Nigiri is defined as a piece of fish or seafood (both raw and cooked) placed upon a single ball of rice. The sliced fish should be approximately 1/4 inch thick and 2.5 – 3 inches long.

This is a very traditional style of sushi and it is found in most American sushi bars as well!

Assorted Nigiri

In the United States and Japan alike, Nigiri is used as a great way to sample a multitude of different fish. A lot of restaurants even serve platters with 8-12 different pieces of fish on the rice.

Here’s how you make the rice ball:

  1. Use three fingers to scoop out a small portion of rice
  2. Roll the rice into the palm of your hand and apply VERY light pressure
  3. Form the rice into a football-shaped ball and set it aside
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 until you have the desired number of rice balls

Here’s how you cut the fish:

  1. Make sure your fish is fresh, neatly cut to 4 fingers width, and the first cut is 45 degrees diagonal
  2. Set your blade 1/4 inch from the diagonal edge and cut from the heel of the knife to the tip
  3. Once you are 1/4 inch from the bottom, fold the partially sliced fish away from the rest and then cut straight down- this make the cut clean and uniform every time.
  4. Set the sliced fish aside and continue steps 1-3 until you have the desired amount

Placing the fish on top of the rice balls isn’t as easy as it sounds. This sounds pretty self-explanatory, but there is a technique to it!

  1. Take your fish in one hand (off-hand) and rice ball in the other
  2. Traditionally, sushi chefs apply a small amount of wasabi to the fish (the more oil the fish has, the more wasabi it gets), but you don’t have to do this step
  3. place your rice ball on top of the fish and press down on the center of the ball
  4. Now roll both the fish and rice ball from the palm of your hand to the fingers
  5. Using your first two fingers, press down on the fish and curl your fingers around the rice ball. You can use your thumb to apply pressure at the top
  6. Now rotate the entire piece and repeat step 5
  7. Do steps 5 and 6 until you are satisfied with the shape
  8. Place the Nigiri onto the plate and gently brush on Nikiri Sauce (optional)
Close up of nigiri sushi on plate

Nigiri Etiquette

There are a few simple rules to follow when eating Nigiri.

  1. Always, always, ALWAYS eat the entire piece in one bite! Each piece is hand crafted to be the “perfect bite.” It is insulting to the chef to do otherwise.
  2. When dipping into soy sauce, turn the piece upside down, so that the fish hits the sauce and not the rice. If the soy sauce soaks into the rice ball, it will fall apart. This also allows the fish to touch your tongue first.
  3. You don’t always have to eat with chopsticks- it is very common for Japanese diners to eat with their hands, so you can too!

Nigiri Boats (Gunkan maki)

There is one other style of making Nigiri -called Gunkan Maki, or nigiri boats.

This refers to the style of wrapping a piece of Nori around the rice ball, so that you can put ingredients into the new container that aren’t whole pieces.

Examples include Ikura (Salmon Roe), Tobiko (Flying Fish Roe), and Masago (Smelt Roe).

Nigiri sushi gunkan maki with tobiko

Here’s how to make gunkan maki:

  1. Create your rice ball- just like above
  2. Cut a sheet of nori in half down the length
  3. Dip 1 inch of the nori into a bowl of water
  4. Quickly wrap the nori around your rice ball and allow the wet portion to
  5. stick to the dry portion- forming a bond
  6. Fill the boat with desired ingredients- be creative!


It should also be noted that some pieces of Nigiri are held together with a skinny strip of nori. It’s not necessary, but it can help hold the fish onto the ball of rice.

Close up of nigiri sushi on plate