Narezushi existed before the sushi we know today. But a unique type of its kind has become Shiga Prefecture’s symbol of narezushi. Known as funazushi, its name comes from the type of fish used: funa (carp), the king of freshwater fish in Japan.

Its prized nigorobuna (crucian carp) is the original type of carp to make funazushi, and its species can only be found in the country’s largest lagoon, Lake Biwa. Today, only five shops around the lake specialize in high-quality funazushi due to nigorobuna’s rarity. Out of all, a shop owned by Kitamura Mariko and her husband Atsushi in Takashima sells the most authentic funazushi. For the past 18 generations, Kitamura has preserved a 400-year-old recipe that includes long fermentation and the changing of rice once during the process. Kitamura says their funazushi tastes like blue cheese with its lacto-fermented, sour, salty, and umami-rich flavor. Some may love it, but others may not because of its apparent stench.

Hayazushi (fast sushi), the modern-day sushi, was created in the Edo period as the “fast-food” version of narezushi. To recreate funazushi’s sour and salty taste, hayazushi uses fermented rice vinegar and soy sauce as seasonings. As funazushi is returning to the market, many chefs across Japan are now aging their sushi for longer durations to give the fish savory richness. Funazushi is definitely a must-try ancient sushi in these modern times.