Nigiri vs Sashimi:  What Is The Difference?

Published Categorized as Guide, Fish Or Seafood

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If you enjoy sushi, or are looking to branch out and give it a try, you may have noticed nigiri and sashimi listed on the menu at your local Japanese restaurant.  Are both of these the same thing?  Are there any nigiri vs sashimi differences that could impact which is the better one for you to try?  Continue reading, and we’ll answer the question, “what is the difference between sashimi and nigiri?”  Then, the next time you visit a Japanese restaurant, you’ll be ready to place an order that you’re certain to enjoy!

Table of Contents

What is Sushi?

Before we get into the difference between nigiri and sashimi, let’s take a step back and get a clear definition of what sushi is.  Sushi, which is a traditional Japanese dish, is made with a special vinegar rice.  Raw or even cooked fish, seafood, or meat is often incorporated into a sushi recipe, but it is not a necessary component of this dish.

The rice, however, is an essential component of sushi.  The unique flavor of the vinegared rice is where the name sushi came from.  Thus, without rice, a dish cannot be called sushi.

What is Nigiri?

Now, with our understanding of the basic definition of sushi, we can discuss what nigiri is.  Nigiri is one of the two main types of sushi (with the other being makizushi or maki).  When you think about sushi, you probably visualize a sushi roll.  This is not what Nigiri is, however.  If you’re picturing a roll, then you’re likely thinking of maki.

However, while nigiri doesn’t come in a roll, as is most common in the United States, it is most definitely still sushi.  Remember, as we shared above, the essential component for a dish to be considered sushi is the vinegared rice, which is one of the components of nigiri.

This vinegared rice base is topped with thinly sliced fish, creating a colorful and unique dish.  Various fish can be used to make nigiri.  Each will give it a unique taste.  Some of the more common forms of nigiri include yellowtail, salmon, tuna, mackerel, and halibut.  Additionally, you may also see shrimp (cooked) nigiri or even eel (cooked/grilled) nigiri on a sushi menu.    

While nigiri is typically served raw, there are some nigiri dishes that are made using either cooked or seared fish.  In these cases, the fish will be held over an open flame for a short period of time, a method known as the tataki method.

If you order nigiri in a Japanese restaurant, it will often come with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger on the side.

The English translation of nigiri from Japanese is “two fingers.”  It was given this name because chef’s use two fingers when portioning and pressing the rice to make each serving.

nigiri vs sashimi

What is Sashimi?

So, what is sashimi?  Isn’t it a type of sushi too?  While you’ll likely see sashimi on a sushi menu, it is not technically sushi.  Remember, in order to be considered sushi, the dish must contain vinegared rice.  There is no vinegared rice in sashimi.

Sashimi is thinly sliced raw fish or meat.  The sliced meat or fish is served atop shredded daikon radish.  Sashimi will always be served raw; it is never cooked or seared.

Sashimi chefs put a lot of thought and effort into how they present the raw meat and fish for each order.  In fact, the presentation of this dish is often seen as its own art form.  If you order sashimi, be prepared to be wowed by the platter that is put in front of you.

Pickled ginger, soy sauce, and wasabi typically accompany an order of sashimi in a Japanese restaurant.

sashimi v nigiri

How To Eat Nigiri and Sashimi Properly

If you’re new to trying either nigiri or sashimi, it will also be important to know how each dish is intended to be eaten.  This is another important distinction between sushi nigiri vs sashimi.

Using chopsticks is the proper and preferred technique for eating sashimi.  For nigiri, one can choose to use either their hands or chopsticks; either one is acceptable.

Nigiri vs Sashimi: Similarities

Wondering what is nigiri vs sashimi similarities?  Let’s take a look at how these Japanese dishes are similar.

Can Have Fish

When you order nigiri or sashimi, you’ll often be served fish.  Nigiri is only made with seafood, while sashimi is often made with seafood.  


Both nigiri and sashimi are traditionally served with the same accompaniments.  These include wasabi, soy sauce, and pickled ginger.


Nigiri and sashimi can both make a very tasty and enjoyable meal.  They can be enjoyed by nearly anyone, however it is best to avoid both of these foods if you are pregnant or have a compromised immune system.

Nigiri vs Sashimi: Key Differences

While there are some similarities between nigiri and sashimi, as outlined above, there are also a number of key differences.  Keep reading to learn what makes each of these dishes unique from the other.

Considered Sushi?

The most important distinction to make between nigiri and sashimi is that nigiri is a type of sushi, while sashimi is not sushi.  Vinegared rice is a necessary component of any sushi dish, and since there is no vinegared rice in sashimi, it cannot be called sushi.

Nigiri, on the other hand, is made with vinegared rice.  The thinly sliced meat is served atop the vinegared rice.

Cooked vs Raw

Another key nigiri sushi vs sashimi difference is that sashimi is always served raw, while nigiri can be served with raw or cooked fish.  If the fish for nigiri is cooked, it is typically seared over an open flame for a brief amount of time.

Can it Have Meat?

When you’re comparing sashimi v nigiri, it is also important to realize that nigiri is always made with fish or seafood, like octopus, shrimp, or squid.  Sashimi is often made with fish, but it can also be made with thinly sliced meats, such as chicken, beef, frog, or horse.


For the most part, nigiri is served without any garnishes.  Sometimes the sushi chef may decide to add a sauce before serving, but most of the time there won’t be any garnishes added to a nigiri order.  Sashimi is typically served with garnishes.  Most commonly, it is served over daikon radish, but you may also receive shiso leaves, seaweed (toasted nori), or different sauces with an order of sashimi.

Proper Way to Eat

The preferred and proper way to eat each of these Japanese dishes also differs.  When eating sashimi, chopsticks are viewed as the appropriate tool to use.  While chopsticks are also an acceptable method for eating nigiri, one can also use their hands to eat this sushi dish.


Wondering what is sashimi vs nigiri price difference?  While both of these dishes will typically cost more than a maki roll, sashimi is likely to be the most expensive.  This is because with sashimi the meat or fish is the ‘star’ of the show and more is needed for each order.  With nigiri, the vinegared rice is also included with the order, allowing for a thinner slice of fish to work best.

Sashimi also requires extremely high-quality meat or fish.  Remember, sashimi is always served raw, so it is essential that a safe and quality fish or meat is selected.  

nigiri vs sashimi

Is Raw Fish Safe to Eat?

If you’re thinking about trying sashimi or nigiri, you may be unsure about how safe either option is because of the raw fish.  Since childhood, you’ve probably heard that it isn’t safe to eat raw fish or meat dozens of times.  

While there can be some concerns related to consuming raw fish, as long as the fish is properly prepared and handled carefully, these concerns are really minimized.  Raw meats and fish go through a number of steps to ensure they are safe to eat.  

Just as cooking fish or meats can kill any of the potentially harmful pathogens they carry, so too can deep freezing the fish or meat.  For this reason, the FSA set out guidelines stating that restaurants must serve sushi-grade fish and must store the fish in a deep freezer.

You may also be concerned about eating sushi out of a fear of consuming too much mercury.  While this is a valid concern, it really isn’t one to be too worried about.  Most fish don’t contain enough mercury to do any real harm, so long as the fish are eaten in moderation.

Tuna is an exception to this rule.  Tuna fish have a longer lifespan than other types of fish.  Due to this, the level of mercury they contain can build up to higher levels.  Tuna is still safe to eat, but individuals should watch how much they consume.  To avoid consuming too much mercury, experts recommend only eating sushi tuna once or twice a week at the most.

If you’re still not sold on the idea of eating raw meat or fish, remember that nigiri can also be made using cooked fish.  You may decide that trying one of these dishes first is the best way to start.  Then, you can move on to other options made with raw fish or meat, if you feel comfortable doing so.

Sashimi vs Nigiri: Which One Should You Choose?

Now that we’ve laid out all of the similarities and differences for nigiri versus sashimi, it is time for you to make a decision.  Do you think you’d prefer nigiri or sashimi?  We can’t answer this question for you, as it is a matter of personal preference, but we can give you some guidance to help make your decision a bit easier.

  • Try nigiri if you want cooked fish:  While nigiri is often made with raw fish, you will be able to find a few options that include cooked fish instead.  Sashimi, on the other hand, is only made with raw fish or raw meat, so you won’t be able to find a cooked version of this dish.
  • Try sashimi if you want meat instead of or in addition to fish:  Want to try a raw meat Japanese dish?  Then, you’ll need to opt for sashimi instead of nigiri.  Nigiri is solely made with fish and other types of seafood, while sashimi can be made with chicken, beef, frog, horse, or other types of raw meat.
  • Try nigiri if you enjoy sushi rice:  If you want to enjoy real sushi with traditional vinegared rice, you’ll need to choose nigiri.  Sashimi is not sushi and does not come with vinegared rice.
  • Try sashimi if you are looking for food that tastes as good as it looks:  While nigiri can look quite pleasing, serving sashimi is treated as an art form by chefs.  Lots of training is involved to learn how to properly slice and serve the raw meat, and you’re sure to be impressed with the final product.
  • Try nigiri if you don’t know how to eat with chopsticks:  If you want to follow the technical rules for eating nigiri or sushi, you should opt for nigiri if you haven’t mastered using chopsticks.  With nigiri, it is acceptable to eat with either your hands or chopsticks, while chopsticks are really the only acceptable way to eat sashimi.

If you can’t decide between nigiri and sashimi, the good news is that you don’t have to!  There is no rule stating that you have to pick one or the other.  Why not try both and let your taste buds tell you which is best for you?

nigiri vs sashimi

Nigiri v Sashimi: Which Will You Try?

Now that you know the difference between nigiri and sashimi, which sounds best to you?  Or, are you excited to try both?  Remember, the most important distinction between nigiri and sashimi sushi is that nigiri includes vinegared rice, while sashimi does not.  This means that sashimi is technically not a type of sushi.  Whichever you decide to try, enjoy!


What is the biggest difference between nigiri and sashimi?

What’s the difference between nigiri and sashimi?  The most important nagiri vs sashimi difference is that nagiri is sushi and sashimi is not.  Sushi must include vinegared rice, which is a part of a nigiri dish, but not of a sashimi dish.

Why nigiri is so expensive?

Nigiri can be more expensive since it is made to be both visually appealing and tasty.  Rather than simply having smaller pieces of fish inside a maki sushi roll, the fish for nigiri is perfectly sliced and displayed on top of the rice.  The amount of fish per serving is typically higher with nigiri than with other types of sushi.

Why is nigiri more expensive than sushi?

Nigiri is a type of sushi, but it is often more expensive than maki rolls.  This is because the amount of fish included with each serving is typically greater with nigiri.  Additionally, the way the fish is cut and presented so perfectly for nigiri takes time and skill, which adds to the total cost.

Is nigiri real sushi?

Yes, nigiri is really sushi.  In order for something to be considered sushi, it must include vinegared rice.  Nigiri consists of thinly sliced fish served atop vinegared rice, meaning it meets the criteria to be classified as sushi.