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The Surprising Ingredient Behind the Birth of Sushi

The surprising ingredient that made the original sushi

Sushi has become a popular culinary delight enjoyed by people all over the world. Whether you’re a vegan or an omnivore, sushi offers a delightful combination of salty, savory and slightly sweet flavors that tantalize the taste buds. While we are familiar with sushi made with sticky rice, raw fish or seafood, and seaweed, the origins of this delicious dish may surprise you. It all started with an unexpected ingredient called funazushi.
Funazushi is a traditional Japanese ingredient that plays a crucial role in the creation of the original sushi. It involves a meticulous process in which fish is cured in salt for two years, dried in the sun for a day, and then fermented in cooked rice for another year. This intricate method has been passed down from generation to generation and can be traced back to a small town in Japan in 1619.

The art of fermented sushi

The resulting dish, known as narezushi, is considered fermented sushi. It is made from freshwater fish that is eaten as a snack, served over rice for meals (think sushi bites), and even incorporated into medicinal teas. The fermentation process is crucial to the creation of this original sushi, as it imparts a unique flavor profile and enhances the preservation of the ingredients.
Over time, the production of funazushi has become a rare craft, with only a few artisanal makers remaining. This has elevated funazushi to the status of an artisanal food, often enjoyed as a luxury during the New Year holidays. The vats used to control the fermentation process have been cultivated for centuries and contain microorganisms that contribute to the distinctive and authentic flavor of funazushi. If these vats were emptied, the delicate balance of microorganisms would be lost forever, making it impossible to reproduce the same taste.

An acquired taste

Funazushi may not be for everyone. Its strong fishy aroma and distinct flavor make it an acquired taste. However, those who appreciate its unique qualities describe it as surprisingly delicious. Some compare its taste to Parmigiano-Reggiano, a cheese known for its rich and savory flavor. Others compare it to yogurt, highlighting its tangy and creamy notes. Despite its acquired taste, funazushi continues to captivate adventurous eaters eager to explore the depths of culinary history.
If you’re curious to experience this ancient delicacy, be prepared for more than just a culinary adventure. Tasting funazushi allows you to savor a bite of history, connecting you to generations of Japanese tradition and craftsmanship. It’s worth noting, however, that authentic funazushi can be quite expensive, with prices reaching upwards of ¥10,000 ($90.68) for a whole fish.

Embrace history, taste tradition

The story of funazushi reminds us that the evolution of food is an ongoing process, shaped by cultural traditions and the creativity of past generations. From its humble beginnings as a fermented fish dish to the diverse array of sushi we enjoy today, the history of sushi is a testament to the ingenuity and artistry of culinary heritage. Exploring the roots of our favorite dishes not only deepens our understanding of the food we love, but also allows us to appreciate the craftsmanship and dedication that goes into creating it.
So the next time you enjoy a sushi roll or indulge in a delicate nigiri, take a moment to reflect on the unexpected ingredient that started it all. Let the flavors transport you to a time when artisans crafted sushi with care and precision, and let yourself be swept away by the rich tapestry of flavors and traditions that make sushi a truly remarkable culinary experience.


What is Funazushi?

Funazushi is an ingredient used in the original sushi. It is fish cured in salt, dried in the sun, and then fermented in cooked rice.

How is funazushi made?

To make funazushi, fish is first cured in salt for two years. It is then dried in the sun for one day and fermented in cooked rice for another year. This elaborate process creates a unique flavor profile.

What is Narezushi?

Narezushi is the name of the fermented sushi dish made from funazushi. Traditionally made with freshwater fish, it can be served as a snack, over rice for meals, or even used in medicinal teas.

Why is funazushi considered an artisan food?

Funazushi is considered an artisanal food because of the rare and meticulous craftsmanship involved in its production. Only a few artisans remain, and the fermentation process relies on microorganisms that have been cultivated for centuries, contributing to its authentic flavor.

What does Funazushi taste like?

Funazushi has a strong fishy aroma and a distinct taste. Some describe its taste as reminiscent of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, while others compare it to yogurt. It is considered an acquired taste and may not be enjoyed by everyone.

Where can I try Funazushi?

Funazushi can be difficult to find outside of Japan, and authentic versions can be quite expensive. If you are interested in trying funazushi, it is recommended that you visit specialized sushi shops or Japanese restaurants that may offer it as a rare delicacy.

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