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Since You Asked: Gamera vs. the American stomach

What is the difference between sushi and sashimi? A friend of mine is a diehard fan and has told me and my weak stomach that sushi is all cooked and has no raw fish in it. I want to be brave and try it, but there's just something about raw meat that scares me. Is it safe?

— Janet W., Medford

The difference between sashimi and sushi to one alleged connoisseur on SYA's Synchronized Chopsticks Team is a couple snifters' worth of hot sake, the delicious traditional rice wine you'll find served in sushi restaurants. But don't drink it in a snifter ...

Your friend is close, Janet. Sushi is a Japanese neologism that combines "rice" with "vinegar" to describe the sticky sweet rice used in preparing sushi dishes. Sashimi is the raw seafood that often accompanies sushi rice. Sashimi is also served all by its wonderful self. It's not all raw, though — many if not most sushi dishes you find in these parts are fully cooked.

If you're at a respectable sushi restaurant (and we're fortunate to have several in the Rogue Valley), you'll get delicious fresh seafood in your sushi preparations and, yes, it is safe. We like busier places because it means others have found the sushi tasty and it also means the seafood turns over quickly for peak freshness.

There are three basic types: nigiri (a rice ball with a sashimi topping and a seaweed strip to hold it together), maki (1- to 2-inch cylindrical slices of a long roll) and temaki (like an ice cream cone made of sushi and sashimi filling wrapped in nori (nutritious dried seaweed).

Textures can be quite an adventure with sashimi, running from chewy octopus that looks just like a slice of tentacle complete with little suction cups to a soft and clearly raw slice of tuna. If you're unsure how your stomach will handle the raw stuff, just ask what is cooked and what isn't, if it isn't clear on the menu. A safe starter is a California roll — usually cucumber, crab and avocado wrapped in nori, sushi rice and toasted sesame seeds. Get a little adventurous and go for a delicious unagi (fully cooked freshwater eel with a unique sweet sauce and a sprinkling of tiny flying fish eggs). If you've made it that far, go for a 100 percent spider-free spider roll and maybe some ama ebi. Menus usually have pictures. Or throw caution to the wind and have your friend order.

Best thing is most of the stuff is as healthy as it is delicious. You can easily fill up on a few servings and they're typically high in protein, vitamins and fiber.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. The volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.