What makes travelling in Japan so interesting is that no matter where you go the history, culture and lifestyles of the area are reflected in the local cuisine that has in some cases been handed down for many generations. In 2013, UNESCO recognised washoku or Japanese Cuisine as an intangible cultural asset and sushi is one of the most recognisable and universally loved of all traditional Japanese dishes. These days, whether you’re in New York, Paris, London, Rio or New Delhi you can find a sushi bar or restaurant so most people immediately recognise well know types of sushi such as Nigiri or Maki-zushi. However, in Kochi there are some kinds of sushi that you will never find at a sushi train, nor will you probably find them in Tokyo either. Kochi has some very interesting types of sushi including those that are made predominately with vegetables rather than fish and would be suitable for vegetarians!
Over the next few newsletters, we will introduce some of the unique dishes you can find in Kochi prefecture, starting with the various types of rural sushi or inaka sushi. Inaka sushi is a colourful regional sushi made with mountain vegetables like shiitake mushrooms, myoga ginger, bamboo shoots, konnyaku (konjac), and the leaf stocks of a herb known as giant elephant ear. These ingredients are paired with sushi rice seasoned with vinegar and yuzu vinegar.
There are many different types of sushi including: inaka sushi, maki-zushi, sugata-zushi, nigiri-zushi and oshi-zushi but it’s the ingredients that make them rather unique. The name of each sushi changes depending on the sushi type and ingredients.
If you want to familiarise yourself with the standard sushi types, have a look at our guide on Types of Sushi.
Let’s start with one of the more famous sushi in Kochi. Kokera sushi is a local speciality of the mountainous regions of Toyocho, in Kochi and is instantaneously recognisable as a kind of Oshi-zushi or pressed sushi. Rice is mixed with flaked, grilled fish and yuzu citron vinegar, topped with shiitake mushrooms and carrots, topped again with rice, then topped with other various toppings. During celebrations and at festival time Kokera sushi is served and the layers are said to create “layers of happiness” one on top of the other. With all the layers and colours, it’s a very impressive looking sushi and equally delicious.
Sansai sushi can be roughly translated as mountain vegetable sushi meaning it’s made with wild ingredients from the mountainous regions of Kochi including: ryukyu, wild ginger, bamboo, shiitake mushroom and konjac. Sansai sushi is usually made in two types: nigiri-zushi or maki-zushi, however, where regular maki-zushi would use nori seaweed as the outer layer, sansai sushi uses various vegetables. In the case of sansai nigiri-zushi, wild vegetables are placed on top of the moulded rice where you would normally have a piece of fish.
Sugata-zushi is another sushi that you may not have seen. The word Sugata means shape or form in Japanese, so Sugata-zushi will look like its namesake. For example, Saba Sugata-Zushi looks like a mackerel with the head and tail on the plate and the edible sushi in the middle forming the ‘belly’ of the fish shape.
Oona-zushi is a type of maki-zushi where large vegetables leaves replace nori seaweed as the outer layer. This sushi is from Onomi village in central Tosa and was created because people living in the mountains did not have access to seaweed, so they used large leaves, pickled them in saltwater and wrapped the rice.
Travelling with Japan Holidays, clients will have an opportunity to learn how to make Inaka sushi in classes conducted by friendly local women who belong to a certified club known as, “Tosa Inaka Sushi Folklore.” They patiently teach the traditional ways to make delicious and vibrant Inaka sushi.
Prior to travelling to Japan, contact Japan Holidays to reserve your place for one of these special classes.