Maki and Nigiri at Tsukiji
Modern sushi was invented in Edo (modern day Tokyo) in the 19th century. Originally a street food sold from carts, shops, and theater concession stands, all forms of sushi are intended to be eaten with the hands, though chopsticks are perfectly acceptable as well.
This photo was taken near Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market, where sushi is eaten as it was intended: fresh, quick, no frills (or plates!), and seriously delicious—even at 6 a.m.
The most ubiquitous and approachable form of sushi in restaurants today is makizushi (wrapped sushi). It's formed by rolling seasoned rice and a filling inside a sheet of nori (dried sea kelp) with the help of a bamboo rolling mat.
Thick rolls with multiple ingredients are called futomaki (fat rolls). The California roll is a classic American example of this style that uses crab or surimi (seafood stick) while in Japan, the fillings are typically a mix of vegetables and pickles, chosen for their complementary colors and flavors.
Thin rolls with a single ingredient are called hosomaki (skinny rolls). The two most classic are tekkamaki (tuna rolls) and kappamaki (cucumber rolls, often eaten as a palate-cleansing intermediary between different varieties of fish).
The absolute simplest form of sushi to make, the temaki (hand roll) consists of a half sheet of nori wrapped into a cone shape around the sumeshi and several fillings. The fillings run the gamut from vegetables and pickles to raw and cooked fish, or chopped tartares like spicy tuna or salmon.
Oftentimes, they are seasoned by the chef before serving, but if eating an unseasoned roll, only the corner of the nori to be bitten should be dipped lightly into soy sauce, so as not to saturate the rice.
As with futomaki, contrasting colors, textures, and flavors are essential.
Made by draping pieces of sliced raw or cooked fish, shellfish, omelet, or occasionally meat over an oblong block of sushi rice, nigiri is the form of sushi that a sushi chef should be judged by. It requires the most precise knife skills and the most demanding shaping technique of any form.
Despite lacking a nori wrapper, nigirizushi is designed as a finger food and it is perfectly acceptable to pick up with your hands. When consuming, the edge of the fish should be lightly dipped in soy sauce (never the rice, which can fall apart if moistened), and the entire piece should be consumed in one or two bites, without returning it to the plate between bites.
Inarizushi starts with frying a thin shell of tofu skin then chilling it and marinating it in a sweet sauce. The tofu pouches are then slit open and stuffed with sumeshi and various other ingredients. Some common varieties include reconstituted shiitakes, sesame seeds, or umeboshi (pickled Japanese plums), though really any vegetables can be added.
When the fried tofu pouch is replaced by a thinly-cooked omelette, it becomes chakin-zushi.
Tofu pouches can be bought fried, marinated, and ready to stuff at most Japanese supermarkets.
The closest commonly-consumed modern relative to the original narezushi (fermented sushi), oshizushi is a specialty of Osaka. To make it, ingredients such as pickled mackerel, raw fish, or vegetables are placed in the bottom of a wooden bamboo mold with a removable top and bottom. Sumeshi is then packed on top of it and firmly compressed into a tight block.
After un-molding, the packed rice and toppings are sliced into bite-sized pieces. Often, an extra middle layer of ingredients or nori can be added for flavor or decorative effect.
Chirashizushi translates as "scattered sushi." It's made by adding multiple contrasting ingredients directly on top of a bed of sumeshi, and is traditionally served in small lacquered boxes. Because of its minimal preparation and simple technique, it's the most common form of sushi served in the home, and is great for feeding a crowd.
At restaurants, chirashizushi topped solely with raw fish is not uncommon though in homes, it is usually made with thinly sliced omelet, shreds of nori, various raw, cooked, and pickled vegetables (cucumber, carrots, lotus root, etc), occasionally cooked or raw fish (particularly shrimp or fish cake), and a sprinkling of tobiko (seasoned flying fish roe).