Roll Call: A Brief Guide to Sushi Terminology

Whether you’re a first-timer or you know you could stand to brush up on your Japanese cuisine, it’s no secret that a sushi restaurant can be intimidating. The menu — while written in English — seems like a language all of its own. While there are countless sushi-related terms, we’ve put together this quick guide of the most common sushi vocabulary.

First Things First: What Is Sushi?

“Sushi” has become part of the common vernacular; a colloquial term for bite-size noms rolled up with rice and seaweed. However, sushi technically refers to only the sticky, vinegared rice. Sashimi refers to raw fish. While sushi is just fine as a catch-all term (after all, “sushi-and-sashimi restaurant” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well), this basic breakdown is worth knowing!

Here are a few quick facts about ordering and eating sushi:


  • Not all sushi contains raw fish. Some rolls contain cooked ingredients, while others have just veggies, such as avocado, cucumber, or sweet potato.
  • Sushi-grade fish is far fresher and of a higher grade than a cut from the grocery store. Sushi chefs take great pride in using only the freshest ingredients.


Sushi Terminology You Should Know

  • Bara: A rice salad of sushi ingredients mixed together in a bowl
  • Daikon: Often served sliced into thin strips and pickled, Daikon is a white radish with mild flavor that can be served in a salad or as a garnish.
  • Dashi: The base for many soups, Dashi is a Japanese soup stock made from seaweed with a distinct umami flavor.
  • Futo Maki: Large or giant sushi rolls that incorporate many ingredients and are often served as a main dish. This type of roll is especially popular in the U.S.
  • Makizushi: Sushi that’s in the form of a roll. Sushi rice as well as other ingredients are rolled inside a sleeve or nori seaweed or wrappers such as rice paper or cucumber.
  • Mirin: A slightly sweet Japanese wine mostly used in cooking; it can add depth of flavor to sauces and marinades.
  • Miso: Fermented soybean paste that provides a strong umami flavor to balance dishes. Miso is used in many soups, sauces, and marinades.
  • Nigiri Sushi: A slice of fresh fish which tops a mound of vinegared rice.
  • Nori: Often seen wrapped around the outside of sushi rolls, Nori is the seaweed sheets that have been dried and toasted to enhance flavor.
  • Panko: This one you may have heard of; Panko is crispy Japanese bread crumbs, although they are shaped more like flakes, giving them a unique texture. It is used as a crunchy topping or coating in several types of sushi rolls and more.
  • Ponzu: A light, sweet sauce usually used for dipping
  • Sake: Rice wine. Unlike normal wine, sake is distilled and should not be aged. It can be served either hot or cold.
  • Sashimi: Sliced, fresh fish. While it may be served with a bowl of plain rice, it is not served with rice or any other ingredient.
  • Shoyu: Soy sauce. This is made from fermented soybeans, infusing a salty or briny flavor to food.
  • Soba: Buckwheat noodles. They are hearty and typically served cold and seasoned.
  • Tamago: Often, tamago is served as a sweetened omelet, which is sliced and placed on top of a mound of sushi rice.
  • Tempura: Battered or deep-fried; many sushi restaurants now serve tempura shrimp or vegetables inside traditional sushi rolls as well as tempura platters.
  • Unagi: Japanese for freshwater eel, especially the Japanese eel.
  • Uramaki: Japanese for inside out, referring to sushi where the seaweed is inside the roll.
  • Wakame: A wide-leafed seaweed with a nearly chewy texture. It is often made into a salad with sesame seeds, sesame oil, and chili flakes.
  • Wasabi: Japanese horseradish; a green paste served with sushi to add heat and flavor.


What Are the Best Rolls for Sushi Beginners?

If the ingredients weren’t baffling enough, certain rolls have signature names that don’t necessarily clue the menu-reader into what exactly they consist of. However, we’ve put together this list of some of the best rolls to start out with:


  • Boston roll: Cooked shrimp, avocado, and cucumber
  • California roll: Real or imitation crab, avocado, and cucumber
  • Dragon roll: Made to look like a dragon, this sushi roll contains shrimp tempura, avocado, and unagi. Slices of avocado atop the roll are to resemble the scales of the dragon.
  • King crab roll: Cooked king crab and mayo
  • Philadelphia roll: Salmon, avocado, and cream cheese
  • Rainbow roll: Cucumber, avocado, and multiple types of fish, most commonly tuna, salmon, white fish, yellowtail, snapper, and eel.
  • Vegetable roll: Raw or cooked veggies and fruits, like carrots, shiitake mushrooms, cucumber, spinach, avocado, and mango.


Expand Your Palate at Kabuto

Whether you’re looking for a festive hibachi restaurant for a work outing or a romantic dinner destination, Kabuto is the place to be — and the ultimate haven to expand your palate! We offer classic and signature rolls as well as a la carte options that let you go as tried-and-true — or bold — as you wish. In addition to our myriad sushi items, we offer tantalizing appetizers as well as sake, wine, specialty drinks, and beyond. When you visit Kabuto, you can feel confident you’re pulling up a seat to some of the freshest, most exquisite selections available!


We invite you to visit any of our establishments, including:


  • East Norriton, PA
  • Parkville, MD
  • Rockville, MD


Does this “roll call” have you hungry? Kabuto’s got you covered! Check out our menu, take a look at our gallery, or give us a call today for more information.