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What is gunkan sushi?

Gunkan sushi has been around for decades and yet many people haven’t heard of it. With it being such a delicious way to enjoy sushi, we’re here to spread the word. Gunkan sushi is also really easy to make at home, so if you’re feeling hungry after reading this guide, you know exactly what’s on the menu: gunkan sushi.
Written by: Kelly Choi

What is gunkan sushi? 

Gunkan translates to ‘war-boat’, which is an extremely apt description of these ship-shaped sushi rolls. The oval boat-shaped rice balls are wrapped in nori seaweed and then topped with various tasty ingredients. The nori is wrapped so that there’s a space at the top where the crowning ingredients go, and are still encased within the nori. Gunkan sushi is ideal for ingredients that won’t stick to rice on their own, such as ikura (salmon roe), crab, sea urchin or seaweed. 

The delicious gunkan sushi was invented way back in 1941 in a legendary sushi restaurant called Kyubey, in the Ginza district of Tokyo. This restaurant still exists, so if you’re ever in Tokyo and fancy some authentic gunkan, you know where to go…Since the 40s, more adventurous toppings have been added to gunkan sushi, including quail eggs, beef wagyu and even potato salad.

What does gunkan sushi taste like? 

What makes gunkan sushi so special is that it can taste however you want it to! The perfectly-cooked sticky sushi rice, married with the crispy nori seaweed is already a delicious snack, but add the various toppings and you’re in sushi heaven. 

Some of the traditional toppings include salmon roe (ikura), which tastes slightly sweet and very salty, with a satisfyingly gooey texture. The sea urchin packs a more intense flavour of umami and salt, with sweet undertones. Crab gunkan sushi is very light and refreshing, providing an ideal break between sushi courses.

What ingredients are in gunkan sushi? 

The core sushi ingredients of gunkan remain the same – it’s the toppings where things start to get exciting. If you’re looking to make gunkan sushi at home, here’s what you’ll need.

Nori sheets 

The strong, distinct ocean flavour in gunkan sushi comes from the delicious nori sheets. These are used to wrap the rice and keep the toppings in place. Some people choose to roast the nori sheets first to achieve a more crispy texture. Usually, nori sheets come with handy indented lines, which makes it much easier to cut out for your gunkan sushi. 

Sushi rice 

Of course, you can’t neglect one of the most important sushi ingredients – the rice! Sushi rice should be short-grain so it can achieve that lovely plump texture. It also contains high levels of amylopectin, which give gunkan sushi its distinctive soft, tender and clumping texture. At Kelly Loves, our sushi rice is used by professional sushi chefs, producing great gunkan each and every time.

Rice vinegar 

Do you love that delicious rich, savoury flavour in sushi? Well, that comes from the rice vinegar. Sushi vinegar is mixed into the rice to create a wonderful flavour and help everything stick together. 


Now, this is where things get exciting! You’ve mixed your rice and vinegar together, shaped it into ovals and wrapped it in tasty nori…now’s the time to add the delicious toppings. With so many choices available, you can let your imagination go wild. Here are some of the most popular gunkan sushi toppings:

  • Ikura (salmon roe) – these large orange pearls are packed full of a sweet salty flavour that pops in your mouth. 
  • Tuna – raw, sushi-grade tuna is the perfect fresh, meaty topping, with distinctive flavours of the ocean.
  • Masago (capelin roe) – the sweet and crunchy flavour of masago is a great complement to the soft rice. 
  • Tobiko (flying fish roe) – packed full of protein and vitamins, tobiko is a deliciously crunchy, smoky addition to gunkan
  • Goma wakame salad – seaweed salad with sesame seeds for a salty kick.

Is gunkan sushi healthy? 

Whilst it’s not exactly a ‘health food’, gunkan sushi can come with many nutritious benefits. For example, fish egg toppings are full of protein and vitamins, with essential omega-3 fatty acids. The seaweed salad topping has fibre, antioxidants and low calorie levels. The nori sheets themselves also come with health benefits. Nori seaweed has protective antioxidants, magnesium, sodium, folate, calcium, iron and omega-3 fats.

As with everything, gunkan sushi should be enjoyed in moderation. Whilst some of the ingredients have health benefits, fish eggs, for example, are also high in cholesterol. But at least you don’t have to feel guilty when enjoying your gunkan sushi.

How to eat gunkan sushi 

Eating gunkan sushi is something of an art. If you wish to follow Japanese etiquette, you can use a pair of chopsticks or eat with your hands. Pick up your gunkan sushi with two chopsticks and place it in your mouth right away. It’s designed to be eaten in one bite, so there’s no need to hesitate.

You shouldn’t dip your gunkan sushi into soy sauce as this can ruin the flavour. If you wish to add soy sauce, you should drip a slice of ginger into some and pass that over your gunkan sushi toppings. 

Lastly, you shouldn’t ever rush your sushi, although you want to eat gunkan sushi while it’s fresh and not leave it sitting as it can get sticky and damp. 

We’re sure you’re now craving some delicious gunkan sushi (sorry about that). Thankfully, our sushi making kit has everything you need to practise making your own sushi at home. What kind of topping will you put on your gunkan sushi? Get adventurous!


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