Before sushi, there was narezushi. The progenitor of modern-day sushi was created using yellowtail, mackerel, or ayu, but Shiga Prefecture’s icon of narezushi is a unique form of its sort: funazushi. Its name is derived from the type of fish utilized, which is funa (carp), Japan’s king of freshwater fish.

The esteemed nigorobuna (crucian carp) is the original carp used in making funazushi. Its species, brimming with wild and deep flavor, can only be found in Lake Biwa, the country’s largest lagoon. Due to the scarcity of nigorobuna, only five stores near the lake specialize in high-quality funazushi. Out of all, a shop owned by Kitamura Mariko and her husband Atsushi located in Takashima sells the most authentic funazushi. Kitamura’s family has been passing down a 400-year-old recipe for 18 generations that entails a lengthy fermentation period and the replacement of rice once during the procedure. According to Kitamura, their funazushi’s taste is reminiscent of blue cheese with its lacto-fermented, sour, salty, and umami-rich flavor. Some people may adore it, while others may not due to its foul odor.

Hayazushi (quick sushi) is the modern-day form of narezushi, which was invented in the Edo era as its “fast-food” variant. Hayazushi employs fermented rice vinegar and soy sauce as seasonings to mimic the sour, salty, and rich flavor of funazushi. As funazushi becomes more popular, chefs throughout Japan are aging their sushi for extended periods of time to achieve the creamy texture and delicious richness of the fish. In these modern times, funazushi is unquestionably a must-try ancient sushi.