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Embracing Narezushi: Tracing the Taste of Ancient Sushi in Japan from Fermented Fish to Modern Delicacies

18/06/2023 3:00 PM

Diving into the history of sushi in Japan takes us back to the 10th century, where we find the earliest form of sushi – Narezushi, a type of sushi you might be surprised to discover. This ancient sushi in Japan was a far cry from the fresh, raw fish delicacies we associate with sushi today.
Narezushi in Japan



Narezushi, Japan's original sushi, was an acquired taste that was once a household staple, offering a vital source of protein. The whole fish is scaled, covered with salt, and left to ferment on a bed of rice, resulting in an aroma and mouth-puckeringly sour taste. It’s not clear when exactly Narezushi began its journey, but it is believed to have migrated to Japan around the 8th century.

Despite its distinctive strong taste, people began consuming half-fermented fish and rice together, paving the way for modern sushi. However, the fish itself, used to make Narezushi, is scarce nowadays and is usually sold as one whole fish. A good, old Narezushi can cost hundreds of US dollars, given the history and effort that goes into making this sushi. In fact, sushi chefs in Japan are often proud of making this sushi version, as it makes people feel the history of Japanese cuisine.

This kind of sushi has come a long way, and the sushi culture has evolved significantly. Modern sushi we eat today, popularized in the capital of Japan, was served as a means of enjoying fresh fish with a hint of fermented rice. But for those adventurous palates who wish to experience the taste of ancient sushi and relish in its distinctive, sour taste, Narezushi is one culinary secret to uncover. It's indeed an acquired taste that is not a thing for everyone but certainly is a testament to the rich, diverse history of sushi in Japan.

Savoring Narezushi - Japan's Culinary Secret

Embark on a journey through time as we unravel the mystery behind narezushi, Japan's original sushi and hidden culinary gem. Steeped in history and crafted with unparalleled expertise, narezushi offers a unique flavor profile that may be an acquired taste—but one well worth acquiring.

As foreign travelers navigate the vibrant culinary landscape of Japan, join us in discovering the art of savoring narezushi and exploring the best places to experience this ancient delight.

Key Takeaways

Narezushi is Japan's original form of sushi, made by fermenting fish with salt and raw rice for several months to years.

It has a unique and intense flavor profile that may be an acquired taste but is worth trying for its historical significance.

To fully appreciate narezushi, respect the eating etiquette, take small bites, and pair it with complementary foods like green tea or pickled vegetables.

Some of the best places to try narezushi in Japan include Tokyo's Yoshino Sushi, Kyoto's Izuu restaurant, Osaka's Takakuraya for their mackerel narezushi set meal and Hokkaido’s Hanamaru which features lesser-known varieties of nare-zushi throughout the year.

The Craftsmanship behind Narezushi: Unveiling the Fermented Fish Phenomenon in Japan's Sushi History

Narezushi is an art steeped in tradition, made by fermenting fish with salt and raw rice for several months to years, enhancing its unique flavor profile.

Unraveling The Mystery: What Is Narezushi?


Stepping back in time to Japan's ancient culinary history, narezushi holds its place as the original type of sushi. This age-old delicacy, born before refrigeration existed, served as a technique for preserving fish by fermenting it with salt and raw rice.

The making of narezushi typically involves marinating fish such as mackerel in salt and rice, which is then fermented by lactic acid bacteria over several months or even years.

This meticulous fermentation process imbues the dish with its distinctive strong taste that may not initially appeal to everyone but has been cherished throughout Japanese history.

The Rich History Of Narezushi: From Preserved Food To Gourmet Delight

Delving into the rich history of narezushi, we find its origins in Southeast Asia along with the practice of preserving fish using fermented rice.

It was around the 8th century when this technique, known as "funa-zushi," made its way to Japan.

Fast forward through the centuries, and narezushi evolved from being a practical food solution to a gourmet indulgence enjoyed by many. This transformation occurred during the Edo period (1603-1868), where sushi chefs began incorporating vinegar and sugar into the rice rather than relying solely on natural fermentation.

Despite losing ground to contemporary sushi iterations such as nigiri and maki rolls in today's culinary scene, narezushi still has its dedicated fans who savor it for its bold flavors and historical significance.

Understanding The Making Of Narezushi: An Art Steeped In Tradition

Craftsmanship behind Narezushi

The making of narezushi is a time-honored tradition that showcases the exceptional craftsmanship and attention to detail prevalent in Japanese culinary arts.

It begins with selecting the freshest fish, typically mackerel, which is then expertly gutted and deboned.

Next comes the fermentation process - an art form in itself. The fish is thoroughly coated with salt and left to cure for several weeks before being combined with rice.

This mixture is then tightly packed into wooden barrels or bamboo containers, allowing lactic acid bacteria to thrive as they ferment the concoction over time.

During this period, skilled artisans monitor each batch's progress closely; adjusting factors such as temperature and humidity while occasionally turning or stirring its contents for uniform flavor development.

As you travel throughout Japan seeking out authentic narezushi experiences (important fact number 9), keep an eye out for establishments known not just for their superb offerings but also their commitment to preserving this remarkable craft steeped in history and tradition (important facts number 1 & 10).

The Unique Flavor Profile Of Narezushi: An Acquired Taste Worth Acquiring

Art of Narezushi

Narezushi has a distinct flavor that is unlike any other sushi you may have tried. It has a strong umami taste, which is due to the fermentation process it undergoes.

This creates a unique smooth and creamy texture that can only be found in narezushi. The flavors are intense and complex but definitely an acquired taste worth acquiring.

It’s important to note that not everyone will enjoy the flavor of narezushi at first try.

Experiencing Narezushi: A Glimpse into the Rich History of Sushi in Japan

Learn the do's and don'ts of enjoying narezushi, discover how to appreciate its unique flavors, respect the eating etiquette, and enhance your experience with perfect pairings.

A Guide To Enjoying Narezushi: The Do's And Don'ts

Narezushi is a unique culinary experience that foreign travelers in Japan should not miss. Here are some tips on how to enjoy it:


Take small bites to fully appreciate the complex flavor.

Eat it without soy sauce or wasabi to fully taste the natural flavors.

Respect the ritual by using chopsticks and not your hands.

Try different types of narezushi, as each place has its own variations.

Pair it with sake or green tea for a more authentic experience.


Overpower the flavor by adding too much soy sauce or wasabi.

Chew too loudly or talk while eating, as this can be considered impolite in Japanese culture.

Waste any part of the fish, including bones and skin, as these are often intentionally included for texture and flavor.

Expect it to taste like modern sushi; narezushi has a distinctive taste that may take some getting used to.

Remember, narezushi is an acquired taste and not everyone may enjoy it. However, with an open mind and willingness to try new things, you might discover a new culinary favorite during your travels in Japan.

Savoring Narezushi: How To Appreciate Its Complex Flavors

Narezushi's unique flavors can be an acquired taste, but it is worth taking the time to appreciate its complexity. To truly savor this traditional Japanese delicacy, start with small bites to allow your palate to adjust to the strong and pungent flavors.

Then take note of the different layers and textures in each bite - from the firmness of the fish to the tanginess of the rice fermentation.

It's important to respect this culinary art form by following proper etiquette when eating narezushi. Use chopsticks instead of a fork and avoid mixing wasabi into soy sauce as that would overpower its delicate flavor.

Instead, use soy sauce sparingly or not at all since narezushi already has a defined taste profile.

Eating Etiquette: Respect The Ritual

When enjoying narezushi in Japan, it is important to be mindful of the eating etiquette and respect the ritual. One of the most important aspects of enjoying narezushi is to use chopsticks instead of your hands.

Another thing to keep in mind when savoring narezushi is not to mix wasabi with soy sauce. Unlike traditional sushi, which combines a small amount of wasabi with soy sauce, narezushi should be enjoyed without any additional condiments.

Finally, take the time to appreciate each bite and savor the complex flavors that come from centuries-old traditions.

By following these simple guidelines, foreign travelers can fully immerse themselves in the rich history and cultural significance of this ancient culinary secret.

The Perfect Pairings: Enhancing Your Narezushi Experience

To truly appreciate the complex flavors of narezushi, it's essential to pair it with the right accompaniments. Here are some tips to enhance your narezushi experience:

Green Tea: The bitterness of green tea complements the strong flavor of narezushi, making it the perfect beverage to pair with this dish.

Sake: A good sake can help cleanse your palate and bring out the subtle flavors of narezushi. Look for a dry sake that won't overpower the fish.

Pickled Vegetables: Pickled vegetables such as daikon radish or cucumber can help balance out the strong umami taste of narezushi.

Soy Sauce: While traditionally not paired with narezushi, a small amount of soy sauce can help cut through the richness of the fish.

Wasabi: A small amount of wasabi can add some heat and complexity to each bite of narezushi.

By pairing narezushi with these complementary foods and beverages, you'll be able to fully appreciate its unique flavor profile and experience a true culinary adventure during your time in Japan.

Uncovering Narezushi: A Look at How Traditional Sushi Made in Japan

Discover the best places to try narezushi on a culinary journey through Japan, from Tokyo where tradition meets modernity, to Kyoto for a taste of the imperial past, Osaka where food is a love language and Hokkaido for an unforgettable island experience.

Journey Through Japan: The Best Places To Try Narezushi

If you're looking to try narezushi during your travels in Japan, there are a few places where you'll find the best of this culinary delight. Here are some top places to visit:

Yoshino Sushi - Tokyo: This sushi restaurant is known for its traditional narezushi, which is served with pickled vegetables and sake.

Izuu - Kyoto: This century-old restaurant is famous for serving narezushi made with red snapper. The dish comes with a side of miso soup and tea.

Matsushima - Osaka: This small shop specializes in narezushi and has been serving the delicacy for over 200 years.

Kitahara Shoten - Hokkaido: This shop serves narezushi made with salmon, caught fresh from nearby rivers.

Kofuku Sushi - Tokyo: A modern twist on traditional narezushi, this restaurant offers a fusion-style dish with rice crackers and wasabi soy sauce.

Remember to keep an open mind when trying narezushi, as the flavor can be quite strong and requires an acquired taste. But it's worth it to experience this ancient culinary secret during your travels in Japan.

Narezushi In Tokyo: Where Tradition Meets Modernity

No trip to Tokyo would be complete without experiencing the city's diverse culinary offerings, and narezushi should definitely be on your must-try list. Despite being an ancient variation of sushi, there are a handful of restaurants in Tokyo that still specialize in this fermented delicacy.

One such place is Sushidokoro Shimizu, a traditional sushi restaurant that has been serving up narezushi for over 100 years.

What makes narezushi in Tokyo unique is the blend of tradition and innovation you'll find at these establishments. While they stay true to the centuries-old process of fermenting fish with rice, chefs also experiment with new flavors and techniques to keep their dishes fresh and exciting.

Exploring Narezushi In Kyoto: A Taste Of The Imperial Past

Kyoto is home to some of the most authentic and historic narezushi establishments in Japan. The imperial city has a rich culinary history, and narezushi was once considered a staple dish in the area.

To get a taste of Kyoto’s imperial past, head over to Funazushi-ya, which has been serving up mouth-watering narezushi for over 200 years.

Located near the Kamogawa River, this renowned establishment uses traditional methods to prepare its signature dish – marinating fish with salt and rice before fermenting it for several months.

In addition to its delectable food offerings, Funazushi-ya also offers visitors an immersive dining experience that transports them back in time.

Discovering Narezushi In Osaka: Where Food Is A Love Language

Osaka is a city that takes its food seriously, and narezushi is no exception. There are several outstanding restaurants and specialty shops in Osaka where you can experience the rich, unique flavors of this ancient dish.

Another must-visit spot in Osaka is the Jyutan sushi shop, where you can taste their award-winning narezushi made from locally sourced mackerel.

No visit to Osaka would be complete without stopping by Naniwa Issui Honten, a renowned seafood restaurant known for its scrumptious seafood dishes including their signature dish - narezushi made with fresh mackerel.

If you're visiting Japan, make sure to add these outstanding spots in Osaka onto your itinerary!

Narezushi In Hokkaido: An Unforgettable Island Experience

Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, is a must-visit destination for foodies looking to try narezushi. This region boasts some of the best and most authentic narezushi in the country due to its proximity to the sea and fertile land.

Hokkaido's Tsukiji Noren shops are famous for their traditional narezushi that has been fermented for up to two years! The saltwater-dwelling salmon used in Hokkaido-style narezushi gives it an incredibly robust flavor with notes that range from funky umami to tangy sourness.

Pairing it with local sake or shochu can also elevate your dining experience.

Foreign travelers navigating narezushi can benefit from knowing essential Japanese phrases and spotting it on menus with the help of guidebooks or local recommendations.

Tips And Tricks For The Foreign Traveler

As a foreign traveler in Japan, trying narezushi can be an exciting culinary adventure. Here are some tips and tricks to make the most of your narezushi experience:

Research before you go: Not all sushi restaurants serve narezushi, so do your research beforehand to find the best places to try it.

Ask for recommendations: If you're unsure where to start, ask locals or hotel staff for recommendations on where to find good narezushi.

Be willing to try something new: Narezushi has a strong and unique flavor that may take some getting used to, but it's worth trying for the experience.

Respect the ritual: When eating narezushi, follow Japanese dining etiquette by using chopsticks and dipping only a small amount of soy sauce on the fish side, not the rice.

Don't be afraid to ask questions: If you have any questions about the dish or how it's made, don't hesitate to ask your server or chef for more information.

Start with small portions: Narezushi can be quite filling due to its strong flavor, so start with smaller portions before ordering more.

Watch out for bones: Some types of fish used in narezushi may still have bones left in them, so take care when eating and remove any bones as necessary.

Try pairings with sake or beer: Narezushi is often served with sake or beer as a pairing that complements its strong flavors.

By following these tips, foreign travelers in Japan can fully appreciate and savor the unique taste of narezushi while also respecting Japanese dining culture.

If you're a foreign traveler in Japan, navigating menus can be intimidating - especially when trying to spot narezushi. Since this unique type of sushi is not as commonly consumed as other varieties, it may not always be front and center on the menu.

However, there are some clues that can help you identify it. Look for dishes labeled "nare-zushi" or "funazushi," which are traditional names for this fermented delicacy.

You may also see it listed under the appetizer section rather than with the other types of sushi.

Remember that narezushi is quite different from modern sushi - it's more pungent and has a distinct texture thanks to its fermentation process using raw rice and salt.

Words To Know: Essential Japanese Phrases For Narezushi Enthusiasts

As a foreign traveler in Japan, it can be intimidating to navigate the Japanese menus and cultural customs. If you're interested in trying narezushi, here are some essential Japanese phrases to know:

Narezushi - pronounced "nah-reh-zoo-shee," this is the name for the fermented fish dish.

Oishii - pronounced "oh-ee-shee," this means delicious and is a common word used to describe food.

Itadakimasu - pronounced "ee-tah-dah-kee-mahs," this is a formal phrase used before eating to express gratitude for the meal.

Gochisousama deshita - pronounced "goh-chee-soh-sah-mah deh-shit-tah," this is another formal phrase used after the meal to thank the host or restaurant staff for their hospitality.

Osusume wa nanidesu ka? - pronounced "oh-soo-soo-meh wah nah-nee-dehs kah," this means "what do you recommend?" and can be useful when ordering at a restaurant.

Kudasai - pronounced "koo-dah-sigh," this means please and can be added onto the end of your order when asking for something specific.

Wakarimasen - pronounced "wah-kah-ree-mah-sen," this means I don't understand and can be useful if you need clarification on something related to narezushi or any other aspect of Japanese cuisine.

By knowing these simple phrases, you'll be well on your way to enjoying the unique and flavorful experience that narezushi has to offer. Remember, embracing the culture and food customs of Japan is all part of the adventure!

Embracing The Experience: How To Make The Most Of Your Narezushi Adventure

To make the most of your narezushi adventure, it's important to keep a few things in mind. First and foremost, it's essential to approach this culinary experience with an open mind and willingness to try something new.

Narezushi has a unique flavor that may take some getting used to for those unfamiliar with fermented foods.

When enjoying narezushi, always be respectful of the ritual behind the dish. This means following proper eating etiquette such as using chopsticks and not dipping the sushi into soy sauce or wasabi unless specifically instructed by your server.

Lastly, do not miss out on visiting traditional sushi restaurants or specialty shops known for their expertise in narezushi preparation and presentation.

Try different types of fish fermentations like mackerel pike which is considered local food in Kyoto while Tottori prefecture prefers Nodoguro (rosy seabass) fermentation along with complementing sakes from each area.

Conclusion: The Legacy of Narezushi

The journey from Narezushi to modern sushi is a tale of culinary evolution. This process, once a method of preserving fish using rice and salt, has paved the way for a global culinary phenomenon.

The strong aroma and sour taste of Narezushi may not appeal to everyone. It's indeed an acquired taste, much like other traditional fermented foods. Yet for culinary adventurers, tasting Narezushi is a journey back to the 8th century, when sushi made its debut in Japan.

From whole fish pickled with rice to today's fresh sushi, the evolution of sushi in Japan is a captivating tale. Despite the rarity of Narezushi today, it remains an enduring symbol of Japan's ancient culinary past. For those brave and curious enough, it offers a unique way to experience the rich history of sushi.

In the end, whether it's tasting Narezushi or appreciating the sushi culture of modern Japan, sushi has undeniably left a lasting impact on Japanese cuisine. It's a journey worth exploring for every sushi enthusiast.

Capturing The Magic: Narezushi As A Culinary Journey Through Time

Narezushi is not just food, it's a journey through time. This ancient method of preserving fish has been practiced in Japan for centuries and remains an integral part of Japanese culinary history.

While many sushi restaurants focus on the more popular forms of modern sushi, there are still a few specialty shops where you can experience traditional narezushi.

For those willing to take the plunge into this acquired taste, narezushi promises an unforgettable culinary adventure steeped in tradition.

The Enduring Appeal Of Narezushi: Why It’s Worth Trying

Narezushi may not be as widely known or appreciated as other types of sushi in Japan, but it's a culinary gem that is definitely worth trying for any food enthusiast visiting Japan.

This ancient form of preserving fish using salt and rice has a unique flavor profile that is both strong and complex, making it an acquired taste for many.

The fermentation process can take months to years, which further enhances the flavors and textures of the fish.

While narezushi may not be found on every menu in Japan, there are still places where you can experience this traditional delicacy at its finest. Savoring narezushi offers foreign travelers a chance to experience an important aspect of Japanese culinary heritage and tradition.


Q: What is Narezushi and how is it different from regular sushi?

A: Narezushi is a traditional fermented sushi dish that dates back to Japan’s Edo period. It differs from regular sushi in that the fish used in narezushi is aged for several months, giving it a distinct sour taste and stronger aroma.

Q: Where are some of the best places to experience Narezushi in Japan?

A: Some of the best places to experience Narezushi include Tokyo’s Tsukiji Fish Market, Kyoto's Nishiki Market, and Osaka's Kuromon Ichiba market. There are also many small restaurants throughout Japan that specialize in this unique culinary delight.

Q: Is Narezushi safe to eat?

A: Because it is fermented, there is potential for harmful bacteria to grow on the fish used in narezushi if proper precautions aren’t taken during preparation. However, most reputable restaurants take care to ensure their products are safe for consumption by following strict food safety protocols.

Q: Can I make Narezushi at home?

A: While making narezushi at home is possible with the right equipment and ingredients, it can be difficult and time-consuming due to the fermentation process involved. It may be easier (and safer) to simply seek out a good restaurant where you can try this delicious dish prepared by experts.

Q: What is Narezushi?

A: Narezushi is the earliest form of sushi where fish is pickled with rice which is left to ferment for months, sometimes years.

Q: What makes Narezushi different from other forms of sushi?

A: Narezushi is distinct from other types of sushi because it uses a whole fish instead of sliced raw fish, and the fish is left to ferment with rice, creating a unique taste.

Q: Where did Narezushi originate from?

A: Narezushi originated from Lake Biwa in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, back to the 10th century and migrated to Japan around the 8th century.

Q: What is funazushi?

A: Funazushi is a kind of Narezushi that uses a type of fish called nigorobuna, which is only found in Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan.

Q: Was Narezushi a household staple in ancient Japan?

A: Yes, Narezushi was a household staple in ancient Japan. People used it as a way to ferment and preserve the fish, allowing it to last for long periods of time.

Q: How is Narezushi made?

A: To make Narezushi, the fish is first cleaned and salted. It is then layered on a bed of rice and left to ferment for several months. The rice is later removed, leaving the half-fermented fish, which is then ready to be consumed.

Q: What is the taste of Narezushi?

A: The taste of Narezushi is not a thing that can be easily described as it may differ from person to person. However, the fermented fish mixing with the rice creates a unique and complex flavor that might not be suitable for everyone.

Q: Was half-fermented fish and rice together a way for modern sushi?

A: Yes, consuming half-fermented fish and rice together was a way to develop the modern sushi that we know today. People started to consume fresh fish with rice instead of the fermented fish.

Q: What role did lake Biwa play in the history of Narezushi?

A:Lake Biwa was integral to the development of Narezushi. It was the only place where nigorobuna fish could be found, and the fermentation process used the lake's unique microorganisms to develop the distinctive flavor.

Q: Is Narezushi still consumed today?

A: Yes, Narezushi is still consumed today in parts of Japan, but it is considered more of a delicacy than a staple food.