Turnip Sushi and Pickled Sardines: Fermented Delicacies of Kaga and Noto

Guide to Japan Travel Food and Drink

Kabura-zushi (turnip sushi) and konka-iwashi (rice-bran sardines) are examples of the local cuisine born from the harsh winters of Ishikawa Prefecture.

Bitter temperatures and deep drifts of snow are par for the course during the harsh winters in the Hokuriku region of Honshū’s Japan Sea coast. The cold here ensures consistently low temperatures, fostering an environment conducive to fermentation.

A snow-covered Kanazawa town.
A snow-covered Kanazawa town.

The Hokuriku region has long produced fermented foods made with fish and shellfish. Kabura-zushi (turnip sushi), a traditional dish associated with Kanazawa, is said to have originated with a preserved food made from fermented fish and vegetables, which evolved over time into present-day recipes.

Kabura-zushi.
Kabura-zushi.

The dish is made with slices of salt-pickled yellowtail wedged between pieces of pickled turnip. Carrots and other vegetables are scattered among the turnips, which are then packed in tubs, with gaps filled with kōji (a starter stock for sake and soy sauce). The kōji mold breaks down the fish proteins, enhancing the savory umami flavor of the concoction. The mouthfeel of the turnips combines with the fat-laced umami of the yellowtail and the mellow flavor of the kōji to present a unique taste experience.

Slices of yellowtail are quickly wedged between pieces of pickled turnip.
Slices of yellowtail are quickly wedged between pieces of pickled turnip.

These are then packed in kōji with carrots scattered throughout.
These are then packed in kōji with carrots scattered throughout.

Konka-iwashi is the Hokuriku name for iwashi (sardines) pickled in nuka (rice bran). The cured fish is eaten lightly broiled together with the rice bran. Humid summers help with fermentation, and winter cold promotes ripening. This particular Noto climate is what gives rise to this particular dish. Fermentation, treasured and handed down for generations, is one secret to making life more enjoyable in places of heavy snowfall.

Konka-iwashi is eaten lightly broiled together with the rice bran in its mixture.
Konka-iwashi is eaten lightly broiled together with the rice bran in its mixture.

Sardines and rice bran are tidily packed together in a tub.
Sardines and rice bran are tidily packed together in a tub.

(Originally published in Japanese. Created in cooperation with Kanazawa Cable Television. Banner photo: Kabura-zushi, a Kaga delicacy.)

Kanazawa tourism food Hokuriku