushi so special, is that it isn’t fish at all. Tamagoyaki is actually layers of cooked egg, prepared in a small rectangular pan called the makiyakinabe. Think of it as a kind of quiche-sushi!
Ika nigiri – Another classic Nigiri sushi would be the Ika Nigiri Sushi. What’s Ika? Delicious fresh squid! This type of cuttlefish is snatched up at peak freshness, which is in the dead of winter or the very beginning of spring. Squid is one of the most popular seafood in Japan, and the nigiri is its most common form of consumption. One note to make about Ika: it’s pricey! So, if you’re ever in Japan in the winter and want to splurge on some real sushi, Ika Nigiri is the way to go!
Saba – If you don’t want to splurge on fresh squid, try some Saba sushi! Saba is a mackerel fish, and is noted as an economically friendly (but still delicious!). This fish is super-rich and healthy. It is usually cured in salt for hours to prevent spoiling, because it can only be eaten raw immediately after being caught. This means unless the fish is brought in live, only fisherman experience this delicacy! But hey, maybe you can hop on a boat and try it for yourself.
Oshizushi – Oshizushi is one of the coolest kinds of sushi dishes to behold. Why? It’s pressed into a block shape using a wooden or plastic box known as the oshibako. While oshizushi can have a variety of ingredients, they are always made using either cured or cooked fish, and — of course — always include sushi rice and nori. We can thank the city of Osaka for oshizushi sushi.
Awabi – Awabi is the escargot of the sea! Also referred to as the “King of Clams,” these sea snails can be served raw or cooked and are a Japanese delicacy. You don’t normally see Awabi served by western sushi chefs, but it’s always been a huge hit in its native Japan. When it’s lightly coated with soy sauce and steamed to perfection, you won’t even remember it once had a colorful shell!
Kibinago – Kibinago is sushi prepared with what we know in the west to be the banded blue sprat. These shiny suckers glisten on a ball of rice, and are topped with grated ginger and nikiri sauce, a sweet fish glaze. Who says small fish can’t pack a punch?
Akagai – The red protein hemoglobin is responsible for the Arc shell’s bright red color. This colorful clam is shucked, butterflied, and eaten on a mound of rice in true nigiri sushi fashion. This clam is one of Japan’s most popular shellfish, and is always recognized by its flamboyant hue. Chewy, aromatic, and soft, Akagai sushi is certainly one to try!
Unakyu – Unakyu sushi is a combination of fish (eel) and vegetables (cucumber). The eel is freshwater eel, so it is always cooked to prevent any health hazards. This roll can be found in western society, but the eel it is traditionally made with, “anguilla japonica,” is found in Japan. It’s said you haven’t had real unagi (eel) unless you’ve had it from the freshwaters of Japan!
Uni – You can’t miss this sushi dish from a mile away. Bright orange or yellow and gleaming, uni is actually sea urchin roe/gonads! If you’re feeling brave, you can give uni a shot. It is said to be an acquired taste, and a rarity found only in the late fall.
Ankimo – Rounding out our list is another acquired taste. But hey, go big or go home! Ankimo is a traditional sushi dish made with the liver of a monkfish. The liver is salted, rubbed with sake, and steamed to perfection. A bit of chili, scallions, and ponzu sauce top off the delicacy. This dish can be found in America, but it might cost you a pretty penny as monkfish becomes more of a rarity.
From Sea Urchin gonads to mackerel fresh from the water, Japan is full of delicious delicacies we’ve yet to see and try. Next time you’re getting some sushi or visiting Japan — think outside the roll! You just might like what you try.