Earlier this year I had the great pleasure of introducing Fermentation Guru Sandor Katz to just a small snippet of some of Kyoto’s wonders. He was on a mission to try some Funazushi (fermented sushi) so we tracked some down at a shop specialising in foods from neighbouring Shiga prefecture. The Funa part of Funazushi is the name of the fish from Lake Biwa where funazushi originated but it is sometimes made with other fish types too.
I’ve experienced Funazushi only a handful of times because, to be honest, it can be extremely rich and strong – like the funkiest of blue cheese – you can read my account of my first experience HERE. But this one was quite delicate in comparison – far more zesty, almost lemony in flavour. You can see, in one of the images above, a plate with orange coloured fish slices – the funa commonly contain roe, and in front of the slices is the soft, fermented sushi rice – they are fermented together but have been served separately on the plate.
Due to the nature of fermentation the flavours can naturally take on a life of their own but this is the first time I’ve tasted such a light, piquant version and it really was quite pleasant – especially when washed down with some local sake! I imagine that this has not been fermented for as long as the more pungent types which can take several years to ‘ripen’. Funazushi is one of the earliest forms of sushi and quite different to the sushi most people know of today.
While we were there we also sampled some Hishio, an ancestor of both shoyu or soy sauce and miso . Hishio looks and tastes similar to Moromi – a soy bean mash left over in the soy making process. Deliciously savoury , salty and nutty as you would imagine and it came in several different versions – one with ginger and one aged – all perfect with some cool, crisp cucumber sticks. And then we might have tried some more sake… and wandered the streets of Kyoto. We didn’t see any pink elephants but we did find a monkey playing drums. Oh and we took Sandor to a fabulous shop specialising in Plum products where we tried more pickles, juice, sweets and and plum pastes and naturally had to make some small purchases…
The following day we visited a rather elegant and high-tech Sake Kura on the outskirts of Kyoto and naturally drank some more sake before heading to lunch in the wonderful Touzan restaurant at my favourite Kyoto hotel – the Hyatt Regency with chef Etienne. Grilled gomadofu or sesame tofu, a variety of osechi ryori specialties, sashimi, ozoni soup, handmade tofu and a few other delicious morsels! And.. more sake? Perhaps.
Afterwards we toured the kitchen where Sandor got up close and personal with the house-made miso !
The following morning we spent a few hours with one heck of an informative local learning so very much about fermentation styles and tasting a whole bunch of wild and wonderful delicacies.
Amongst other things we tried various species of tsukemono (pickles) including sugukizuke – a type of Kyoto turnip and long greens and a pickle that uses no fermenting agents at all apart from the funky juice of an already, naturally decomposed vegetable of the same type. We tasted a highly, er, unusual shall we say rice milk yoghurt drink made with the liquid run off collected during the process of funazushi making, heshiko (an intensely flavoured fermented fish and something I’m only just beginning to appreciate after 30 odd years eating my way around Japan – I’ve had some doozies…) , some sweet Tambaguro – large black beans – sweetened for osechi ryori (New Year’s foods and supposedly good for sore throats by the way), a type of homemade mirin known as Shio-mirin which contains a certain amount of salt, gyoshyo (a type of fish sauce – this one made with sardines or iwashi) and ume-shu (plum wine) – at a couple of different ages… yep life’s tough like that sometimes. Kid in a strange candy shop!
Then we bundled Sandor off to his next adventure – he’s eternally busy touring the world these days but I’m pretty sure he’ll be returning to Kyoto sometime soon.
What an experience for all of us. That’s what I love so much about Japan – I continue to learn more every day – it is the gift that keeps on giving. And how wonderful to be able to share it with others who are so very interested and intrigued by foreign culture generally and food culture of course .. yep, there’s an ongoing culture theme happening right here… culture and fermentation that is …forgive me.
Thanks for allowing us to share some Kyoto with you Mr Katz!
If the above floats your boat to you might like to consider joining us on Zenbu Tours Cuisine and Culture tour in 2018? Here’s the schedule for all three tours but ZENBU SETSUBUN is the only one where we’ll be spending time with this pretty fabulous lady above! And so much more of course… each tour is unique.
If you’d like to read some testimonials from previous tours – then please take a look HERE!
We also run private tours and now offer highly detailed, personalised DIY itineraries too!
And here’s part of our lovely group from January this year with Gerard (top left)… we were lucky to have such a spectacular dump of snow in Kyoto town!