Sushi's origin story
Narezushi: Japan's most primitive form of sushi.
From Biwako Visitors Bureau
Narezushi is fermented fish pickled with rice -- a practice common in much of Southeast Asia around the 2nd century CE.
It's thought to have migrated to Japan around the 8th century, but written documentation of "narezushi" didn't appear until the 10th century.
"It's not totally clear when exactly narezushi began, but many people here consider this a family-style fish," says chef Ohashi. "Most families had their own recipes, passed down from generation to generation."
“It's like blue cheese -- some people like the taste, but it has a very strong smell”
Around Lake Biwa -- the largest lake in Japan, just north of Kyoto -- narezushi was a household staple and an important source of protein.
In a time before refrigerators, families relied on rice and salt to ferment and preserve the fish -- usually stored layered in barrels -- in the hope of saving it for as long as possible.
Narezushi can be made with yellowtail, mackerel or ayu, but the most common type in the Lake Biwa area is funazushi, made from nigorobuna fish.
Most families have their own distinct recipe, but all share a similar methodology.
First, the fish is scaled, gutted and preserved in salt for a few months. Then, it's combined with rice and left to ferment.
As long as there's a dark storage space at room temperature, the fish can be left for a few months, years or even decades.
For many centuries, people ate only the fish and threw the fermented "stinky rice" out.
But around the 1500s, people began consuming half-fermented fish and rice together -- thus paving the way for modern sushi.
“The technique is a thing to be proud of -- we are proud of making this sushi for 1,000 years. When you eat funazushi, you can feel the history”