Sanma Zushi: Traditional Sushi in South Wakayama

Surrounded by the mountains and sea, the South Wakayama, known as the Nanki region, offers many delicious foods. One such of these traditional dishes is sanma zushi. A type of fermented sushi (nare-zushi) made from saury or sanma in Japanese. It is traditionally eaten in the southern part of Mie and Wakayama Prefecture, especially around Shingu and Kumano City, which face the Kumano Sea. Locals especially enjoy during the fall and New Year’s festivities. 

Sanma Zushi

The most popular saury in Japan come from the Tohoku region. However, these fish are fattier and not suitable for nare-zushi. On the other hand, saury from the Kumano-nada region is quite lean as the fish enjoy a rigorous swim south from the colder waters in Tohoku. 

The city of Shingu and the Kumano Sea

Sanma zushi is available at many sushi restaurants in the Nanki region, and you can also buy them as an ekiben at Wakayama Station.

Even within the Nanki region, there are subtle differences, such as whether the saury is cut open on the back or belly, or whether the saury’s head is left attached.

Sanma Zushi ekiben
Ekiben of Sanma Zushi

To prepare this dish, a whole saury is cleaned, deboned, and washed with salt. Then, it’s soaked in a citrus vinegar, such as yuzu or daidai. Lastly, the prepared fish is pressed onto seasoned rice and left to ferment for a day or two. If you’d like more details about the preparation, check out this recipe.

sanma zushi

The fishy flavor was noticeable but not as strong as other types of nare-zushi we’ve had before. If want to try this dish but don’t like strong fish flavors, there’s a grilled version that is milder. Additionally, there’s yakisaba zushi (grilled mackerel sushi). Yakisaba zushi has an even less fishy taste and is popular in Obama and the northern Shiga Prefecture.

Sanma Zushi

It often takes a bit of courage to try this kind of traditional sushi, but once you try it, it is surprisingly delicious.

If you visit southern Wakayama, sanma zushi is worth trying!

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