About a year ago, I went to Iwate Prefecture. Iwate prefecture is well known for its abundance of onsens with scenic views such as Hachimantai, beautiful coastal areas like Sanriku, wide lush green pastures and blueberry farms.
If you are familiar with Japanese food, you must be well acquainted with miso. Miso (みそ or 味噌) is a traditional Japanese seasoning paste made by fermenting soybeans with salt and malt. It is used with dashi soup stock to make miso soup also known as misoshiru, a Japanese culinary staple. Packed with nutrients, the taste, aroma, texture, and appearance of miso all vary by its ingredients, region and season.
You can make miso soup by adding tofu, seaweed (wakame) and various other assortments such as mushrooms, shredded pork and even pumpkin sometimes – according to your taste and maybe whatever is left in the fridge!
Let me give you an idea of how indispensable miso is; when I asked one of my English language students what she missed the most when she spent time homestay-ing overseas, she shyly said “miso soup”!
Koujiya-Motomiya is an 85-year-old shop which produces and sells lots of miso related food; and also offers a memorable miso-making experience! Here, you can shop for miso related items such as miso flavoured ice-cream, malt, miso paste, miso flavoured onigiri and probably some cutesy miso-mascots, too (Japanese love mascots! I wouldn’t be surprised if there was one there!) You can eat ramen, curry rice, udon and miso flavoured set meals with many fresh vegetables produced nearby. Click here for more details.
At Koujiya-Motomiya, we made miso with the help of the amicable staff there. One of the things that I remember very well is that the hygiene standards were pretty strictly enforced. We had to wash our hands with soap before using the cleanser, remove our shoes, wear an apron, gloves, hat and even a mask!
Since the soybeans were already steamed, we began by mashing the beans with our hands. Mashing the beans sounds easy but it was actually quite difficult! As we tried to crush the beans, they would slip away from our fingers easily. It was after some time, with the help of the friendly technician, that we finally managed to make something that somewhat resembled dough. We mixed the dough with some malt and salt and allowed it to ferment by storing it in a big yellow bucket. A plastic film was kept over it to protect the contents from dust and the lid was closed. We were told to keep it in a dark corner of our house until the taste develops in some 10 months. The smiling manager there said “じっくり寝かせたら美味しいみそになるよ！” (If you let it sleep well, it will be delicious miso!”
True to his words, when I opened my miso bucket last month and it smelled heavenly!
We are planning to make lots of miso soups with various vegetables now that we have a bucketful of miso. This way, I can savour the “umami” miso flavour and also gear momentum to my weight loss challenge (which happens every now and then – eventually fading away once I see food though). I feel for my not-so-much-of-a-miso-fan husband who will probably sigh exclaim – Mad for Miso!
Here are some combinations I like for DIY miso soup. But honestly, the sky is the limit and you can experiment until you find your perfect combo!
- Shiitake mushroom + thinly sliced carrot + chopped green onions
- Thinly sliced radish + wakame + shredded pork
- Chopped pumpkin + bean sprouts
- Spinach + tofu