Japan for the Uninvited

Japanese culture from a bemused foreign perspective

Funazushi (Fermented raw fish)

FunazushiIn most countries, rotten fish is thrown out. In Japan, they spend 3 or 4 years making it, and consider it an expensive luxury. Funazushi, the speciality of Shiga prefecture, is fermented buna (crucian carp).

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. 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.

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22 Comments, Comment or Ping

  1. Charles F. Sommers

    I lived in Japan back in the 1960’s while serving with the US Air Force. I regret never having tried funazushi. I am a lover of stinky cheeses, the stinkier the better, and am sure I
    would enjoy funazushi also. Strong smelling foods usually have robust flavors and that is what I like.

  2. Robert Judas Hiengler

  3. Joe

    I just tried funazushi today and came across this article looking for more information. I have to say – it would really, really be a shame if “the smelly preservation technique” became redundant. Funazushi is amazingly delicious – somewhere between prosciutto and stinky-delicious cheese, with a tiny bit of fishiness thrown in for good measure.

    However, I have to admit that only one of the 10-12 japanese people present today was willing to eat, let alone like, the dish – so perhaps there isn’t such a huge market for it.

    In summary, if you like fish, prosciutto (生ハム) and blue cheese, you should really try this dish.

  4. Haryadoon

    Sounds to me like Spanish bacalao (salt cod).

  5. Maria

    We also have a similar dish called, Burong Isda, which literally means Fermented Fish. It’s one of my favourite Filipino dish from the north. My grandfather used to catch fresh water fish then, after cleaning, my grandmother would mix cold pre-cooked rice and loads of salt. It’s fermented for a week or two and then sauted with lots of onions, garlic, ginger and tomatoes.. It is a great accompaniment for boiled veggies. Sadly, my grandmother died and the exact recipe was not handed down..

  6. I had the pleasure of having it when I lived in Minamihama, on the shores of Biwako. I was living with a host family there, and a couple of times they had it while drinking beer. They prepare it themselves. They called in “Japanese cheese” and where really very, very pleased that I was able to eat it with them. I have to admit that I wouldn’t agree with Joe that it is “amazingly delicious” and it in no way reminded me of prosciutto. It reminds me of some of the fermented dishes I have eaten elsewhere, though, like in Cambodia and Vietnam.

  7. Mandoo Frake

    I think this is what Karl Pilkington had to eat.

  8. Dr. Charles

    Karl Pilkington brought me here, lol.

  9. Anonymous

    love karl.. thats why im checking it out too

  10. Todd

    Karl – An Idiot Abroad?

    Yes I was curious about this also. Too bad Karl just isn’t open minded enough to enjoy something like that. I admit I would have to put down a few beers to get the courage up.

    :D

  11. Adrienne

    Karl sent me here too!!, lol, I wonder how many people in the world are looking up all the things Karl is doing in Idiot Abroad, gotta love Karl, he’s braver than most, that’s for certain

  12. Nathan

    Thanks to Karl i feel like some funazushi

  13. Mark Day

    Lol I’ve just watched Karl try to eat it too! I have to say that I don’t fancy trying it, but I had to look it up to see what it’s all about! I’ll stick to my chicken, beef, pork etc.

  14. Elle

    Karl brought me here. :) after reading the reviews, I’d probably enjoy it.

  15. Robert the Hungarian

    wow, im just watching Karl and its amazing to see how many of us got here coz of him :D LOL

  16. Adam

    Hahaha, I jut discovered “An Idiot Abroad” on netflix. Thanks Karl.

  17. Craig

    Yup, here because of Karl, too. Haha!

  18. Michael in San Fran

    Karl made me do a quick search as well!

  19. Alyssa

    Came here because of Karl too! Love that show! I’d love to try this if I ever had the chance.

  20. WAT

    The fish doesn’t become ‘rotten’ it is fermented, there is a difference.. The fermentation keeps the fish from becoming rotten due to the drop in ph.

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