IN THE northern part of Kyoto Prefecture, just over two hours by train from Japan’s ancient capital, lies an area affectionately known as “Kyoto by the Sea. Overlooking the Sea of Japan, it’s long been associated in Japanese mythology with Toyouke, the deity of food.

Appropriately, it’s also long been an abundant source of diverse ingredients and Japanese culinary traditions like Tango Barazushi, a festive type of Sushi that originated on the Tango Peninsula.

Tango Barazushi is prepared in a Matsubuta (a type of wooden box), inside which a layer of vinegared Sushi rice is spread first. Then comes the most important part: crumbly bits of mackerel, which is so abundant in the waters of Wakasa Bay around Tango that the roads connecting it to Kyoto have been nicknamed Saba Kaido, or “Mackerel Highway”.

The fish is braised in a sweet and salty sauce to season and preserve it as mackerel loses its freshness quickly. It’s a common misconception that Sushi means “raw fish,” when, actually, anything atop specially seasoned rice can be called Sushi, such as Tango Barazushi where the rice and mackerel are topped with other ingredients such as Shiitake mushrooms, red ginger and/or shredded egg crepe.

The exact recipe for this intriguing culinary creation differs from household to household; in many cases, such recipes have been passed down through generations and are prepared during times of celebration. The Sushi is meant to be divided and eaten with a wooden spatula by family and friends, creating precious memories and forging lifetime bonds over a delicious meal.

Interestingly, when removed from the Matsubuta, the layered Barazushi bears an uncanny resemblance to lasagna, hence its unofficial nickname ‒ “Sushi lasagna.” One Facebook video showing Tango Barazushi being taken out of the box has had over 280,000 views because its unique shape offers brand-new ways to enjoy one of the most famous Japanese dishes.

Visitors can taste this delightful cuisine at Torimatsu, a renowned local restaurant, and even take it with them in Bento (packed lunch) form, available at Kyoto stations as Tango Barazushi Ekiben (a box lunch sold on a train or at a station). Besides the restaurant Torimatsu, a Barazushi making and eating, of course, workshop is also available at Centrale Hotel Kyotango. If you ever have the chance, treat yourself to some Tango Barazushi in its birthplace, Kyoto by the Sea. [sources/photo special]