Is decayed fish still as pungent when it’s turned into sweet ice cream? 

Japan is home to all kinds of sushi, with a wide variety of fresh, raw fish starring as the key ingredient. However, one type of sushi prides itself on not being fresh at all — in fact, its claim to fame is its pungent taste and aroma, as the fish is eaten years after being caught. 

This very special type of sushi is called funazushi, and it’s a specialty of Shiga Prefecture. While it sounds disgusting — and many say it is — funazushi is actually made the same way sushi was first made centuries ago, back before commercial fishing and refrigeration existed.

The fish is heavily fermented, first covered in salt and left to age in wooden barrels for a year before being taken out and mixed with rice for two to three years. During this time, the fish begins to decay and soften, creating a strong, tangy flavour akin to a stinky cheese…or ammonia, depending on how you feel about it.

For some it’s a luxurious treat and for others it’s the stuff of nightmares, but love it or hate it, funazushi — often dubbed the “stinkiest sushi in the world” — is now starring as an ice cream flavour that can be purchased right in the middle of Tokyo.

▼ The rare ice cream is being sold at Koko Shiga, an antenna shop in Nihonbashi that sells specialty goods from Shiga Prefecture.

We were keen to find out what an old, stinky fish ice cream would taste like, so we headed out to the store to purchase one. When we arrived, we skimmed through the menu until we found the “Koko Shiga Soft Cream” for 400 yen (US$3.79), with the following flavour options: Matcha / Hojicha / Funazushi / Plain.

All the ice creams come with a monaka wafer, but when we received our order, we discovered that the wafer came in the shape of a fish. Apparently this wafer — which comes atop all their soft-serve ice creams, regardless of flavour — is shaped like an ayu (sweetfish), which is as close as they could get to a wafer that looks like nigoro buna (round crucian carp), from which funazushi is traditionally made. Still, it does the trick in conjuring up imagery of the fish in Shiga’s famed Lake Biwa, which was the original source of funazushi.

The ice cream sure looked cute, but how on earth would it taste? We took a tentative sniff before trying it but we struggled to smell anything but ice cream. Looking behind the wafer, we found a scattering of what looked to be fish flakes, but these too, were overpowered by the sweet scent of the soft serve.

Feeling a bit braver about the subdued pungency, we tried a spoonful and allowed the soft cream to gently dissipate on the tongue. As it melted, we were surprised to find there was no funky fish flavour at all — in fact, it tasted more like Mascarpone cheese. The piquant tang of a fermented something was definitely there, but it blended so well with the ice cream that it ended up tasting more like cheese than stinky fish.

We were relieved that the amount of funazushi used was perfectly suited to the ice cream, creating a delicious flavour that makes us understand why a lot of people pay high prices to enjoy fermented sushi. The smell and pungency may be dialled down in the soft-serve version, but the essence of the fermentation still shines through, and has us thinking we might just give those funazushi potato chips another try if they’re ever released again.

Store information
Coco Shiga / ここ滋賀
Address: Tokyo-to, Chuo-ku, Nihonbashi 2-7-1
Open: 10:00 a.m.-8:0 p.m.

Photos © SoraNews24
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