The river fish specialty shop “Funashin” has been opened for about 70 years now. Previously in Fushimi, there was a culture of eating river fish due to the effect of Okuraike (early Showa era… reclaimed at around 1926) and Lake Biwa ~ Yodogawa (from the neighboring prefecture to Fushimi in Osaka and Kyoto Fushimi) being used by fish shops to sell sea fish, apart from fishermen directly fishing in these rivers. Now, the river fishmongers are decreasing and the “Funashin” shop has been protecting the river fish culture (which is becoming more and more valuable) ever since, for three generations now.
”Purchasing and handling of live river fish” is fundamental
Every morning, river fish such as eels and carps that are not circulated in the marketplace, are purchased by the specialty traders. It is fundamental to purchase and handle perishable river fish while they’re still alive. Fish that are not immediately picked up are retained in a deep well within the shop where they can swim in the groundwater and thus keep their “freshness”. In order to do the fish handling, Mr. Sano, the second generation shop owner, gets up at around 4:30 am which he has been continuously doing for nearly 40 years now. It is considered a craftsmanship to be able to handle live eels that still move around. Special skills, experience and a considerable amount of strength are absolutely necessary. “Since I was a child, I used to watch the previous fish handlers do their work while I play in the store. Watching them work their craft like that made me remember and memorize how the process was done,” says Mr. Sano.
Carps and freshwater trout as “food for the Gods”
Moroko (a fish specie of carp) and funa (crucian carp) can usually be tasted in the cold season. At the end of the year, customers normally go out of their way to visit the store to look for a crucian carp to be used for boiling. Fish with full stomachs are also enjoyed only in winter, while koi fish and ayu (sweetfish) are the standard staple during summer. On the Midsummer’s Day (normally around 18th to 19th of July), long lines of customers looking for highly fresh, delicious eels are visible in front of the shop. And every year, only Mr. Sano opens the store with thousands of eels a day! Artisans with the technology to handle eel are now rare in the whole country. Despite this, the need of customers to look for safe and fresh domestic eel will never change. Even the kabayaki sauce (sweet soy-based sauce used in grilling eel) is considered a constantly changing secret taste since its creation. Moreover, those who consider the shop as a necessity are not limited to local families only. Also, the neighboring temple has a custom which offers koi and ayu fish as food for the Gods for many years now. Because of all the above reasons, Funashin is considered a supportive element for the food culture of Kyoto and Fushimi.
The custom of preserving food
River fish that is handled in the morning usually loses its freshness in the early afternoon. For this reason, the custom of preserving food using “Tsukudani” (a means of preserving food by boiling it with sugar and soy sauce) while it is still fresh has been developed. The “ebimame”, which is soybean and river shrimp cooked together, and “umaki”, a rolled omelette with grilled eel, are the signature dishes of “Funashin”. It is said that the “ebimame” is an auspicious dish that was made with a wish to allow one to “live diligently for eternity until your lower back bends like a shrimp.”