Jan 3, 2018
Masuzushi: Toyama's "Meibutsu" Sushi
Do you like sushi? Probably a silly question, since most people living in or traveling around Japan typically do. Still, even if you enjoy sushi, you may not know that there are all different types of sushi. Nigiri sushi, where the fish is placed on top of rice, or maki sushi, where the sushi is rolled, are just two of the most common examples. There are also many varieties of regional sushi, and recently, I got a chance to try one that I had always wanted to taste:
MASUZUSHI from Toyama Prefecture
What is Masuzushi?
Masuzushi is a type of oshizushi (pressed sushi) where thin slices of cured masu trout (a variety of salmon) is placed across a round bed of rice. The whole package is then covered tightly in bamboo leaves and compacted to minimize oxidation. The chemicals from the vinegar in the rice and the natural ingredients of the bamboo leaves serve to preserve the fish and keep the rice soft, meaning that this type of sushi will keep for much longer than the standard nigiri or maki options.
Because of its longer shelf life, masuzushi was among Japan's first "takeaway" sushi, used both as gifts and as a staple food for travelers making the trek to Tokyo from Toyama. This was especially important in the sankin kotai days of the Edo period, where long processions of feudal lords and their clansmen would make the treks to and from Edo (modern day Tokyo) at the order of the Shogun. Masuzushi and other long-lasting foods rose in prominence as a result of those practices.
How does it taste?
After years of curiosity, I finally got the chance to taste masuzushi when my wife ordered me some from our local co-op market. Unlike traditional masuzushi wrapped in bamboo leaves and presented in a bamboo container, this arrived in a ready-to-eat dish.
You can see how the fish and rice have been packed down together. It made for easy slicing and eating.
So how was it? This particular masuzushi was 50/50 for me. The fish was delicious, but the rice was a little dry. That tells me that it was either lower quality rice, poorly prepared rice, or not the right water/vinegar mix to keep it soft.
In any case, I would definitely get masuzushi again, but probably something a bit fresher.
Where can you find it?
Regional Food Fair
As one of Toyama's meibutsu (specialty products), almost any regional food fair in Japan will have masuzushi as the Toyama option. These fairs can be found at promotional events in major cities or even local supermarkets (like this one I bumped into at my local Aeon).
For those traveling by train, Masuzushi is Toyama's go-to ekiben (bento-style meal purchased to eat on trains). They will typically come in smaller sizes meant for a single person to eat in one sitting and will run generally between 1000 and 2000 yen.
If you are driving through Toyama, just about every rest area (both on the expressways and the Michi no Eki on normal highways) will offer Masuzushi. They will run you anywhere between 1200 and 5000 yen depending on the size of the dish.
Masuzushi Specialty Stores
If you want the freshest Masuzushi available, your best bet is to head out to Toyama prefecture and visit a Masuzushi specialty shop. There are several famous ones throughout the prefecture, so a quick internet search for "masuzushi" and the town in Toyama you're visiting will give you plenty of options.
Hitting the books once again as a Ph.D. student in Niigata Prefecture. Although I've lived in Japan many years, life as a student in this country is a first.
Blessed Dad. Lucky Husband. Happy Gaijin (most of the time).