Years ago, when my favorite neighborhood sushi bar in Monterey would get too busy, Kazu-san would suggest that I have a chirashi instead of nigiri sushi, so instead of receiving several pairs of sliced fish on rice balls, I would be served a mound of sushi rice, on which various and sundry pieces of fish etc had been placed. The advantages for him were that he could use odd and and irregularly shaped pieces of fish, it was much easier and faster to make, and it kept me quiet while he gave his full attention to tourists and other non-regulars (who were, of course, paying full price). For me, it was great because I got a lot of sushi quickly and it always cost less then the same amount of food purchased piece by piece. Since then, I often order a chirashi at a new sushi bar that I am trying because it lets me examine a variety of their fish without a major investment. And often a well-prepared chirashi is very pretty to look at.
But I have found that chirashis vary greatly. Some are served in small squarish bowls (?), some in much larger round bowls. Some come with large squares of nori (seaweed) so I can roll my own, but most don't. Some have ground sesame seeds on them or slivered tamago, but most don't. The variety of toppings also seems varied, though they all seem to come with maguro, tamago, gari, and wasabi. In some cases, I have even been served what seemed almost like sushi left-overs, like shredded maguro or slices of the strongly clam flavored body of a mirugai. Somewhere I once read that a chirashi should have a fixed number of items in it, but I have never noticed that in practice.
So I guess this post has two purposes. On the one hand, let me recommend trying chirashis to those of you who like sushi, as I have found it generally to be an interesting and reasonably priced dish. But I would also like to hear from people who know what chirashis are really supposed to contain or how they are supposed to be eaten. In fact, are there any other 'hounds out there who've had chirashi experiences, positive or negative?