Sushi has been main part of Japanese cuisine for centuries, recently gaining worldwide popularity. The sushi we know and eat most in the west is arguably Maki rolls or Nigiri sushi or nigirizushi. These two are some of many types of sushi that is consumed widely in Japan. Nigiri is a unique style of sushi that is made by hand, without a rolling mat, giving this dish its name Nigirizushi or “hand-pressed sushi”. The name nigiri literally translates to ni (two) and giri (fingers).
It’s Just Sushi, Right?
In today’s world, sushi is any type of dish prepared with vinegared rice, otherwise known as sushi rice. This is crucial for a dish to be considered sushi. That is why sashimi, is made from the same raw fish, but technically is not sushi because it lacks the mandatory rice. Nigiri is usually just a combination of rice hand-molded into a rectangle or oblong shape and then swiped with wasabi and topped with a Neto (raw salmon, shrimp, Japanese Omelet, tuna or other seafoods and vegetables)
The preparation of Nigirizushi is quite simpler than that of Makizushi and Oshizushi with multiple ingredients and layers. The sushi maker uses his palm and forefinger and thumb to shape and press the rice into shape. After the wasabi is added on top to add heat and to help the Neto stick to rice and be eaten in one bite. Sometimes a small strip of nori is wrapped around the nigirizushi to bind the ingredients.
Nigirizushi is probably one of the most popular and preferred types of sushi in the world. There is many reason nigiri is so loved:
- Easy preparation, making it accessible
- Quicker process compared to sushi
- Even easier to eat
- Allows the taste of sushi grade fish to shine
- Can be made cheap or upscale
- Is not limited in possible topping choices
It is quite easy to shape and prepare nigirizushi but don’t be fooled, Japanese sushi chefs go through extensive training on the art of slicing this expensive and perfect textured “block” of fish. A sharp sashimi knife is a must and is used to cut the sashimi pieces for nigiri and other sushi styles.
Back in the 4th century Sushi in its original form made its way through Southeast Asia. Narezushi was preserved, fermented in rice and eaten. The process took some time and for a city like Edo (Modern time Tokyo), this was too long of a wait to eat their favorite food. In 1824 a man named Hanaya Yohei opened a sushi stand in Ryogoku district of Edo near the river. Since he had great foot traffic at his location he wanted to speed up to process to prepare, sell, and serve more people.
He applied a newly discovered technique with a much quicker process for fermenting the fish with the addition of rice vinegar and salt in fresh rice. This sped the process from months to minutes. Placing the raw fish piece on top of oval rice, starting a revolution in sushi where raw fish was started to be used. It didn’t take long for Edo to fall in love with Nigiri sushi and the rest of the world followed suit a hundred or years later.
Today any restaurant you go to that serves sushi will most definitely have a variety Nigiri dishes available for you to try. There is countless versions, toppings, and styles of sushi and nigirizushi out there and each more delicious than the other. Best of luck finding your favorite type.