„Have some sushi!”–we could advise our friend on going to a Japanese restaurant for the first time in their life and being a bit wary of trying Asian food. That is good advice indeed: you can’t go wrong with sushi. Fish is good. Rice is good. Wasabi–even if some people have strong, VERY strong reservations about it–is also delicious. However, there might be one peculiar case where this suggestion goes awry: sitting in a traditional restaurant in Shiga prefecture, by the lake Biwa in Japan.
What is funazushi?
Funazushi is a kind of narezushi: this means that the fish (which until recently had to be nigorobuna, a goldfish type endemic to Lake Biwa but due to overfishing, nowadays it’s crucian carp). The fish is scaled and gutted–the internal organs are removed, except for the stomach, which is filled with salt (and so is the whole fish!) The salt-stuffed carp are placed in a barrel and doused with salt from the outside, too. After that a heavy stone is put on the lid and the fermentation process begins: the fish stay in the barrel for 6 months. After half a year they are taken out and washed, then filled with rice and placed back into the barrel for another six months-or up to 4 entire years! This time they are put in a dark and cool place.
Neddless to say, this fermentation method dates as far back as the Heian period; at that time there were no refrigerators of course, so preserving food was vital.
Exactly how bizarre is it?
Having read about the method of making funazushi, one begins to realise why it is labelled a bizarre kind of food. After all, that fish had been in the barrel for six months, let alone four years…I wonder if anyone of our readers can remember the post about natto, or fermented soybean, which has a pungent odour. Now, they say funazushi is much more extreme as far as smell is concerned…just like with natto, it is safe to say funazushi is divisive: it makes some (actually, a lot of people) sick, while others consider it heavenly.
How and where to eat funazushi?
The original is only sold in the Shiga prefecture, but of course supermarkets store their version of funazushi. However, genuine funazushi can only be bought in Shiga and it is also good to know that the funazushi tradition is kept alive by one family: the Kitamuras of Kitashina. They have been making funazushi since 1619 (!), for eight (8!!) generations.
Once we have decided to try funazushi, we have to learn that it is not rolled up like other types of sushi. Fish on the outside, vinegary rice on the inside, sliced funazushi is ready to eat. However, they say it is best with some extra rice, soy sauce and pickled ginger. Some people swear that it is the best accompanied with some sake!
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