JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In most countries, rotten fish is thrown out. In Japan, they spend three or four years making it, and consider it an expensive luxury. Funazushi, the specialty of Shiga prefecture, is fermented buna (crucian carp).
This Buna fish little realizes what morbid gastronomical atrocities are about to be visited on its person.
The raw fish is packed tightly in salt for a year, then dried and mixed with rice. This mixture is left to "ferment" for 3 years. The rice is changed every year, but the fish is allowed to decompose.
As you'd expect, funazushi has an overpowering smell, which discourages many people from trying it. The taste is sharp and vinegary. It can be used in soups, deep-fried in batter to make tempura, or served in green tea (ochazuke).
History of Funazushi
Around 1000 years old, a preservation method called narezushi came to Japan from China.
The word "sushi" originally meant fermented fish, and has its roots in Southeast Asia. According to the history of sushi, this type of sushi is first seen in Japanese scriptures in the 7th century. Later on, the fish were stuffed with rice before they were fermented, and this is called nare sushi and is the earliest form of sushi in Japan.
Nare Sushi took a couple months to prepare, and eventually becomes consumed before the fermentation process is complete. This is called the nama nare sushi or "raw" nare sushi. This made the rice sour tasting from the fermentation process but edible and mostly dissolved. It is not until the 19th century when the Edo style sushi, or the sushi commonly known today was invented. The sour rice was mimicked by mixing fresh rice vinegar to make sushi rice, and fresh raw ingredients were used instead.
In Shiga, Narezushi became Funazushi. Fermentation was used as a way to preserve food stocks for the winter. Like many other Japanese foods (umeboshi, natto), funazushi became a national delicacy, even when fresh food became available all year round.
Funazushi is increasingly rare. As fresh fish has become available, modern sushi has been developed, reducing funazushi to novelty status. Younger Japanese people, who have more Western tastes, are less likely to develop a taste for the dubious treat. Recently, it can only be found in Shiga, and the smelly preservation technique may soon be redundant.