Sushi is a dish that’s practically synonymous with Japan. While sushi is one of the most commonly found Japanese foods internationally with many iterations the world over, in Japan, you'll also find unique local sushi variations that you aren’t likely to find anywhere else in the world. Keep reading to find out where you can have a taste of these delicious sushi bites.
Kakinohazushi in Nara prefecture
Also known as persimmon leaf sushi, Kakinohazushi is usually presented as a little oblong block of pressed sushi rice topped with marinated or pickled mackerel wrapped in a persimmon leaf. These days you can find variations with eel and salmon as well. It is said that Kakinohazushi was developed due to the need to preserve the fish over the long period needed to transport it from the coast to inland Nara in the Kansai region. While you don’t eat the persimmon leaves, they apparently have antibacterial properties which help to preserve the fish along with the fermentation process.
Where to eat Kakinohazushi in Nara:
- Kakinoha Sushi Tanaka is a famous brand that has branches all over Nara and other parts of Japan.
- Hiraso is a restaurant that has an impressive history dating to the Edo period of 1861.
- Otaki Chaya is located in the mountains of Yoshino and closed in winter.
Tekonezushi in Ise-Shima, Mie prefecture
Tekonezushi roughly translates to hand-mixed sushi in English, and unlike the neat bite-sized bits of pressed rice sushi we see on conveyor belts, Tekonezushi is a type of chirashi or ‘scattered’ sushi where slices of katsuo (skipjack tuna) are marinated in soy sauce and sugar and placed on top of a bowl of vinegar rice. Ise is said to be a favourite of the local fishermen who made this easy-to-prepare dish while working on the boats, and it is just one of the many unique seafood specialities you can find in this region. Don’t miss out on sampling Ise’s famous spiny lobsters and abalone as well!
Where to eat Tekonezushi in Ise
- Sushikyu is famous for Tekonezushi and located in a historic building along the Okage Yokocho street in front of the famous Ise temple.
- Ebimaru along the same Okage Yokocho stretch also serves up excellent seafood alongside Tekonezushi.
- Tekone Chaya serves up Tekonezushi alongside other regional specialities like Ise Udon and other seafood dishes.
Funazushi in Shiga prefecture
Located east of Kyoto, Shiga is home to the largest freshwater lake in Japan, the Lake Biwa. It is only from this lake that you can find nigorobuna, a round crucian carp that makes up the main ingredient in Funazushi.
Unlike the typical sushi you see prepared fresh today, Funazushi is a type of Narezushi or fermented sushi; this is an old way of preparing sushi which involves salting and pickling the fish without vinegar for anywhere from a few months to a few years. This gives the sushi a rather tart flavour and smell that can be quite polarizing, but the fermentation process apparently results in a lot of vitamins and minerals so you might want to consider giving this sushi a shot even if it's for nutritional value alone.
Where to eat Funazushi in Shiga
- Ganso Sakamoto is an award-winning family restaurant that has over 100 years of history and is a great place to try Funazushi in a cultural heritage building.
- Uoji’s main store has a great location right by Lake Biwa, but you can also pick up Funazushi from its branch stores near Makino Station and in Kyoto, Osaka and Nagoya.
- Hisagozushi specialises in freshwater sushi made from Lake Biwa’s fish near Omihachiman Station.
Masuzushi in Toyama prefecture
The one distinct feature that makes Masuzushi stand out is the round shape and the way this sushi is sliced and served like a pizza. A typical Masuzushi consists of masu (cured trout) atop a layer of vinegared rice that is all wrapped up in bamboo leaves and pressed together to remove excess air, all of which helps keep the sushi fresh for longer.
Masu is one of Toyama’s specialities, and Masuzushi was created as a way to transport the trout from Toyama to Edo (now known as Tokyo) where the Shogun resided. While travel has sped up tremendously today, Masuzushi remains a staple Ekiben or train bento set that you will find in Toyama’s trains because it’s easy to pack and eat on the go.
Where to eat Masuzushi in Toyama
Masuzushi is widely found all over Toyama. Follow local tradition and make sure to pick one up if you are taking the train, or look out for stores at any of the rest stops in the Toyama region. If you like pressed sushi, make sure to check out Iwakunizushi, a speciality of Iwakuni that consists of many layers of rice and toppings stacked and compressed into a cube before being diced up into bite-sized pieces.
(Cover photo from: Photo: © JNTO)