Since I’m allergic to fish, most people assume (for the most part, correctly) that I can’t eat sushi. And while it’s true that I don’t go to sushi restaurants, and can’t eat most types of sushi, there are a few types that I can eat–including one that saved me a lot of embarrassment on a solo hike in 2016.
I’d come to Japan on a research trip, and was making my first visit to Fushimi Inari Taisha, a Shintō shrine dedicated to Inari, the Shintō deity who’s the patron of rice, fertility, and swordsmiths (among other things). Inari’s messengers are kitsune (foxes), and his–and their–favorite treat is inari-zushi (Inari Sushi).
Inarizushi is made by stuffing a slightly-sweetened mix of sushi rice and black sesame seeds into paper-thin, soft pouches made of fried tofu. (I do have to be slightly careful, because sometimes inarizushi is made using rice that’s been cooked or soaked in dashi–Japanese bonito broth–but as long as I keep an eye out for that issue, I’m safe because this special form of sushi includes no fish).
In 2016, while climbing up Mt. Inari, through the thousands of vermillion gates for which the shrine is famous, I encountered a restaurant perched on the mountainside halfway to the summit. I was hungry, and went inside to eat. When the waitress brought the menu, I realized with dismay that every dish appeared to include a liberal serving of fresh, stewed, or fried fish. Since it’s somewhat rude to sit down in a restaurant, look at the menu, change your mind, and leave, I stared at the menu with increasing concern–until I saw that they served inari-zushi.
I ordered it (with great relief), and was delighted when the waitress brought a beautiful plate piled high with delicious little bundles. As expected, the Inari-zushi on Mt. Inari is some of the best I’ve ever eaten in Japan–and I go back for more every time I’m in Kyoto.
It’s well worth the climb–and a great excuse to make another visit to one of the best and most beautiful shrines in Japan.
Have you ever tried inari-zushi? Would you, if you had the chance?