The Difference Between Authentic Japanese Sushi and Sushi Around the World

Explore the world of sushi, and you’ll quickly find yourself noticing a variety of flavors, traditions, and cultural nuances. The question of authentic Japanese sushi in Japan and the variety around the globe is not merely a matter of taste, but a also journey through history and culinary evolution. While some crave the purity of tradition, others revel in the fusion of flavors that define sushi outside its homeland.

From the simplicity of nigiri to the bold creations of Western rolls (hello, California roll), each morsel tells a story of regional tastes and culinary innovation. The depths of sushi culture are vast, and uncovering the differences that make this beloved dish both a global phenomenon and a distinctly Japanese art form are both interesting yet not unusual.

Is There Authentic Sushi?

A question that many sushi lovers find themselves wondering is whether there are differences between how sushi is prepared and served in its homeland of Japan compared to the sushi available in the western world. Some long for a more traditional sushi experience, so, there is authentic Japanese sushi, while some are merely curious as to whether they are really eating “Japanese food” when they go out for sushi.

Japanese cuisine is far more broad than what we find in restaurants in the western world. One of the major differences in the style of sushi is the scarceness of rolls in comparison to other ways of serving sushi.

When you think of American sushi, the quintessential roll is the avocado roll. This is actually a recent creation (when you consider the vast history of sushi) which came to be in the 1960s in California. A sushi chef realized he could substitute expensive tuna with the fatty taste and texture of avocado. When you realize just how widespread a roll such as this is in America, you start to understand the many differences in Japanese sushi as opposed to the spread of sushi globally.

A True Japanese Maki or Sushi Roll and Dining

When rolls are created in Japan, they are most commonly done in the traditional manner which is to serve them with the nori wrapped on the outside of the role. The idea of putting the rice on the outside was tailored later to Western aesthetics, which did not enjoy the sight or texture of seaweed on the outside of the roll.

In Japan, you will be much more likely to find nigiri than rolls. Unbelievably fresh fish will be enhanced with a slight dab of wasabi and served on rice, allowing the natural flavors of the fish to be enjoyed. Fancier sushi restaurants will serve only what is freshest at the market, choosing their menu based on the days catch. Those with access to the Tsukiji Fish Market are particularly fortunate.

While it is possible to find fresh sushi in America, Canada, and Europe, you are more likely to find flash frozen fare (which is still delicious, but not quite the same). When you are in Japan, fresh fish is common and it makes sense why they prefer not to hide the flavors in rolls dripping with condiments and mixed vegetables.

This is a style of sushi which has its roots in a history which came before the advent of refrigeration and freezing techniques. If you eat sushi rolls in Japan, they are simpler, with a circle of white rice encompassing a raw fish and wrapped tightly with nori.

The Western Style of Making Sushi

American sushi is almost a different food group than traditional sushi. So what accounts for the huge differences? Regional tastes and cultural differences are largely the source.

Where Japanese sushi is a delicate balance of flavors, Western diners prefer bold flavors and strong colors, which explains the popularity of a roll like the “Philadelphia Roll”, which includes Salmon, avocado, and cream cheese.

This is the type of fare that you would never find at a traditional Japanese sushi restaurant! Local cuisine will invariably have rolls formed with local tastes and ingredients.

Even The Preparation And Serving of Sushi Is Western or Traditional Japanese

Etiquette is another aspect in which the experience of eating sushi differs. In Japan, sushi is seen very much as an art as much as a food, and the chef is the artist. Adding wasabi to a perfectly prepared and balanced roll would be akin to buying a painting and then adding a few “finishing touches” of your own in front of the artist.

While the western world loves its condiments, you would not see authentic sushi served with wasabi on the side, only pickled ginger (AKA “gari”) which is used to cleanse the palate between different food items, and soy sauce (shoyu).

Sashimi would be served with soy sauce, however, one would not use the common western practice of stirring wasabi and soy sauce together. As an aside, when enjoying nigiri in a traditional environment, make sure to flip the sushi over before dipping it in soy sauce. Let only the fish touch the soy sauce, as too much sauce will overpower the flavor and texture of the rice.

What Truly Is Authentic And Are There Really Rules For Eating Sushi?

We are not not trying to proclaim the superiority or necessity of authentic Japanese sushi dining. Different cultures have different tastes, and I personally love California rolls as well as BC rolls, which have barbecued salmon skin in sweet sauce and would never be found in Japan. And not 100% of Japan is the same, there is room for all styles.

We merely wanted to highlight for he reader that western sushi is not as much Japanese food as it is inspired by Japanese cuisine, similar to Chinese or Indian food in the West. We felt it an interesting bit of factoids to point out that there are major differences between the sushi you would get in Western countries and the sushi you would be served in Japan. Which is pretty common with most foods.

Warren Ransom

I have always been fascinated by the creation and culture of different foods, particularly sushi and sashimi in the modern era of Japanese cuisine. I am a classically trained chef and sushi connoisseur, also having operated a food service company and enjoy investigating and experimenting with food around the world.

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