Vegetarian & Vegan Sushi Options (Non-Fish, Vegetable Sushi)
Sushi as we know it today evolved from Japan’s first fast food-style cuisine. It was served to busy laborers working near the Edo (now Tokyo) river,
hence its reference as Edomae sushi, or literally, “sushi in front of the Edo river.” Similar to modern sushi, Edomae sushi consisted of fish-either raw or pickled-placed over vinegared rice. It was eaten with wasabi, which was believed to kill any parasites in raw fish, and was made in larger servings than today, to keep the workers full. Unlike the high-class sushi restaurants we associate with sushi today, Edomae sushi was sold at mobile food stalls and eaten standing up. In recent years, stand-up sushi bars have made a comeback, and are a popular option to eat good quality sushi at affordable prices.
Trying sushi is a major attraction for visitors to Japan, and there are many vegetarian and vegan sushi options for those with dietary restrictions-read on to discover some of these.
Types of Non-Fish & Vegetable Sushi
Nigiri-style Vegan Sushi
The most common type of sushi as we know today is the nigiri sushi, where the sushi chef takes a ball of vinegared rice and presses it into the shape of a small log. The sushi chefs can prepare these to exactly the same size and weight just by touch, without any weighing scales. The fewer touches by the fingers, the fresher the sushi will be, and master chefs can prepare these edible gems in just a few precise moves.
Shiitake Mushroom Nigiri
Shiitake is a type of mushroom which has a strong and savory taste, and is often dried to be used in flavoring soup stock. When used in sushi, the mushrooms are usually lightly flavored with salt or soy sauce and lightly flamed to enhance the fragrance. The juicy texture and rich taste of shiitake mushrooms makes this vegan sushi an extremely satisfying morsel.
Nasu refers to eggplant in Japanese, and is available all year round. Eggplant sushi is served either grilled, for a melt-in-your-mouth texture, or pickled for a more chewy and tangy flavor. Tempura eggplant is another popular version of this sushi, which is often served with grated ginger. All versions are succulent and tasty.
Avocado, or the “butter of the forest” is a popular ingredient in many different forms of sushi. In nigiri form, the rice comes topped with a slice of avocado, usually lightly seasoned with salt and fastened together with a thin strip of nori seaweed. The mild, creamy flavor of avocado sushi makes it a popular form of vegetarian and vegan sushi.
Tamagoyaki is a fluffy and slightly sweet omelette popular in Japanese cuisine. Tamagoyaki nigiri is a rice ball topped with a slice of omelette, often wrapped with a thin belt of seaweed. It is good to clarify if dashi has been added to the omelette, and some restaurants may offer to make the tamagoyaki sushi for you without dashi upon request.
Maki-zushi Vegan Sushi
Maki-zushi literally means rolled sushi, and is made by laying a large square sheet of seaweed on a bamboo mat, spreading out rice over the seaweed, topping this with filling in a row, then rolling up the mat to form a firm sushi roll. The sushi is then sliced evenly to reveal its fillings.
Kappa maki-cucumber roll-is a safe bet for vegetarians and vegan sushi-eaters, with a slice of cucumber wrapped in a thin roll of rice and seaweed. This is a popular starter or palate cleanser for the regular sushi diner.
Shinko Maki/ Takuan Maki
Shinko is a generic term for pickles, and is a popular order for a change in taste and texture. Takuan is a pickled radish, usually bright yellow or brown in color, and has a crunchy texture and somewhat tangy taste. This is a tasty and refreshing vegan sushi option for all.
Kampyo, or pickled gourd, is thought to aid digestion, and so is often ordered at the end of the meal. The gourd is pickled brown and has a taste that can be described like a sweetish soy sauce.
Ume, Cucumber Shiso Makizushi
The combination of ume (Japanese pickled plum) paste, refreshing shiso (perilla herb) and sweet cucumber is another staple vegan sushi order that serves as a palate cleanser in the middle or to end off the meal.
Other Types of Vegan & Vegetarian Sushi
Temaki means “handroll”, and as the name suggests, is rolled by hand. The sushi chef folds a small rectangular sheet of seaweed with vinegared rice and various fillings and, at an over-the-counter sushi restaurant, hands this by hand to the customer. This is not tightly pressed like the maki-zushi and the rice retains a fluffy texture. Natto temaki is a handroll of natto, or fermented soybeans. Natto has a sticky texture so may be a bit messy to eat but it is popular for its taste and health benefits.
Seaweed gunkan-maki (“battleship roll”) is a flavorful and nutrient-rich sushi option for vegans and non-vegans alike. Wakame or seaweed salad is dressed with soy sauce, mirin, sesame oil, sesame seeds and red chili, then piled on top of sushi rice and secured with a strip of nori seaweed.
Inarizushi is made of a fried and sweet tofu skin pouch that is filled with vinegared rice and sometimes sesame seeds is sprinkled on the top or mixed in the rice filling. It is often offered to the Gods at shinto shrines, as it is said to be a favorite snack of the fox, the messenger of the gods.
Chirashizushi means “scattered sushi”, and is Japanese dish of sushi rice topped with various ingredients. Takenoko chirashizushi is sushi rice scattered with bamboo shoots (takenoko) that have been simmered in a broth. Takenoko is typically available during the spring season, and when simmered, the bamboo shoot becomes soft, succulent and flavorsome. As this broth may contain fish-based dashi, or be topped with bonito flakes (shaved dried fish flakes), if you’re vegan or vegetarian, it’s best to check.
Be Sure to Try Vegan & Vegetarian Sushi For a Healthy and Nourishing Meal
As you can see, sushi can be made with many other toppings or fillings other than fish. These various items are usually available on the menu all year round, though some, such as the bamboo shoot, may only be available during certain seasons. Check the menu for these options, and be sure to ask about the use of bonito in the sauce or as a flake topping if you prefer not to eat it, and you can request for it to be left out. Check out all the popular sushi chains and restaurants in Japan at Gurunavi.