The Most Popular Sushi Ingredients: How Japanese & Foreign Tastes Differ

The Most Popular Sushi Ingredients: How Japanese & Foreign Tastes Differ

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Sushi - Japan's most popular sushi ingredients
Picture: チリーズ / PIXTA(ピクスタ)
How does Japan like its sushi? Here are the most popular ingredients for the dish - and how its consumption differs abroad.

Sushi is one of Japan’s most recognizable -and loved – dishes. In its rolled form, sushi has become popular around the world. But how do people in Japan prefer to eat it? Here’s a quick look at how sushi is consumed in its country of origin – and how ingredient and topping choices differ between Japanese consumers and sushi fans abroad.

Sushi: A different dish in Japan


Sushi dates back to the dish narezusushi, a fermented version popular in Japan’s Heian era (794-1192 AD). The most popular form of sushi today is nigiri-zushi, which involves gripping (握る, nigiru; to grip) the main ingredient atop a bed of vinegar-infused rice (シャリ; shari).

Sushi restaurants abound in Japan, with 22,557 stores nationwide. That’s around 17.77 stores for every 100,000 people in the nation. Yamanashi Prefecture has the most sushi restaurants per person, with 29.52 per 100K people. Sushi restaurants take many forms, ranging from high-end restaurants with traditionally trained chefs to fast-paced and popular conveyor belt sushi chains.

While sushi is extremely popular outside of Japan, it often takes a different form abroad than it does in its country of origin. Japanese people who’ve lived abroad often comment about the foreign fixation with roll sushi (手巻き寿司; temaki-zushi).

In Japan, nigiri is regarded as the “traditional” form of sushi, with temaki typically reserved for special occasions like Setsubun. People in Japan also place particular emphasis on the freshness of ingredients and the skill of sushi chefs.

Japan – and foreigner’s – favorite sushi ingredients

Japan's favorite sushi ingredients
Picture: dejavu / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

So, how do people in Japan like to eat their nigiri? What toppings rule the roost?

The answer to this question differs from year to year. It can also differ slightly from poll to poll. For this article, I’ll look at the top seven answers from a survey run by MyNavi in April 2023. I’ll contrast it against an older survey run by the site SushiWalker in 2021.


Without further ado, let’s look at the top five!

5. Japan – Engawa (flatfish fin base); Abroad – Tai (Sea Breem)

Picture: オクケン / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Number five in Japan’s list isn’t a specific fish but rather a cut: engawa, or the portion of the fish taken from near the base of the dorsal fin. Japanese respondents praised the fatty cut of meat for its firm mouth-feel.

By contrast, non-Japanese sushi lovers heaped praises on sea breem. One reason is its popularity in other countries, such as in Korea and in carpaccio in Italy. By contrast, tai landed at #24 on MyNavi’s survey.

4. Japan – Negitoro (tuna/onion mince); Abroad – Uramaki

Picture: noc / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

A specialty of Japan, negitoro consists of fatty tuna belly minced together with Welsh onion. It dates back to 1964 and was invented by sushi chain Kintaro in its Asakusa shop. The dish is popular, not just because of its taste, but because it’s affordable.

By contrast, #4 on the kaigai list is not even a sushi topping, but a preparation: uramaki – a sort of “inverse sushi roll” with sesame seed-studded rice on the outside and seaweed and ingredients on the inside. It’s popular in the US, Italy, Chile, and Germany, among other countries. Sushi Walker notes, much to the horror of its Japanese readers, that it can contain a number of diverse ingredients, including…wait for it…cheese.

Picture: *hanabiyori* / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

3. Japan – Broiled Salmon; Abroad – Shrimp

Broiled salmon sushi
Picture: unio / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Made by applying the flame of an acetylene torch to the salmon on top, people in Japan love this dish for its fatty, smoky flavor that, in one fan’s word, “never misses.”

By contrast, foreigner’s choice seems a little pedestrian. However, given how plentiful and oft-consumed shrimp is in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, America, and France, it’s a natural choice as a sushi topping.

In both America and France, where people are generally more reticent to eat raw meats and seafood, shrimp tends to be steamed. By contrast, steamed shrimp ranked #11 on the MyNavi list.

2. Japan and Abroad – Tuna

Picture: shige hattori / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

Hey, consensus! Both Japan and folks abroad agree that tuna – particularly naka-toro, or medium-fatty tuna – makes for a great sushi go-to. Japanese fans praise its taste, as well as its filling fattiness. Others say the red color of the tuna makes for a beautiful presentation, and also that the taste teends to be pretty consistent from store to store.

Outside of Japan, tuna is a popular choice for Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian sushi fans. However, it’s not such a favorite in countries like Brazil and Malaysia, where tuna is either hard to get or where customers simply aren’t accustomed to eating raw seafood.

1. Japan and Abroad – Salmon

Picture: jazzman / PIXTA(ピクスタ)

The popularity of salmon as a sushi topping within Japan might be surprising. While Japan abounds in seafood, it didn’t have much of a taste for eating raw salmon for decades. In 1980, the country imported zero salmon into its borders.

That changed rapidly, however, in 1986, when Norwegian salmon producers launched a 30-year campaign to associate Norway with salmon and introduce salmon sushi into conveyor belt sushi stores. Needless to say, the plan was a huge success.

Japanese consumers love salmon for its lack of fishy aroma, fattiness, and juicy, meaty taste. 17.4% of survey respondents in Japan chose salmon as their favorite sushi ingredient —over twice the number of respondents who chose tuna (8.5%).

It’s not only Japan that agrees. Salmon’s popularity throughout the world makes it the top sushi choice, whether used as a stuffing in maki-zushi or as a nigiri topping.

What to read next


日本人が海外の寿司を認めない5つの理由。海外在住日本人と旅行好き日本人に聞いてみた. LiveJapan

「寿司ネタ」ランキングまとめ! 回転寿司で人気のネタは? MyNavi


一番好きな寿司ネタ 3位「中トロ」、2位「サーモン」、1位は?MyNavi

都道府県別統計とランキングで見る県民性. Todo-Ran

サーモン寿司はノルウェー発祥 日本を席巻するワケ. Nikkei

Want more UJ? Get our FREE newsletter 

Need a preview? See our archives

Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

Japan in Translation

Subscribe to our free newsletter for a weekly digest of our best work across platforms (Web, Twitter, YouTube). Your support helps us spread the word about the Japan you don’t learn about in anime.

Want a preview? Read our archives

You’ll get one to two emails from us weekly. For more details, see our privacy policy