What Are the Alternatives to Sushi?

Sushi has gained increasing favor in many different countries and cultures throughout the world. But what happens if sushi is no longer able to be a part of your diet, yet you are still craving a similar dining experience and foods?

There are several different alternatives to sushi that cater to the reasons one may not be able to enjoy the real deal. Depending on certain food allergies, sensitivities, or diet choices, people can have a wide variety of dishes to choose from that will still offer them a “sushi-like” meal.

Japanese sushi set on a rustic dark background
Japanese sushi set on a rustic dark background

If your diet restricts the pleasure of eating authentic sushi, you may want to consider a few of these delicious alternatives to satisfy its absence. We will explore different sushi alternatives based on allergens, diet plans, and preferences of taste, so keep reading!

What is Sushi?

Sushi is a Japanese dish that consists mainly of rice, fish (or other types of seafood), and vegetables. The type of rice used is typically referred to as “sticky rice” because it is cooked with vinegar. Sushi can be prepared with uncooked seafood, or cooked seafood depending on the preference. Sushi is also often wrapped with a special seaweed called nori.

Though sushi is beloved throughout the world, there are many people who refuse to eat it or cannot eat it, because of its ingredients, taste, and or texture. Have you ever wondered if there are different options for eating sushi? Is it possible to adjust sushi to fit the specific requirements of these people so that they can eat sushi? Let’s take a look!

Assorted colorful sushi on a black serving tray
Assorted colorful sushi on a black serving tray

Alternatives for Sensitive Stomachs

There are many allergen issues when it comes to sushi. Many people refrain from dairy products and are therefore sensitive to some of the sauces used to top sushi. Some people are gluten-free, which would also limit the sushi menu available to them because of deep-fried sushi rolls or the sauces and toppings used. And then there are people who are allergic or sensitive to rice. This is the staple of sushi and oftentimes it’s very difficult to cater to this intolerance.

One of the best pieces of advice that those who suffer from intolerances and diet restrictions should know is that if you go out to a sushi place, the best way to know if your food is safe from allergens is to ask the chefs/waiters and pay attention to the ingredient lists on the menu.

Oftentimes, menus will have a guide as to which rolls contain which allergens and whether or not you can get them prepared separately. There is no harm in being careful, and most of the time the chefs and workers at these restaurants are very friendly and open to offering you special options to help your dining experience be the best it can be.

Those who are dairy-free are in luck because most sushi does not contain any form of dairy. Some rolls may have cream cheese, and sometimes imitation crab can contain dairy, but overall this makes for easy avoidance. Many people opt for the side dishes offered at sushi restaurants such as edamame, fried rice, seaweed salad, or miso soup. These are all dairy-free and are a great alternative to sushi. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

Another way to avoid sushi with dairy is to only order vegan rolls or make your own sushi! A lot of the time, sauces used at restaurants can contain milk products. Vegan rolls do not contain any imitation crab, meat, or dairy products. These rolls are great alternatives to the traditional rolls which could potentially have the allergens you are looking to avoid.

Closeup of vegetarian rolls with cucumber and hummus
Closeup of vegetarian rolls with cucumber and hummus

It would also be helpful to get the raw rolls and not anything involving tempura. Tempura batter can have traces of dairy or be dairy-product based.

A helpful tip is to look at the ingredient list on the menu (typically under each sushi roll as an explanation), or on the nutrition labels if you are buying your own ingredients to make sushi. This will help you to become more aware of the things going into your body.

People with a gluten allergy or intolerance may need to be a bit more careful if they are looking to eat sushi. When you’re gluten-free, you can eat rice without a problem. Well, not when you have sushi. Sushi rice is a big key that can determine whether or not the sushi is gluten-free or not. Sushi rice is often made in vinegar which can be wheat-based.

An alternative to wheat-based vinegar is finding a corn-based one. This will ensure that no gluten is in your sushi rice.

Another problem that gluten-free people run into is soy sauce. Soy sauce is not gluten-free though that seems the case. Most sushi rolls are prepared or served with soy sauce. Choose alternative rolls that do not contain a topping of soy sauce. An alternative to soy sauce would be a gluten-free soy sauce, or a Yum Yum sauce (yes, that is what it is called).

Seafood that is made in a marinade that is soy sauce based will contain gluten. Tempura, deep-fried, rolls will also be made of wheat products. Alternatives to the deep-fried sushi rolls would be the raw rolls. Instead of marinated seafood, look to get raw, clean seafood rolls or opt for a sashimi dish. Sashimi contains no rice and is just raw fish.

Fresh raw sashimi fish set  in a black dish on black table
Fresh raw sashimi fish set in a black dish on black table

Once again, those who are gluten intolerant should be sure to avoid imitation products like crab or wasabi. These products will more than likely contain wheat. An alternative for these is to get the actual product; real crab and real wasabi. You can also substitute horseradish sauce for wasabi.

People who are sensitive to rice may just want to avoid sushi altogether. A wonderful alternative to sushi is sashimi. As mentioned previously, sashimi is a dish that just consists of raw, sliced seafood or meat. These dishes are often served with soy sauce. Sashimi is a widely popular dish in Japan that is very close to sushi, just without the rice.

If you are looking to prepare your own sushi, there are many keto-based recipes that don’t contain rice. They are simply made of vegetables, meat, and seaweed. If you would like an experience with rice, though you have a sensitivity, you can substitute regular white rice for cauliflower rice, quinoa, or shredded cabbage. These are all healthier, yet filling, alternatives to the traditional white rice used in sushi.

Once again, you may also want to consider the side dishes that are often offered at sushi restaurants. These typically are fried rice, edamame, miso soup, and seaweed salad. These options will suit those who are dairy and gluten-free, and mostly fit those with a rice intolerance or allergy.

Vegan Alternatives

Thankfully, there are many, many different options for vegans when it comes to sushi. Most sushi places offer vegan alternatives and if you are making your own sushi, it’s one less thing to worry about with seafood.

You can easily replace any seafood or animal products with tofu. This will give you a similar value and substance to the actual seafood products, and it has great nutritional value.

It is also very easy to replace any and all seafood and meat products with more vegetables. Shiitake mushrooms are a great alternative when choosing the vegan route. Shiitake mushrooms have a very flavorful and savory taste that makes them the perfect staple ingredient in a vegan sushi roll.

Cucumber, eggplant, avocado, and ginger are all great ingredients that will add flavor and substance to your sushi.

Raw vegan sushi rolls with carrots, avocados, and butter lettuce
Raw vegan sushi rolls with carrots, avocados, and butter lettuce

Another popular alternative to a traditional sushi roll would be a sushi/Poke bowl. These bowls are the deconstructed version of a roll but you have more control over the ingredients. Rice and seaweed are often the base for these bowls. They are then followed by a plethora of vegetables, sauces, and seasonings of your choosing.

Vegans can enjoy vegetable tempura rolls at sushi places. These tempura rolls are deep-fried and add a twist to the typical raw nature of regular sushi. Vegans will love the side dishes offered at sushi restaurants. Fried rice, miso soup, and edamame are all vegan and taste great! They will give you an authentic sushi experience without having to touch fish!

Taste and Texture Preferences

Even if one has no allergies or sensitivities to the ingredients in sushi, one can still abstain from the dish because of the way it tastes or its texture. Which is completely okay! Thankfully, there are many dishes that could be used as an alternative to sushi. These dishes can be placed on the same level and will have you enjoying every bite. (SourceOpens in a new tab.)

The first, and probably most popular, alternative to a sushi roll is a noodle dish. Noodles are extremely common in Asian culture, and if we’re sticking to the same guidelines, they are a great alternative to sushi. Pad Thai is a very popular meal that consists of rice noodles, shrimp (or chicken/beef), peanuts and peanut sauce, and vegetables. It is a great stir-fry dish that will leave you satisfied and happy.

Another great noodle dish option to replace sushi is Korean Japchae. This meal consists of glass rice noodles and vegetables. It is very similar to that of Pad Thai, but with a different sauce and therefore contrasting tastes.

Gyoza is a common Japanese food that is offered at most Japanese restaurants and sushi places. It is basically a potsticker or dumpling. These Gyoza are filled with ground-up meat and vegetables and served with soy sauce. Typically used as an appetizer before a meal, but will definitely sustain the palate.

Fried dumpling being dipped in soy sauce with chop sticks
Fried dumpling being dipped in soy sauce with chop sticks

Tteokbokki is another Korean dish that is one of the most popular street foods. This is another stir-fried dish that has cylinder-shaped fish cakes and rice cakes doused in a sauce made of sweet red chili.

Kimbap is often referred to as “Korean sushi.” It is basically sushi but the main ingredients are typically meat, eggs, and cucumbers. Kimbap is a nice alternative to Japanese sushi because it is a lot simpler and easier on the stomach.

Nigiri is a derivative of traditional Maki sushi (cut and rolled). In Nigiri sushi, the rice is rolled out and the fish is pressed firmly on top. Nigiri can sometimes be wrapped with seaweed, but mostly it is just the rice and seafood. The seafood is always fresh, clean, and raw.

Spring rolls, from Chinese culture, can prove to be wonderful alternatives to sushi as well. Instead of the main ingredients being wrapped in seaweed, they are wrapped in a thin dough and then deep-fried in oil. People who love Asian cuisine will definitely love spring rolls. The rolls are stuffed with cabbage, shredded pork, shrimp, and sometimes other vegetables or scrambled egg.

Fried dumpling being dipped in soy sauce with chop sticks
Fried dumpling being dipped in soy sauce with chop sticks

Bibimbap, another Korean dish with rice, is similar to the sushi bowl that was mentioned earlier. It basically consists of steaming rice with vegetables, meat, and egg on top. These bowls are traditionally meant to use any leftover ingredients and form them into a dish. Bibimbap is great for vegans as well because they can choose the toppings they want on their steamed rice according to the resources they have.

As you can see, there are so many options if you are looking for alternatives to sushi. Asian cuisine has taken the world by storm as it becomes increasingly popular in countries all over the world. Although you may not be able to enjoy sushi to the fullest, there are several dishes and options that can bring you close to the heart of Japanese dishes.

Whether you have food sensitivities or allergies, there are plenty of different ways that you can incorporate alternate versions of sushi into your diet. Whether you alter the ingredients being used, take out some ingredients, change the version of sushi, or simply opt for a completely different meal altogether, these choices are not likely to disappoint.

If you are at a sushi restaurant and notice that you can’t eat some of the dishes that you want to try, ask the waiter if the chef can make substitutions to accommodate your sensitivities or allergies. If you tell them that the substitutions are necessary because of medical reasons, they will likely be able to accommodate you.

Anna Silver

Anna Silver is the principal creator of CookForFolks.com, a website dedicated to new go-to original recipes. Inspired by her grandmother’s love of cooking, Anna has a passion for treating the people in her life to delicious homemade food and loves to share her family recipes with the rest of the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Posts