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Primitive Funa-Zushi. The Horrid Roots of Modern Sushi

The dish that we know as Sushi is a brilliantly modernized version of a Japanese Culinary innovation from the 1800s. Its introduction to world kitchens, particularly American, has transformed it into one of the most successful fusion food forms in the world. Without global influences, Sushi would not be the gorgeous and experimental dish it is today. But even what we presently think of as traditional Japanese Sushi was a vast improvement of an earlier dish imported from China and prepared for 800 years before the innovations of nameless street vendors in Tokyo less than 200 years ago created what we recognize as 'sushi' today. Join us as we explore the horrid precursor, Funa Zushi.

Published July 26, 2014 in Dining & Nightlife      18 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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In 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).


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).


Funazushi


Nama Nare Sushi

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.



Funazushi, or Funa Sushi.

So, what is funazushi anyway? And, why doesn’t it require any koji starter to kick off the fermentation? According to Funazushi no Nazo, nigorobuna or C. auratus grandoculis, a fresh water fish from Lake Biwa, is cleaned, the ovaries are left intact, and it is then cured in salt for anywhere from one month to two years.





Next, after rinsing and a brief drying, the fish and cooked rice are carefully layered one over the other in a deep bucket or wooden cask called an i to daru (5gallon barrel). To finish up, a heavy weight is placed on top and the layered mixture is fermented anywhere from six months to over a year.





This is the tradition that was passed down for over 1,300 years in Japan. This form of sushi appears in the Engishiki, a law book penal code from the 10th century. This is probably the first well-documented appearance of sushi in Japan.

Here is a traditional recipe from the Shiga Prefecture!:

Recipe
1) Scale female Nigoro Buna with a knife and remove guts.
2) Remove blood by soaking in salt water for 1-2 hours.
3) Stuff fish tightly with salt. Put fish in barrel. Place lid over fish. Put weight on top of lid. Wait for 2 years!?
4) Remove salt from fish. Dry for 1/2 day.
5) Mix with rice and ferment for 1 year.
6) Remove rice add new rice. Ferment for 3 months.
After a little over 3 years voila!

Ochazuke
Place rice, 2-3 slices of funazushi, tororo kobu (a seaweed) in a bowl. Add hot water and 3-3 drops of soy sauce. Mix good and it's ready to eat.

Memo
Every bite you take of funazushi was prepared close to 4 years ago! Preserved foods have always been necessary for people worldwide to supply themselves with food in times of need. Ancestors all over the world have been so clever as to find ways to meet food needs year round. Funazushi is a perfect example.

Funazushi is the roots of the sushi you and I eat today! Funazushi is the origin of mixing rice and fish together which came over with rice culture from Southeast Asia. Over a thousand years of tradition and history accompanied by the care and detail of years of preparation, each bite tastes that much better.

How is it?
Much better than its reputation. Everyone says, "It stinks, it stinks!" It does smell a bit like a sake brewery but it is nothing to keel over about. It has a sharp vinegary flavor. It is best in ochazuke (a rice soup dish).



ochazuke


Shiga Prefecture!

This dish is becoming more and more rare these days and it can only be found in Shiga Prefecture. Lake Biwa is home to buna and several other species of fish that are native only to Biwa and Shiga Prefecture. Decisions people in Shiga make about the use of their lake and the preservation of such traditional foods may decide the future of this traditional dish.

As far as the writer is concerned, the good people of Shiga Prefecture are welcome to keep any decisions they might make about Funazushi wholly to themselves, and refrain from following the Scottish example in exporting the equally horrid dish of Haggis upon an undeserving mankind.

by Stephen Dare







18 Comments

stephendare

July 07, 2010, 12:07:37 PM
This stuff is just wretched.

Janice tried to point out that we eat cheese, which many Asian chefs find utterly repugnant (which is true, I deeply offended a chinese chef when I gifted her some fresh baked Sourdough Bread out in San Francisco.  She had only been in the country a few months, and hadnt been told about the 'sour' part of the bread.  She thought I had given her a loaf of spoiled goods)

A moments of reflection will point out how gross cheese is if you really think about it, and yet I love it.

That said, this stuff seems like an offense against nature.

I came across it while writing an article about global Sushi, researching what 'traditional' sushi really is, and which purists acutally eat it.

Its funny because it echoes a story my Papa (maternal grandfather) told me about his experiences in Japan.  He was stationed in Okinawa, where he lived in a Japanese Brothel, and when I was a little boy he would often tell stories about life in Japan.  He had been terribly in love with one of the girls who worked in the brothel, "Suki" was her name and wanted to marry her. He even brought her to formal events on board the ship.  When the Captain found out about his marital plans, however, he put a solid stop to the relationship.

Anyways, he kept describing a dish made with rotten and raw fish that stank like high heaven, along with the suitably horrible kinds of details that make storytelling to little boys interesting and thought provoking, and I was so well armored with Papa's culinary recollections of Okinawa that I originally refused to even touch Sushi for years.  Finally, my little sister nichole managed to shame me into trying 'California Roll", and I was so delighted that I became a lifelong fan of the food.  In my present life, its a staple.

I had always assumed that the story was apocryphal on my Pops' part, but now I think he must have had a 50s era run in with this dish.

Shwaz

July 07, 2010, 12:18:19 PM
This sounds terrible... but my girlfriend gets queasy when I order sashimi so I can understand the difference in perspective.

I once attended a party help by my friends family that were from the Philippines. After a few drinks they talked me in to their tradition of chasing liquor with a small piece of cow intestine... it was beyond gross.

stephendare

July 07, 2010, 12:22:07 PM
This sounds terrible... but my girlfriend gets queasy when I order sashimi so I can understand the difference in perspective.

I once attended a party help by my friends family that were from the Philippines. After a few drinks they talked me in to their tradition of chasing liquor with a small piece of cow intestine... it was beyond gross.

seriously? what is this called?

Shwaz

July 07, 2010, 12:31:27 PM
This sounds terrible... but my girlfriend gets queasy when I order sashimi so I can understand the difference in perspective.

I once attended a party help by my friends family that were from the Philippines. After a few drinks they talked me in to their tradition of chasing liquor with a small piece of cow intestine... it was beyond gross.

seriously? what is this called?

Not sure. I know intestines are very popular in many Filipino dishes and I would guess they found pairing small pieces with whiskey to be tasty.

thekillingwax

July 07, 2010, 02:23:08 PM
Was it fried? If so, probably chicaron pituka. Like any intestinal dish, it's all about the prep. I had a bad batch of chitterlings once and I can't do them anymore but the pituka I had was pretty amazing. Any guts are going to have a stronger, more intense flavor just due to the nature of what they are but scrub those bastards out real well and it can be quite the treat.

As for nasty fish stuff- the nurses I work with brought in a bag of dried fish chips- it was literally chunks of air dried fish that were cut into pieces and it was without question the most foul thing I've ever tasted. I ran home in the morning and brushed and gargles and I could still taste that crap the next day. I had to bring two box fans into the office to air it out because the smell was so strong.

I think we're going to try that little korean place next to the asian market on Beach this week. I've tried kimchi before but I honestly didn't like the taste so I don't know if I'm going to like the food or not, but at least I'll say I've tried it.

Shwaz

July 07, 2010, 02:28:45 PM
Was it fried? If so, probably chicaron pituka. Like any intestinal dish, it's all about the prep. I had a bad batch of chitterlings once and I can't do them anymore but the pituka I had was pretty amazing. Any guts are going to have a stronger, more intense flavor just due to the nature of what they are but scrub those bastards out real well and it can be quite the treat.

I'm not sure how it was prepared. It was served in little plastic cups each with a small piece of a white ,spongy, oily intestine. It’s hard to describe the flavor especially since it followed a mouthful of Jim Beam.     

Captain Zissou

July 07, 2010, 02:30:49 PM
At Sake House I was once given salmon eyeballs as a thank you.  I was told it was a compliment, so I ate them.  Not Tasty.  

Shwaz

July 07, 2010, 02:32:24 PM
The only thing weirder than Asian food is Asian porn.

jacksonvilleconfidential

July 07, 2010, 02:34:00 PM
The only thing weirder than Asian food is Asian porn.

totally

BridgeTroll

July 07, 2010, 02:41:17 PM
Balut... another Philippine delicacy...



http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balut_(egg)

stephendare

July 07, 2010, 02:56:50 PM
Korean food has very wonderful things to choose from, with a few elements that seem to have been inspired for a Klingon Buffet.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Korean_dishes

Of course, almost everyone likes Teriyaki, and the Korean tradition of the sauces, in my opinion, are superior for american (and particularly southern) palates.  They have garlic, for one, and tend to be sweeter and a bit thicker.

Korean Sushi is very good, its called Kimbap, and the rice is sweeter and flavored with sesame oil, which gives it a richer taste.  It usually has cooked meat in every kimbap roll.  Good stuff.

Hila's favorite korean dish is Bi Bim Bap

which is pretty awesome.

I like Hwae Dup Bap, which is like a sushi version of Bi Bim Bap.

Kim Chee is an acquired taste, and its meant to be eaten in small amounts....like a pickle here on our plates.

Avoid the soups, if its your first time.

They have sweet pickled cucumber and seafood salads that are served as tiny appetizers....these are amazing to me.

Korean Barbeque is outstanding.

jacksonvilleconfidential

July 07, 2010, 02:58:38 PM
Bi Bim Bap is effing awesome. Koja Sushi at the Landing USED to have the best. Last time I went there the place had really gone down hill though.

jacksonvilleconfidential

July 07, 2010, 02:59:14 PM
Oh....

http://www.jacksonvilleconfidential.com/2008/04/koja-sushi-review.html

stephendare

July 08, 2010, 03:28:31 PM
Finishing up the follow up article on this.  Its about how Sushi has become an American/Globalized dish.

Some of the most wonderful experimental sushi dishes in the world have come out over the past five years.

Dog Walker

July 08, 2010, 03:49:51 PM
How can you not like kimchee?  It has garlic!  It has to be one of the healthiest foods around.  Keep tasting around until you find one you like.  It is said that there are as many different recipes for kimchee as there are mother's in Korea.  Everyone makes their own.

Driving through downtown Seoul, Korea you will see brown, glazed urns on every apartment balcony fermenting away.  If you ride the subway in Seoul in the morning, you had BETTER have eaten kimchee yourself because everyone else in the car has had some for breakfast.

Or you can go ask Russ at Pattya Thai for his mother's kimchee recipe.  She may be Thai, but she makes kimchee that includes ginger that is to die for.  Lek could even make cows' intestines taste wonderful.

jacksonvilleconfidential

July 08, 2010, 04:11:14 PM
That World Food Market place on Beach Boulevard near Art Museum Drive has some AWESOME KimChee.

http://www.jacksonvilleconfidential.com/2009/04/korean-barbecue-at-world-food-market.html

stephendare

January 30, 2013, 11:40:48 PM

JFman00

January 31, 2013, 12:59:49 AM
Great Portlandia skit on pickling/fermentation. I think by hipster standards it's already passé, but the NPR segment said it's super healthy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYey8ntlK_E
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