Sushi has been part of our regular diet in the west for the last few decades. You can find this Japanese dish across the entire planet. While we are just dipping our feet into the potential of sushi, it is important to know that there are a variety of sushi types ranging in preparation style, ingredients, and presentation. Sushi has a history tracing back over a thousand years, starting with what is today known as Narezushi, the original forefather of sushi.
What is Narezushi?
Narezushi is the first ever form of sushi, that came around out of necessity was more a form of storing fish meat rather than a dish. People that lived in the South-Southwest regions of Japan who faced the harsh winters with monsoons, had to find a way to preserve the fish caught during the spring. They would catch, scale, and gut the fish and then use salt and rice to ferment the fish for few months to years, and then discard the rice and consume the fish.
This style of preserving fish for the winter soon became popular and its pungent, to say the least, smell and delicious taste became preferred across Japan. We should make one thing clear, Narezushi is worlds away from the California Rolls and Maki Rolls that are preferred around the planet. Unlike most forms of modern style of sushi, Narezushi was served as a whole fish and it was served without rice, which by todays definition is not a sushi at all.
Vinegar rice was still involved in the process of fermenting and storing the fish, however was not eaten. After the fish were taken out of the rice, the rice would be thrown away. As people started consuming fish that was only half fermented, the process of fermentation was reduced. The reduction in the time the fish spent in the rice, lead to the rice not tasting as bad. This is when people started consuming the fish and the rice together, leading to our modern form of sushi today.
History of Narezushi
The practice of fermenting fish in rice was a common in much of Southeast Asia in the 2nd century. This style of preserving and preparing fish arrived in Japan in the 8th century, however the first written mention of the Narezushi was not until the 10th century. The exact history of the dish is not exactly clear. There are few different versions of the history, but one thing is for sure, this dish has been passed down from generation to generation in Japanese families for centuries.
Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan, was and is the home of the narezushi in Japan. This is where the fish was most consumed. Families near the lake fished before the winter and then prepare the fish for fermentation in barrels. Narezushi can be made with couple types of fish like ayu, yellowtail and mackerel. However, in Lake Biwa area the most common narezushi is the funazushi, made from nigorobuna fish.
Nowadays, Narezushi or Funazushi is not easily found dishes. In Japan and especially Lake Biwa region, this dish is still eaten and served. However, today this dish is more of a delicacy and a luxury. The process of fermenting which was a necessity in the past is now a luxury. Narezushi is still one of the most devisive foods in Japan, either you love its taste and maybe even smell, or you cannot stand the smell and will not dare taste it. If you do get the chance, definitely go for it and enjoy. Maybe hold your breath.