Nigiri vs Sashimi: What’s the Difference?

Nigiri and sashimi are both popular Japanese dishes that have gained international recognition and love among sushi enthusiasts. While both involve raw fish, it is essential to understand the key differences between the two to fully appreciate their unique flavors and presentations. In this article, we will delve into the specifics that set these tantalizing dishes apart and explore the nuances that make each a favorite.

Nigiri is a beautifully crafted combination of sushi rice and raw fish, typically hand-formed into a small, rectangular block of rice topped with a slice of fish, seafood, or an alternate ingredient. The main feature setting it apart from sashimi is the presence of rice. The quality of the rice and its balance with the topping are crucial in creating the perfect nigiri.

On the other hand, sashimi represents the art of simplicity, as it consists of thin slices of raw fish or other seafood, elegantly presented without rice. Served with soy sauce and wasabi, sashimi allows the natural flavors and textures of the fish to shine through without distraction. It is an ideal choice for those who appreciate the unadulterated taste of high-quality seafood.

Nigiri and Sashimi: The Basics

What Is Nigiri

Nigiri is a popular type of sushi that consists of a small, hand-pressed mound of sushi rice topped with a thin slice of raw fish, such as salmon, tuna, or eel. The sushi rice is seasoned with vinegar, sugar, and salt, giving it a distinct tanginess that compliments the fish. Sometimes, a small dab of wasabi is placed between the fish and the rice, adding a spicy kick to the flavor profile.

Nigiri can be enjoyed with soy sauce, either by dipping the fish side directly into the sauce or using chopsticks to pick up the sliver of fish and submerging it. This technique prevents the rice from soaking up too much soy sauce and overpowering the taste of the fish.

Some variations of nigiri include:

  • Gunkan-maki: Consisting of sushi rice surrounded by a strip of nori (seaweed) and topped with various ingredients, such as fish roe, sea urchin, or chopped tuna.
  • Aburi: The fish topping is partially torched, giving it a slightly cooked texture and smoky flavor.

What Is Sashimi

Sashimi refers to thin slices of raw fish served without rice. Common types of fish used for sashimi include salmon, tuna, yellowtail, and octopus. Sashimi is often presented artistically on a plate, arranged in a way that showcases the natural colors and textures of the fish.

While most sashimi features raw fish, there are some variations that include lightly seared or marinated fish for a more complex flavor. Sashimi is typically served with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger on the side. Diners can use these condiments to enhance their experience, combining the flavors of the fish with the sharpness of the wasabi and the tanginess of the ginger.

In comparison to nigiri, sashimi showcases the pure taste of the fish and allows diners to savor its natural flavors. Sashimi is an excellent option for those who want to focus on the fish itself rather than the combination of flavors found in nigiri.

Nigiri Vs. Sashimi

Key Ingredients and Preparation

Fish and Seafood

Nigiri and sashimi are primarily distinguished by the selection and preparation of their fish and seafood components. Both dishes use high-quality fish like salmon, tuna, yellowtail, mackerel, and eel, as well as other seafood items such as shrimp, octopus, and tai.

In nigiri, the fish or seafood is often served raw, but may also be seared or slightly cooked in some cases. Some common options include:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Yellowtail
  • Shrimp

Sashimi, on the other hand, exclusively features raw fish or seafood, thinly sliced and artfully presented. Examples include:

  • Octopus
  • Eel
  • Mackerel
  • Tai

Rice and Vinegar

One of the fundamental differences between nigiri and sashami lies in the use of sushi rice. Nigiri involves a small oblong-shaped mound of seasoned sushi rice topped with fish, seafood, or other ingredients. The seasoned sushi rice is a combination of short-grain rice, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt.

In contrast, sashimi does not feature any rice or vinegar, as it is solely composed of the raw fish or seafood.

Garnishes and Accompaniments

Both dishes include some traditional garnishes and accompaniments that enhance the flavor and presentation. Common elements consist of:

  • Wasabi: A green, pungent paste made from the wasabi plant
  • Pickled ginger: Thinly sliced gingerroot that has been marinated in vinegar and sugar
  • Nori: Toasted sheets of seaweed, often used as a decorative element
  • Sauces: Soy sauce or ponzu sauce for dipping

Chopsticks are typically used for eating both nigiri and sashimi, and various vegetables or other items may be included to complete the presentation, such as cucumber or radish slices.

In summary, nigiri and sashimi share some key ingredients and elements but differ mainly in the use of sushi rice and the preparation of the fish or seafood. Nigiri pairs fish and seafood with seasoned sushi rice, while sashimi showcases raw fish or seafood slices without rice. Both dishes are served with an array of garnishes and accompaniments to elevate the overall dining experience.

Popular Nigiri and Sashimi Varieties

Salmon Nigiri

Salmon Nigiri is a popular variety of nigiri, featuring a slice of fresh, raw salmon placed atop a small bed of sushi rice. It is often garnished with a small amount of wasabi between the fish and rice, and sometimes drizzled with a light soy sauce. Salmon is known for its tender, flavorful texture, and vibrant orange color.

Tuna Sashimi

Tuna Sashimi is a favorite among sashimi lovers, particularly when made with high-quality bluefin tuna. Served as thin slices of raw tuna without any rice, it is commonly accompanied by a side of daikon radish and shiso leaves. The rich, mild flavor of the tuna is enhanced by a dipping sauce, typically a mixture of soy sauce and wasabi.


Ebi, which is the Japanese word for shrimp, is another popular variety of nigiri. It is usually made with cooked shrimp, rather than raw, and is placed on top of sushi rice. Ebi nigiri is recognized by its slightly sweet taste and slightly firm texture. It pairs well with a light soy sauce, and can be garnished with a touch of wasabi. Varieties of ebi used in nigiri may include halibut and squid.


Tamago is a unique nigiri option, consisting of a piece of sweet, Japanese-style omelette layered on sushi rice. It is often served with a strip of nori seaweed to hold the egg and rice together. Tamago is popular among those who prefer a more subtle or mildly sweet flavor, and can be enjoyed as a contrast to raw fish options.

In both nigiri and sashimi, there are many other varieties available, including those made with eel, octopus, and even beef. Each offers its own unique taste, texture, and presentation, making the world of nigiri and sashimi a culinary delight for many sushi enthusiasts.

Maki: A Comparison

What Is Maki

Maki, also known as sushi rolls or maki rolls, is a type of Japanese sushi made by rolling ingredients like fish, vegetables, and rice inside a sheet of nori (seaweed). The roll is then sliced into bite-sized pieces. There are several types of maki, including:

  • Hosomaki: Thin rolls with one filling ingredient
  • Chumaki: Medium-sized rolls with two or three filling ingredients
  • Futomaki: Thick rolls with several filling ingredients

Nigiri and Sashimi Vs Maki

Nigiri is a type of sushi that consists of a slice of raw fish placed on top of a small bed of rice, often with a dab of wasabi. In contrast, sashimi is simply thin slices of raw fish served without rice. Both nigiri and sashimi highlight the freshness and quality of the fish, allowing the individual flavors to shine through.

Comparing these to maki, we can see some key differences:

FishOften raw, sometimes cookedRawRaw

Maki rolls are more versatile, allowing for a variety of ingredients, such as avocado, cucumber, and even cooked shrimp or crab. The use of nori and rice in maki acts as a vessel and base for the various ingredients, while nigiri and sashimi focus more on the raw fish itself.

In conclusion, while all three styles fall under the umbrella of Japanese sushi, maki stands out for its distinct rolling technique and variety of ingredients. Nigiri and sashimi, on the other hand, showcase the raw fish’s quality and flavor with minimal distractions.

Choosing and Enjoying Nigiri and Sashimi

Selecting High-Quality Fish

When indulging in Japanese cuisine, choosing high-quality fish is essential for an enjoyable experience. Selecting fish from a reputable Japanese restaurant specializing in sushi and sashimi ensures a great meal. Look out for fish with a vibrant and natural color, as this is a characteristic of freshness.

Sashimi-Grade Fish

Sashimi-grade fish refers to raw fish deemed top quality and safe for consumption. This fish must adhere to strict guidelines to prevent possible contamination. It’s crucial to choose sashimi-grade fish at a reputable Japanese restaurant to maintain food safety standards. Some popular fish for sashimi include salmon nigiri, hamachi, ebi, and red snapper.

Eating Etiquette

Traditional sushi and sashimi dishes have distinct eating etiquette that enhances the overall experience. Using chopsticks or your hands to hold the sushi or sashimi, pick up a piece, and dip it lightly in soy sauce. Be mindful of the amount of soy sauce used, as it can overpower the taste of the fish.

Additionally, cleanse your palate between different dishes by taking small bites of pickled ginger. This allows you to appreciate the unique flavors of each type of fish.

Health Benefits

Nigiri and sashimi are both known for their health benefits due to the use of fresh raw fish as the main ingredient. Rich in omega-3 fatty acids and essential nutrients, these dishes promote a healthy lifestyle. Receiving the full benefits depends on eating high-quality fish from a reputable source.

By selecting top-notch fish, adhering to eating etiquette, and understanding the health benefits, you can indulge in some of Japan’s most delectable signature dishes with confidence.

Price and Availability

Nigiri and sashimi are both popular types of Japanese cuisine, and while they share some similarities, there are differences in price and availability.

Nigiri is typically more expensive than sashimi due to its added components. Nigiri consists of a slice of fish, usually raw, placed on top of a small bed of sushi rice. This additional ingredient and the labor required to shape the rice can lead to a higher price point. Some common types of nigiri include:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Yellowtail
  • Eel

Sashimi, on the other hand, is a simpler dish, usually consisting of thinly sliced raw fish served without rice. The absence of rice and the reduced preparation time can contribute to sashimi’s lower price compared to nigiri. Common types of sashimi include:

  • Tuna
  • Salmon
  • Yellowtail
  • Octopus

When it comes to availability, both nigiri and sashimi can be found at most sushi restaurants. However, certain types of fish may be more difficult to find or more expensive, such as bluefin tuna. Bluefin tuna is a highly sought-after ingredient for its delicious taste and tender texture, but it is also one of the most expensive types of fish used in Japanese cuisine. This can be attributed to its decreasing populations and strict fishing regulations, which drive up the price.

In summary, while both nigiri and sashimi offer a delicious taste of Japanese cuisine, there are differences in price and availability. Nigiri tends to be more expensive due to its additional components and preparation time, while sashimi is more affordable and simpler in nature. The availability of certain types of fish, such as bluefin tuna, may drive up the price or make them harder to find at some restaurants.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main differences between nigiri and sashimi?

Nigiri consists of a slice of fish or other seafood placed atop a small bed of vinegared rice, often with a small amount of wasabi between the fish and rice. Sashimi, on the other hand, is simply thinly sliced raw fish or seafood served without rice. They differ in presentation and their inclusion or exclusion of sushi rice.

How is the preparation of nigiri different from sashimi?

To make nigiri, sushi chefs first prepare the sushi rice, seasoning it with vinegar, sugar, and salt. The fish or seafood is then sliced and placed on top of a small portion of molded rice. In contrast, sashimi involves only the careful slicing of raw fish or seafood, which is then artistically arranged and served with soy sauce and wasabi.

Are there specific types of fish used in nigiri and sashimi?

While both nigiri and sashimi use a wide variety of fish and seafood, some common choices include tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and snapper. More adventurous options can include octopus, scallops, or sea urchin. The quality of the fish is of utmost importance in both, with only the freshest fish used.

Do both nigiri and sashimi always use raw fish?

Although raw fish is the most common ingredient in both nigiri and sashimi, there are certain exceptions. For example, eel is typically served cooked on nigiri, while cooked shrimp or crab can also be used. Some types of sashimi, such as tako (octopus) and tsubugai (whelk), are boiled or simmered before being sliced.

What are some popular types of nigiri and sashimi dishes?

Popular nigiri options include maguro (tuna), sake (salmon), hamachi (yellowtail), and ebi (shrimp). Sashimi favorites include salmon, tuna, and yellowtail, often served in a sashimi platter that offers a variety of fish types. Both dishes are typically accompanied by soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger.

How is sushi different from nigiri and sashimi?

Sushi is a broader term that encompasses many different rice-based dishes, including nigiri. The key component of sushi is vinegared rice, which can be served with a variety of ingredients, including raw fish, cooked seafood, vegetables, and even fruit. Sashimi, on the other hand, is solely focused on the raw fish or seafood and is not considered a type of sushi since it does not include sushi rice.

Nigiri vs Sashimi: What’s the Difference?

Nigiri is a type of sushi that consists of a small ball of rice topped with a slice of raw fish or other seafood. Here is a recipe for salmon nigiri:
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Japanese
Servings 4
Calories 144 kcal


  • 1/2 lb. sushi-grade salmon skin and bones removed
  • 1 cup sushi rice
  • 1 1/4 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Wasabi paste optional
  • Soy sauce optional


  • Rinse the sushi rice in cold water until the water runs clear. Drain the rice and place it in a saucepan with 1 1/4 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and cover the saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is tender and the water has been absorbed.
  • In a small bowl, mix together the rice vinegar, sugar, and salt until the sugar has dissolved. Add this mixture to the cooked sushi rice and stir gently until the rice is coated evenly with the seasoning.
  • Cut the salmon into thin slices, about 1/4 inch thick.
  • Wet your hands with water and shape the sushi rice into small oblong shapes, about 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide.
  • Place a slice of salmon on top of each rice ball, pressing gently to secure it in place.
  • Serve the nigiri with wasabi paste and soy sauce on the side, if desired.


Calories: 144kcal
Keyword nigiri vs sashimi
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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
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