Funazushi: The Fermented Predecessor of Modern Sushi

Carp are the king of freshwater fish in Japan, the most prized being the Japanese crucian (nigorobuna), which is the original type of carp used to make funazushi and features the genus Kitashina. It is a rich tasting wild species that can only be found in Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan and one of the oldest lakes in the world.

Today, there are only five stores around the lake that specialize in making high quality funazushi, as nigorobuna has become very rare and difficult to obtain. Other places, including the prefecture’s souvenir shops, use more common types of carp and have a relatively ready-made version – funazushi dried in salt for a summer and fermented in rice for a few months. in the fall – for tourists looking to try its so-called hot taste. Out of all of them, Kitashina is the one who makes the most authentic funazushi using nigorobuna and applying the oldest and most traditional preparation methods.

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Good things are hard to come by, however. Peak demand for Kitashina’s funazushi runs from November through February, when customers order it as a New Year’s treat, and later, to celebrate the arrival of spring. It may then run out, but a new batch, so to speak, is ready every year in the middle of summer.

Before trying the funazushi, Kitamura told me it tastes like cheese – which it does, in its lacto-fermented, sour, salty, umami-rich way. It is reminiscent of a funky, creamy type of cheese, given that Kitashina makes funazushi with the female nigorobuna loaded with eggs in season from March to May. Like many mature cheeses, funazushi is an acquired taste; food that takes some getting used to. But then eating raw seafood is so for a lot of people.

Dino S. Williams