A sushi platter in Japan, featuring Nigiri and Maki sushi.

When I traveled to Japan for the first time, there was one thing I was looking forward to above everything else: the food. I’ve been a longtime fan of sushi and ramen, but I was excited to try authentic, fresh sushi. Oftentimes, the sushi I eat in the United States is very western, containing ingredients like cream cheese and avocado. I wanted to try the most real sushi I could find, and where better to try authentic sushi than Japan?

Sushi is a traditional Japanese food that has been around since the 2nd century A.D. While it began as a food only eaten in east Asia, it is now eaten all around the world.

The four major types of sushi are maki, sashimi, nigiri and chirashi. Maki-style sushi is the most recognizable. It usually consists of some sort of fish surrounded by sticky rice and sometimes seaweed. Sashimi is essentially slices of raw fish. People usually eat sashimi by dipping it sauces like soy sauce or spicing it up with wasabi. Nigiri is when the raw fish is placed on mounds of sticky rice. Chirashi is similar to sashimi, but it is placed on top of sushi rice with vinegar, rather than just plain rice.

I was actually surprised when I first got to Japan how difficult it would be to find a sushi restaurant. I always thought I’d be able to find one on any corner in Tokyo. But Ramen restaurants and generic Japanese restaurants were far more common than restaurants that just advertised sushi. However, I was able to find a restaurant that specialized in sushi during my first day in Kyoto, and sushi was the majority of what I ate for the remainder of the trip.

Just within downtown Phoenix, at least three sushi restaurants have popped up in recent years. Places like Moira and Squid Ink sushi provide a modern take on traditional sushi. Squid Ink has creative rolls like the ‘Surf n Turf’ which includes filet mignon. One of the most popular sushi in America, the California Roll, is a western spin on sushi — ingredients like avocado and cream cheese in Philadelphia rolls aren’t included in traditional sushi.

Because sushi is eaten so frequently in Japan, it has become something like ‘fast food’ in some ways. There are ‘fast food’ sushi restaurants equivalent to a McDonald’s or Paradise Bakery all around Japan, and they have expanded to the United States. A common method of sushi distribution at those restaurants is by using a conveyer belt. Customers can electronically order their sushi and it will come flying out on a conveyer belt right to their table. Plates are color coded and a waitress will come over to take account of the plates and how much a customer owes.

While sushi is eaten casually in Japan, they also have high-end sushi. A customer could eat their fill of ‘fast food sushi’ in Japan for less than $10. In America, sushi is more of a ‘high end’ meal, with prices for a roll of sushi ranging from $12–15 dollars. Most people get two or more rolls of sushi, so dinner could be around $30. However, there are some options for affordable sushi during restaurants’ happy hours. Scottsdale restaurant Akita also has an all-you-can-eat sushi hour, where customers pay $12 to have as much sushi as they would like.

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