Naresaba: A Fraught History of Fermented Mackerel Sushi

Shingo Hamada
Osaka Shoin Women’s University

Fermentation is a preservation technology often seen in Southeast Asia and East Asia, including fish sauce and fermented fish. However, naresaba (fermented sushi made with mackerel, also called saba-narezushi) made among households in Tagarasu, my field site in Fukui prefecture, Japan, has one significant difference. While most communities use salted fish for crafting fermented fish, my informants use mackerel that have ‘already’ been fermented (not just salted) as the base of naresaba making. This fermented seafood, however, is now becoming an endangered culinary heritage.


Tagarasu is a coastal community with a population of approximately 400, located in Wakasa Bay, Obama City of Fukushima prefecture, Japan

Tagarasu is one of the first places where an advanced purse seine net or kinchaku’ami operation began in Japan in 1909. Commercial purse seine mackerel fishing in Tagarasu was community-based. Over 90 percent of households in Tagarasu were stockholders of their cooperative purse seine fishery, sharing its profit as well as costs for over 80 years. However, inefficient fishing management led to the depletion of mackerel resources, resulting in the closure of the Tagarasu purse seine fishery in 1987.

Fermentation is an adaptive strategy to make the use of over-harvested fish, especially pelagic fish species whose uncertain migratory route and timing often offer unexpectedly successful catches for coastal communities. When cooperative purse seine members had a successful fishing season, they received dozens of surplus mackerel with the allocated share fund.


The name of municipality where Tagarasu is situated is the same as the name of the president of the United States. Here, a man in classical traveling outfit, wall-painted at a fish market near Obama city fishing port, holding a pack of heshiko mackerel.

A few Tagarasu elders also bring in their seafood products to farming communities. Their parents and ancestors used to barter their seafood for rice and vegetables. Rice received from farmers in fall was used for home consumption but also for naresaba production, and farmers received naresaba in return in early winter. The historical routes for transporting seafood from Wakasa Bay to Kyoto still function as a form of human relations, even long after both Tagarasu and farming communities could purchase food commodities in the supermarkets.

The making of naresaba requires two fermentation processes. They cover and store fat-rich seasonal mackerel with rice-bran between October and March. Mackerel preserved with rice bran spends a hot summer in a barrel for aging and condensing umami flavor. This is how to make heshiko. After about a year of aging heshiko mackerel, Tagarasu people clean them by taking off the salt and thin skins from heshiko mackerel in winter. Those desalted mackerel are then coated with vinegar and stored again for the second process of fermentation, this time for about two weeks with rice and kouji malted rice.


Preserved mackerel (heshiko) are cleaned and now ready to be for the second fermenting process, with rice, vinegar, and kouji.

Naresaba looks and tastes different from the sushi that most readers are familiar with (a slice of fish over a bite-size rice, or a sushi roll). Simply put, it is not fresh but aged with fermentation. Two-step fermentation removes the fishy smell from the final product while enriching umami flavors. Each household develops its own home recipe and different taste in the degree of creaminess and sourness of stuffed rice and the texture of fermented mackerel. This culinary practice is unique enough for Slow Food Foundation to list it in the Ark of Taste in 2006.

However, being listed on the Ark of Taste means that naresaba is heritage seafood at risk of disappearance. While local production, distribution and consumption of naresaba are still important aspects of regional cultural identity, local mackerel and salt are no longer produced enough for the naresaba production. Instead, Tagarasu people use mackerel caught in the other parts of Japan and imported mackerel, especially from Norway. Commercially they are sold under the same name, masaba (literally ma means real, and saba means mackerel), though the origin of products is labeled respectively by regulation. But, they are different subspecies. The Norwegian fish are Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) while the Japanese fish are Pacific mackerel (S. japonicaus).


Close up of naresaba.

Japanese and Atlantic mackerel taste different when used for heshiko and naresaba production at home. Tagarasu people use both domestic and Norwegian mackerel for heshiko, but only domestic mackerel can be used for naresaba. Mr. Ohto, who leads a community organization to revitalize and promote the naresaba culinary tradition, explains that Norwegian mackerel have high fat contents, which make heshiko taste better. Norwegian mackerel contain about twice high fat contents and cost only one-fifth compared to Japanese mackerel. Cheap and rich fat content appealing to the taste of contemporary customers, Norwegian mackerel are now about 90 % of imported mackerel in Japan.


Some of the local minshuku (inn) in Tagarasu serve homemade naresaba upon request.

However, Norwegian mackerel are too fatty for making naresaba. The high fat content of Norwegian mackerel turn the color of final naresaba products into slight yellowish color, while naresaba made with domestic mackerel turns both fermented fish and covering rice white. The color of food is significant as whiteness symbolizes purity and thus makes naresaba ritual food, shared by family and distributed to relatives and old trading partners in farming communities in the end and beginning of the year. Grilled Norwegian mackerel may be popular at izakaya (Japanese style gastropub) and sold as a ready-to-serve item in the supermarkets. But, they cannot be simply substituted with locally produced mackerel for the maintenance of cultural meanings and social relations that heritage seafood has held for centuries.


Prepping mackerel for heshiko-making in spring.

It is also becoming difficult to pass down the culinary knowledge and technique of naresaba making to future generations. As the local seafood industry declined with the end of purse seine fishing, young people moved to urban areas, reducing the local population. Elders told me that the trading relations they have kept with farmers could also come to an end unless children learn how to make naresaba and decide to continue the intergenerational food exchange.

Seafood, especially blue fish like mackerel and sardines, is now a global commodity and fetishized as a healthy food. Globalization makes fat-rich Atlantic mackerel available to consumers anywhere in Japan. However, it cannot reverse the social and environmental impact of purse seine fishing and maintain the biocultural diversity that shapes and is shaped by the coastal foodscape in Japan.

Shingo Hamada is a lecturer in the food studies program at Osaka Shoin Women’s University in Osaka, Japan, and also a research associate in the department of anthropology at Indiana University. You can read more about Dr. Hamada and his work here.

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Gustolab Spring 2017 Opportunity

We recently received this notice from Salem Paulos, of Gustolab, of an opportunity that may be of interest to our readers:

We are still accepting applications for the Spring 2017 program which includes courses on the topics of Food Culture, Sustainability, Food Media, Sustainable Architecture and Food Design.

The Spring 2017  program of Gustolab International Institute for Food Studies will assist students in identifying and analyzing major components of food + sustainability +  culture + design + architecture in Italy and elsewhere. Students can take five courses during this spring semester program in Italy that takes place from January 13 to May 13, 2017.

Courses that students can choose from:

A description of all the courses can be found at: and more information can be provided by email by our academic director. 
For interested students, we can also provide internships in the sectors of Food Production, Health, Sustainability, Hospitality and Tourism.  The internship takes place during the period of the Spring 2017 program (January 13 – May 13, 2017) to allow students to take courses while having a professional experience abroad. 
Ask for more information by writing to
Are you curious and would you like to learn more about our courses? Check out the following videos:
Our programs are open to students, scholars and professionals.
Scholarships are available!
For applications or more information, please write to
Deadline to apply: October 15, 2016.

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What FoodAnthro is Reading Now, September 12,2016

Here’s the latest in what FoodAnthro has been reading. Have a fascinating article to share? Send links and brief descriptions to or

If you’ve not been caught up in the twitter storm, you should probably know about Bon Appetit’s recent controversy where a white chef told the world how to eat Pho. I think we’ll be hearing more about this in the future.

A very interesting session at the recent World Nutrition Congress in Cape Town discussed the role of the World Bank and IMF in shaping farmer livelihoods, and farm policy around the world. In this theme, this article about the school meal program in Brazil highlighted  the role of Brazilian government in supporting farmers through their food buying program. In South Africa, we learn that chicken imports (often from Brazil) mean that local chicken producers are unable to compete. Ian Scoones writes of this challenge in Zimbabwe, where, due to cheap chicken imports, introducing chickens as a source of livelihood may have limited benefits without structural and household (see Raj Patel’s TED talk) changes:

Cheap frozen chicken from Brazil will not go away as long as free trade regimes and cheap oil allow transnational value chains that can often undercut even the most diligent producers in rural Ghana, Mozambique or Zimbabwe.

While we’re reading about chickens, there was this recent article about how chickens spread around the world.

A reader brought to our attention the massive tomato crop losses that Nigeria is weathering due to coddling moth. Production has dropped by 75 to 90%, based on anecdotal reports of reduced truck shipments of tomatoes to market. Scientists wonder whether use of waste (polluted) water might also have contributed totomato vulnerability.Both NPR and the NYTimes have taken up the story. One little insect can wreak havoc all across the food chain, affecting millions of food producers, processors, marketers, tomato workers, and consumers. The solution is Integrated Pest Management, though there’s also a pesticide that’s been developed to combat the pest

This week we also have two stories related to food and the Syrian refugee crisis. Syrian refugees have started a catering business that supplies a taste of Syria in Hamilton, Ontario:

“We believe so strongly in the women, which might be why someone initially orders from us,” Farrington says, “but it’s such quality food that we feel confident that if we can get people to try it, they’ll be hooked.”

If you don’t live in Hamilton, you can still try a Syrian recipe, available in this article from the NYTimes.

Finally, I learned so much from this article about Dalit food:

This is the food my parents ate and their parents ate, and I, too, sometimes eat. It is an acquired taste, especially one that has been acquired due to centuries of discrimination.

Thank you for reading with us, and be sure to tell us what you are reading and writing!

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Fear of Foodways? On Trigger Warnings, Horses, and a Dropped Class

David Beriss
University of New Orleans

A few years ago I received an angry email from a student, informing me that she was dropping my “Food and Culture” class. It was early in the semester and we had just had a vigorous discussion about how food is defined in different societies. The eating of cats and dogs had been raised and we had explored why “pets” are often distinct from “food.” But what really set her off was our discussion of eating horses. The discussion, which drew in part on a blog entry I had written on the topic, infuriated that student. Her angry note stated that she would not participate in a class that allowed the discussion of anything as inhumane as the killing and eating of horses.

I was surprised by this on many levels. First, I should point out that in nearly two decades of teaching, this is the only student I can recall dropping a class because the content offended them. Second, anthropology is by its very nature a discipline in which students may encounter practices and ideas that they find shocking. The whole point is to understand the full range of human behavior and thinking, allowing us to get at some putative idea of what makes us all human, while also helping us think more critically about societies in general. The “Food and Culture” class is an advanced undergraduate course and most of the students who take it have already had introductory level anthropology, so they should be aware of the nature of the topics that may be discussed. Third, tastes in food, even within one society, can be very different. I was raised to eat ketchup on macaroni and cheese (the bland Kraft variety). I have learned over the years that this practice is viscerally repulsive to many people. When we cross social and cultural boundaries to discuss food practices, beliefs, etc., we are bound to encounter things that are a lot more challenging than that. Things like killing and eating horses.

And yet it is too easy to assert the cross-cultural nature of anthropology as a license to challenge our students’ sensibilities. In the case I mentioned, we were not mostly focusing on foreign cultures. It is true that Americans do not generally eat horse these days, but they have eaten horse in the past and the practice has waxed and waned over time. While we require our students to practice cultural relativism in trying to understand other societies, it is legitimate for them to raise ethical concerns about practices within their own society. One of my intentions in raising the issue in the class was (and remains—I still use the topic) to show that the things we designate as food reveal deeper questions about how we make sense of our world. Horses are, in the U.S., ambiguous animals, not entirely work animals anymore, not necessarily pets. Confronting that ambiguity in our own culture is supposed to make students uncomfortable. I want them to understand that our own society is just as “exotic” and potentially shocking as any other. I also want them to learn to analyze the cultural categories and social structures that frame our practices with animals (food or otherwise). If they are going to make ethical decisions about such things, they need to understand them at a deep level.

So I now include a warning on my course syllabus. I guess it is a “trigger warning,” although I was not aware of that term when I started using it. It reads:

Warning: In this class you will be exposed to ideas and practices that may be radically different from those you find familiar and comfortable. You may read about or see images of people engaging in behavior you find shocking. This is of course standard for anthropology, but because this is a class about food, the possibility is perhaps higher than usual. If you are unable to tolerate being exposed to such difference, this class is not for you.

Nobody, as far as I know, has dropped the class because of this warning. I have a colleague who has used a similar warning on all of his syllabi for decades. I sometimes suspect that these warnings may actually attract students. Maybe it gives our classes a reputation for being risqué. We dare you to take them.

At the same time, my classes need to be welcoming to all students. I have vegans, vegetarians, halal-observant Muslims, kosher-keeping Jews, Creoles, Cajuns, aggressive fans of bacon, and people who seem to subsist on energy drinks. Because I teach in New Orleans, I also have a lot of students who work in food-related jobs, especially waiters, bartenders, and line cooks. I have students who come from rural backgrounds and many who have family who work in the seafood industry. They already know a lot about food and I learn quite a lot from them every semester. But I also try hard to provoke them out of their comfort zone and, for the most part, they seem happy to be provoked. Our students do not demand coddling and, I doubt that many do anywhere, despite the fantasies of pundits. On the contrary, they are eager to learn and participate. Sometimes they shock me out of my comfort zone too.

So I include the statement above in my syllabus as both a warning and a challenge. If they accept the challenge and stay in the class, then my job is to make sure the class really does provide them with an opportunity to learn. The class is about food, so I need to ensure that they are learning to think carefully about what food is and how food choices are shaped by history, political economy, and culture. But the class is also about practicing critical thinking. Do they feel encouraged to raise questions and challenge me and each other in the class? Can they turn their readings into thoughtful analyses? Can they express those analyses in class and in writing? These critical thinking and writing skills are learning objectives for many good liberal arts classes and they are also the key to success in a lot of careers. Oddly enough, the student who dropped my class over a discussion of horse meat was sort of on the right track. She understood that deeper issues were at stake. She even wrote about them in her email telling me that she was leaving. But she should have stayed in the class so that others could continue the discussion. That, after all, is what learning is about. You have been warned.


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What FoodAnthropology Is Reading Now, September 6, 2016


A brief digest of food and nutrition-related items that caught our attention recently. Got items you think we should include? Send links and brief descriptions to or

The recent floods in Louisiana have had a significant impact on small farmers. You can read about that here, in an article by Brian Barth in Modern Farmer that also provides some ideas about how you can help. Vendors and farmers who sell at the Crescent City Farmers Market were hit hard by the floods, which Judy Walker writes about here. The Crescent City Farmers Market has established a fund to directly assist in their recovery. Click here to contribute.

We note with sadness the passing of Vertamae Smart-Grosvenor, whose writing and commentary on foodways on NPR played a significant role in inspiring many people to think more seriously about food, culture, and history. Of course, she is perhaps best known for her writing on African American foodways and on the foods of the U.S. South. There was a nice remembrance on All Things Considered here and on Morning Edition here. She received a lifetime achievement award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2013 and you can watch her acceptance speech for that here. Or just search the web for her many commentaries and writings. You may lose days, but it will be worth it.

The presidential campaign dust up over taco trucks has provided much needed levity in an otherwise unhappy electoral season. This tasty controversy started with an MSNBC interview with Marco Gutierrez, leader of an organization called “Latinos for Trump,” in which he asserted, in reference to the immigration debate, that “My culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” This delicious threat was met with a tidal wave of hilarity on social media and in the press, including this semi-serious economic analysis from the Washington Post of the benefits and costs associated with a massive influx of new taco trucks. A great deal has of course been written more seriously on food trucks, including this piece on the history of food trucks in Los Angeles from a few years ago. It is heartening to see Americans rally behind the idea of taco trucks, but it is also worth remembering that ideas about immigrant foods have often been used to stigmatize, exclude, and threaten people, so there is a dangerous undercurrent to this sort of statement.

We have written before here about the work of Saru Jayaraman and the Restaurant Opportunities Center. Jayaraman has worked relentlessly to inform the public about the dismal labor circumstances confronted by many people in the restaurant industry. Her organization has developed a number of programs that are meant to improve those conditions. In this review of her book and other work, Patrick Abatiell provides a useful history and some critiques of her approach.

Ian Parker has written a portrait of New York Times food critic Pete Wells for The New Yorker that portrays the relationship between Wells, the Times, and New York’s high-end restaurateurs as a mighty struggle. This is particularly interesting to read in the age of social media, when nearly everyone is a critic.

Have you tried one of the “Tasty” recipes (from BuzzFeed) that pop up relentlessly on Facebook and in other social media? It turns out that some people think that these things are the death of food culture. And who knows, maybe they are right. After all, the Food Network was apparently also the death of food culture, back when Emeril Lagasse ruled the airwaves. Read about the controversy here. Then go look at some of the recipes here.

Students are increasingly conscious about the kinds of foods that their university provides. There have been efforts by various food services to make their foods healthier, more seasonal, local, etc. But not everyone is apparently on board. Here is a story from a student who has decided to drop out of her university rather than be forced to subscribe to the school’s meal plan. Discuss this with your students (and don’t tell the upper administration, when they get back from golfing with the Aramark guys, that you heard about it from us).

Sometimes satire resembles a satire of itself. The New Yorker provides us with this article about the work of two Austrian performance artists, Sonja Stummerer and Martin Hablesreiter, apparently calling attention to the unsustainability of modern dining.  If you don’t get the satire in these odd performance pieces, we recommend searching for some Saturday Night Live Sprockets sketches.

On a rather more serious note, this article outlines what the author, Doug Gurian-Sherman, calls an inconvenient truth about industrial agriculture. In this instance, Gurian-Sherman discusses the reemergence of corn rootworm in fields planted with corn that is supposed to be engineered to be resistant to rootworm. The author argues that this problem demonstrates the failure of a genetic engineering approach to farming. This is definitely worth a read.

On a related topic, Marc Bittman recently wrote a column about a new food labeling law that may eventually make information about what goes into American food more transparent. The law in question is meant, in a weak sort of way, to require companies to make available information about whether or not a product contains genetically modified ingredients. However, it does not really require that information be easy to get, just that it somehow be more or less available. Bittman thinks that despite the law’s weakness, it could be the start of efforts to really make food more transparent.

As we have mentioned before, the folks at the food activism think tank Food Tank love to make lists (not that we are against that, of course). Here is an inspiring list of interesting books (with handy synopses) that you might want to read or assign to your students. There is even a smattering of anthropology among them.


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Thomas Marchione Award

The September 10 deadline is fast approaching! Don’t miss this opportunity for fame and glory (and a prize).


Thomas Marchione Award:

Recognizing Outstanding Student Research

Honoring the seminal academic and humanitarian work of Thomas J. Marchione, this award is given to an MA, MS or Ph.D. student whose active engagement in food security and food sovereignty issues continues and expands Dr. Marchione’s efforts toward food justice, food access, and food as a human right. The award can be in recognition of exemplary work completed or in progress, or for proposed work in the field of food as a human right and the social justice aspects of food systems.

Ideally, the recipient will be working towards, in Dr. Marchione’s words, “the best and more sustainable approaches to fulfill the right to food.”  There will be one annual award of $600.  The award may be for proposed or in-process research or a research prize for completed work. 

Eligibility: Open to Masters and Doctoral level students who will have…

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Shake Shack Burger Fever in Korea

Sangyoub Park
Washburn University

The popular American burger chain Shake Shack just opened its first Korean store on July 22, in the Gangnam District of Seoul, which is known as the Beverly Hills of Seoul. Koreans are hurriedly flocking to the store to taste the famous burger and fries.

The Korea Herald, a local newspaper, describes the grand opening day:

When the store opened on July 22, the online fervor was proven real. Even before the opening of the store at 10 a.m., people were reported to have lined up hours in advance, some having been there all night, to be the first to try the burgers. Around 1,500 people were reported to have lined up for two to three hours on that day (7.24. 2016).

shake shack opening korea

July 25, 2016, Shake Shack (around 9:00 am, people are waiting outside before the opening hour). Photo by Sangyoub Park.

It has been over a month after its opening but the fever has not faded away. It is reported that the Shake Shack store averages 3,000 customers every day. Due to recent sizzling weather in Seoul, the store dispatched a nurse from 11:00am to 6:00pm to prevent heat-related illness while waiting in line. The store is planning to keep a nurse until next month. The store also provides free bottled water and sun-umbrellas (used to block sun in East Asia) to those waiting in line as a cautionary step.

What accounts for this Shake Shack fever?  Why are Koreans obsessed with Shake Shack? First, it is because Shake Shack is the latest novelty from America. Korea has been brimming with American tastes from Burger King to McDonalds’, Pizza Hut, TGIF, Baskin Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, and Krispy Kreme. Koreans love the taste of novelty. Some of these American foods have lost novelty since they are successfully localized. For example, it has been 28 years since McDonalds’ opened the first store in Seoul. Or Baskin Robbins is no longer especially exotic to Koreans since its first shop opened over three decades ago. More interestingly, one of my students informed me that having Western people in the kitchen appears to create a more authentic sense of Americanness.

shake shack burger and fries

Famous Shake Shack burgers with fries and shake, courtesy of Seung-Whan Lee.

Second, it can be attributed to the social media effect known as “eat and tweet” or “foodstagramming” (in Korea, it is called “meok-stagram,” which is a combination of eat, meok-da, and Instagram). Like the U.S., the food photo sharing phenomenon is prevalent in Korea. Posting food photos online is a way of showing off or bragging about one’s hipness or coolness. Sharing food photos is a way of boosting social status, that is, more “likes” means more popularity. These food photos bring recognition. In particular, trending foods like Shake Shack burger could help creating extra coolness. These photos can be used to elicit an image of life is good. They project an image of the good life.

Third, going to popular eating places like Shake Shack has become entertainment and sort of a leisure activity. It is a cool thing to do. Especially for young people, hanging out at such places has become popular entertainment. They are like “special events,” not for filling their stomach. This explains why waiting in line for a long time is not cumbersome to them. Opportunity cost seems not to apply to these queuers in that the end benefits are supposed to outweigh the cost of standing in long lines.

It is too soon to tell when the fever of Shake Shack will cool. But the excitement of this new taste does not seem to be dissipating  any time soon because the second Shake Shack store is slated to open at another place in which is not far from the first store in November.

For more photos, please visit:

For the grand opening of Shake Shack, please visit:

Sangyoub Park is professor of Sociology at Washburn University. He can be contacted at

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