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Sushi is a Japanese dish consisting of a special rice topped with vegetables, seafood or fish. In the West, sushi is usually associated with rolled sushi, using a seaweed wrapper of some sort. A sushi set may be understood to mean either a special set of plates and utensils for serving and eating sushi, or a set of tools to aide in the preparation of sushi rolls. Both are commonly referred to as sushi sets, and neither use of the phrase is considered more proper.
A sushi set intended for dining will usually contain at least two dishes, two bowls and two pairs of chopsticks. The dishes are usually square with rounded edges, slightly raised at the edges to contain any sauces or liquids that may be used. They are nearly always ceramic, though it is not entirely unheard of to find wooden and even plastic sushi plates as well.
The small finger bowls included in a sushi set are meant to contain soy sauce, as well as occasionally to hold wasabi, pickled ginger or other condiments. The chopsticks included in a sushi set are Japanese styled, with ends that taper to a point. They are most often lacquered wooden chopsticks, though a lower-end sushi set may include plastic chopsticks instead.
A dining sushi set may also include a large serving bowl for rice, and may be bundled with a saki jug and a pair of saki glasses as well. Many sushi sets will also include small pieces of curved wood intended to rest one's chopsticks on when they are not being used. A good sushi set for two will cost between US$30 and US$60, with luxury sushi sets costing in excess of US$200.
A sushi set geared towards sushi preparation contains an entirely different batch of utensils than one meant for dining. A basic sushi set will contain at least a rolling mat and a rice paddle, and may also include cooking chopsticks, special sushi knives, a tub used for preparing rice and an omelet pan. The rolling mat included with a sushi set is known as a makisu, and is made of bamboo tied together with string. The makisu is used to shape makizushi rolls, and to drain off particularly wet foods, such as tofu.
The sushi rice paddle, or shamoji, is an almost completely flat paddle used to prepare and serve rice. Shamoji are commonly made of wood or plastic, and good plastic paddles have non-stick surfaces so the cook doesn't constantly have to tend to moistening the paddle to prevent rice from clinging to it. Cooking chopsticks may also be included in a larger sushi set. These chopsticks tend to be longer than traditional dining chopsticks, and are nearly always made of wood, both to offer increased grip and to prevent warping at high temperatures.
The hangiri is the special rice tub used for preparing sushi rice. Few sushi sets include this item, but those at the higher end often do. A good hangiri is constructed of cypress wood and bound with copper. The rice is cooked in a different vessel and transferred to the hangiri, where the salt, sugar and vinegar used to give sushi rice its distinctive flavor are added and the rice is left to cool.
There are nearly as many types of sushi knife in the world as there are types of fish, which means that no sushi set will include more than a small sampling, if they include a knife at all. Sushi sets most commonly provide a nakiri bocho, or small vegetable knife, which may also be used to cut the sushi. Finally, some sushi sets may include a makiyakinabe, a small, rectangular pan used to prepare eggs into omelets for use in sushi dishes. Because of the rolled shape of Japanese omelets, the omelette must be rectangular, requiring a special pan. A kitchen sushi set can cost as little as US$20 for a basic mat and paddle, or as much as US$400 for a set that includes a decent knife, rice tub and pan.