The first time I saw funazushi, it was when Karl Pilkington tried it. He is known to be an average British person and he did not like it, and looking at it, I thought, it is possible that it does not taste good. Then, I saw this great and instructive video about funazushi. The host still seemed to say that it tasted strong and very sour, and that maybe you needed sake with it. I thought that perhaps it is similar to Hongeo-hoe (홍어회). I was a little bit afraid, especially because funazushi is not really available in the big cities, and you would think that if it was good, it would be more well-known and available.
I took the JR train from Kyoto station and door to door, less than 40 minutes later, I was at Shiseian, the funazushi shop in Otsu that was featured in the "Only in Japan" video. It was faster than going to many temples within Kyoto. They also have a small restaurant (called Koshu) just next door where you can sit down and order it with sake with an English menu. A dish of funazushi, white crucian carp caught in Lake Biwa (Biwa-ko) fermented for one year in rice, only costs 1,080 JPY.
So how was it? Funazushi was totally delicious. Not just delicious, but even addictive! Was it strong? Not at all. If you bring it under your nose and try to discern its smell, it reminds of the smell of blue cheese. As for the taste and texture, it is delicious, rich, and satisfying, but not stronger than blue cheese.
Although the high-end sushi and kaiseki restaurants of today are probably the best food that ever existed on earth, given the access to fresh produce from everywhere in Japan that was not previously possible, eating funazushi nevertheless made me think that perhaps 1,200 years ago, people were eating better food than we are today on a daily basis.
Actually, funazushi is really addictive. I immediately ordered another plate and I purchased 3 packages to go. Even the rice use to make the funazushi is delicious, more salty and tastes more like cheese than the fish, whose taste is more subtle. The yellow eggs inside are the most valuable part because they are from the females, the slices with the eggs are the most delicious. They are caught in early spring in lake Biwa.
Shiseian is not the only place to try funazushi in Otsu. Perhaps the most famous restaurant that serves it is Tokuyamazushi (I have not been because it is quite difficult to make a reservation and it is more difficult to access). I would recommend going to see Kanta Inoe-san, the 24 year-old that makes the funazushi at Shiseian. They were extremely happy and welcoming, he and his mother sat with me while I had their wonderful funazushi and delicious Shiga nihonshu. We spoke through Google Translate. I asked him what his dream is: "To share funazushi with the world".
Directions: https://goo.gl/maps/sgDqyGiuiSF2 (approx. 30 minutes from Kyoto station)
Address: 520-0861 Ishiyamadera 3-2-7 Otsu city Shiga pref. (if you follow the link above from Google maps it is very easy to find)
Phone: +81 77 537 0127
Shiseian (志じみめし 湖舟)
Open from 10am to 4pm
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