Man v. Funazushi: I tried Shiga’s traditional dish

Update: Adriel said we can use his gif (yay!), so scroll down to the end of the article for some funazushi eating action.

Note: This is a translation of my article published in Portuguese and Japanese on this very blog in August. Madeline suggested that I translate it into English. Hope you guys enjoy it.

Adriel’s (Our CIR from the US) stay in Shiga will be over at the end of this month and since until now we didn’t have a chance to try Shiga’s most famous dish, the proverbial Funazushi, we kinda decided to take the opportunity. Funazushi is one of the many types of narezushi, fermented sushi, and is ideally made using a kind of crucian carp, called nigorobuna, that can only be found in Lake Biwa. Like all fermented dishes, not everyone is a fan (I was actually quite surprised that my supervisor has never ever tried it, even though he’s a local), and while other fermented foods like nattô are widely consumed daily by a majority of Japanese people, aside from not being very popular, funazushi’s production is restricted to Shiga for many reasons.


One of the facts behind this, other than that nigorobuna can only be caught on the Lake, is that its numbers have greatly diminished over the years. This species is known for reproducing near the yoshi plants, a kind of reed that is also less common nowadays. This leaves less places for the young fish to hide without becoming prey to foreign species, like the black bass and the blue gill, both brought to the lake decades ago without any thought being given to the impact they would cause on the fauna. Today, in order for the nigorobuna not to disappear, many measures are being taken, including releasing a great number of young fish into the lake, raising the amount of yoshi reeds, and reducing the foreign fish population.


IMG_2265 (1)(Nigorobuna released by the children that embarked on Umi no Ko)

So how is funazushi made? I’ll try to explain briefly. First, nigorobuna full of roe is cleaned by taking off the scales and guts, after which they are filled with salt. The fish is then preserved in salt for at least two months, later being brushed and washed with care using running water. After being wind dried for many hours, the fish are filled with cooked rice, usually Omimai (rice from Shiga), and lined in rows inside a barrel which has already been filled with more cooked rice. The fish are then covered with even more rice, and the process repeated until you run out of fish. After covering the barrel with a lid, a weight is put on top of it and the mixture is left to ferment for many months. Then, finally, funazushi is ready! This process is called “Iizuke”, which means “preserve using rice” in Japanese.


Now to the part you guys probably want to hear about: What does it taste like? The taste reminds me more of some kinds of blue cheese than fish, with a light sweet and acidic flavor with notes of vinegar. Other than sake from Shiga, I think it would go well with many types of wine. We were drinking beer though, so we kept ordering that.



Here you can see a gif of my first try. If you just look at my face, you can probably tell how H-A-P-P-Y ^_^ I was to taste something so delicious! I think one of the most interesting aspects of living abroad is to try food when you have absolutely no idea what it tastes like. It has been a long time since I felt like that, so I had a lot of fun during this experience, even though it was a little bit weird at the first slice. To make it even more fun, I recommend that you try it, if possible, at the house of someone who’s made it. In our case, we had to do it at a restaurant.


funazushi roddy


Although I can’t see myself buying it anytime soon to try at home (mostly because it’s on the expensive side), I definitely want to try it again if I have another chance.

What about you? Did you guys try funazushi already? What was your experience like? Share it in the comments!


Bonus gif: Adriel’s first slice
man v funazushi smaller


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