Funazushi (Shiga Prefecture)
Funazushi is a prized delicacy made with funa (Crucian carp) from Lake Biwa-ko in Shiga during the spawning season. After the fish is cleaned, leaving the eggs, it is pickled in salt for about a month. Then, it is washed thoroughly with water, pickled again with cooked rice and set aside for at least another six months to mature. With its unique flavor and sour taste, you must be courageous when eating it for the first time. Because it is highly nutritious, it is called “Japanese cheese,” an apt description. Simply cut off a piece and eat it as it is, or enjoy it as chazuke (boiled rice with tea, porridge or clear soup). Sushi made through lactic fermentation such as this funazushi is called narezushi and is a traditional preserved food in Japan.
Yudofu or boiled tofu (Kyoto)
Yudofu warms you up in cold weather and thus, is one of the main winter pan dishes in Japan. The light taste and smooth texture of tofu is very appealing. The hand-made tofu is cooked in a kelp-based soup, and then it is taken out before it loses its shape and dipped it in relish. Some say that the best way to enjoy it is to scoop it out of the pan as soon as it starts floating. Boiled tofu was originally eaten by Buddhist priests in Kyoto. Unable to eat meat or fish for religious reasons, tofu was a precious source of protein for them. For the same reason, many long-established restaurants offer delicious boiled tofu in Kyoto. The winters in Kyoto are rather severe, so it is exceptionally tasty there.
Koyadofu or freeze-dried tofu (Wakayama Prefecture)
Koyadofu, handed down from ancient Japanese times, is made by freezing tofu to remove water and then drying it. It is a crucial ingredient in shojin-ryori (traditional meal for Japanese Buddhist priests). Some say that the ‘koya’ of koyadofu came from Mt. Koya-san in Wakayama, which is a historic site for Buddhist temples. It is also called koridofu because it is made by freezing (kooraseru). Removing the water content produces a unique texture and simple taste, which cannot be attained with ordinary tofu. It is also highly nutritious and easily digested, so is very popular in Japanese households. When freeze-dried tofu is boiled, it soaks up plenty of soup, providing a flavorful, juicy taste.
Takoyaki or octopus dumplings (Osaka)
Octopus dumplings are made by preparing a batter of flour blended with stock and pouring it onto a special iron plate with holes in it, adding chunks of octopus together with chopped onions and cabbage plus some pickled ginger, and baking them into balls by rolling them as they are cooked. The baked batter is crispy and spicy on the outside and soft inside, giving the dumplings a unique, crunchy texture and taste. The basic toppings are green laver, sauce or sliced and dried bonito, while mayonnaise is also becoming popular. The octopus dumplings from Kansai are not only delicious but are also small and easy to eat, making this a popular dish throughout Japan.