Miso Soup (味噌汁)

Miso soup is a Japanese dish that is cooked by adding ingredients (called 'gu' or 'mi') such as vegetables and fish in soup, boiling and seasoning with miso.

Summary

In Japanese food culture, it occupies an important place as a side dish of staple foods such as rice and cereal.

It is also served in restaurants, but normally it is typically home-style cooking. It is a simple dish to make, make the soup from materials such as dried bonito, dried small sardines etc., add ingredients and season with miso.

In the honzen ryori (a basic style of traditional Japanese cooking) serving style the ideal combination is thought to be 'one soup and three types of side dishes' consisting of a staple food, a soup like miso soup, solid side dishes called 'sai' or 'okazu' including rice, soup, pickles and three side dishes of namasu (a dish of raw fish and vegetables seasoned in vinegar), hirazara (a dish on a flat plate), yakimono (a dish of broiled fish or meat).

It is also a must to have "one bowl of soup and one side dish" with a typical meal.

With staple food, miso soup especially enhanced the appetite together with side dishes and soya beans in miso, a major source of protein when Japanese food was lacking in protein and this also helped to restore salt lost from sweating doing physical labor.

It is equivalent to western style soup, but more specifically like European soup made from soaked stale bread in stew and therefore is more like a staple food slightly different from Japanese miso soup.

However, so called 'neko manma (cat's meal)' which is made by mixing rice in miso soup is very similar to the original European soup.

Names
This is also called Omiotsuke around Tokyo. Omiotsuke. This term is from the language of court ladies during former times and omi means miso, otsuke means shiru. It began to be called this during the Edo period. According to a theory, it was also written 御御御汁(御御御付) created by adding another prefix added to otsuke.

Especially in the loca area, the solid ingredients in miso soup have been called 'mi' instead of 'gu' traditionally like mi of otsuke.

In the Keihanshin area, soup is generally called otsuyu. Otsuyu is sometimes used to make a distinction between osuimono (a kind of soup) and miso soup. Now in this area tsuyu generally means dipping sauce of somen (thin wheat noodles) and buckwheat noodles.

History

It is said that miso soup appeared on the common people's tables from the Muromachi period. Originally it was country cooking mainly done by farmers, but gradually spread among various classes of people and became essential on Japanese tables.

There is a theory that it was created as a food to eat during the beginning of the Sengoku period (period of Warring States) in Japan because it was easy to cook in large quantities. Imogara nawa was eaten at the battle front it was cooked by simmering taro with miso and miso soup could be made quickly by pouring hot water on it in their bamboo hats which were worn then.
There is a legend about Mitsunari ISHIDA who said 'if we drink baked miso with hot water poured over it, we will never be starved even without having any rice all the day.'
It is said that miso soup, as a food consummed at the front, was more like 'rice poured soup' and was often cooked by pouring hot water on rice and miso, but later it has changed gradually into a combination of rice and miso soup. Some of the miso remained in various areas supposed to be created by the busho (Japanese military commanders) during the Sengoku period (including Echigo miso of Kenshin UESUGI, Sendai miso of Masamune DATE etc.).

Cooking
It takes only about ten minutes to cook, so people can cook it a little bit before eating.

It is called "the taste of mother's home cooking" because it is a very characteristic dish varying in tastes according to each family.

When cooking care must be taken not to boil it completely after adding the miso, since the aroma will be volatilized and the flavour will decrease. It is also called 'tara jiru' (cod roe soup), 'ton jiru' (pork soup), or 'sanpei jiru' (a soup with fishes and vegetables from Hokkaido) depending upon the ingredients. Even if miso is added to a one-pot dish cooked at the table, it is normally not called miso soup. It has commonly been served with rice for breakfast at home, but recently many people don't eat rice for breakfast and therefore prefer miso soup for dinner. It is consummed not only for breakfast, but also for other meals as a soup for white rice. It can be said to be a common dish and essential food for Japanese. It is said that miso soup, especially made with freshwater clams is a cure for a hangover as it helps to break down alcohol.

Miso

It depends upon each family which miso to use, but looking according to areas there are red miso areas and white miso areas, which have determined the major miso brands by each area (refer to Miso). But after the war, along with the development of distribution channels, Shinshu miso spread throughout the country and many people use it at home.

The standard amount of miso for a bowl of miso soup is considered to be 15g, but it ranges slightly depending upon the desired tastes and which miso to use. The salt level in a soup is approximately one percent.

Soup

Soup is made mainly from sea tangles, dried small sardines or dried bonito. It also depends upon each family what to use for soup, but recently there are many people who use chemical seasoning to make soup at home. Recently there are miso products containing soup called "miso with soup" in supermarkets.

Major ingredients of miso soup

There are various ingredients (mi) of miso soup depending on the areas and some examples follow;

Wakame seeweed

Rehydrate it if it is a dry food and cut it. Use it without rehydrating if it is cut seaweed. Soak in water to freshen it if it is salted seaweed.

Freshwater clams and short-neck clams

Wash them with the shells, place in water and add miso after the shells open.

Green lavers

Green onions

Cut into small pieces and add them as a spice. Or cut coarsely to add as a major ingredient.

Green vegetables

Spinach, komatsuna (a leafy green vegetable), pak-choi etc.

Bean curd

Dice them.

Nameko mushroom

Add after washing to remove the sliminess. Enjoy the unique feeling on the tongue.

Japanese radish

Add it to water before boiling. Slice it into thick rings or strips.

Deep-fried bean curd

Blanch it to take oil.

Natto (fermented soybeans)

Add it after chopping with a knife or mashing (Natto jiru).

Other

Chicken eggs

Add after miso. Add it after hot soup is poured into a bowl so the egg becomes half-boiled.

Chikuwa (a tubular roll of boiled fish paste)

Pork

Variations

Miso soup in Okinawa Prefecture

In Okinawa Prefecture the menu in restaurants lists misoshiru or misojiru. The menu includes miso soup with pork (luncheon meat), sausage, bean curd, vegetables, chicken egg in a large bowl, a bowl of rice and sometimes a side dish. Moreover, in Okinawa Prefecture people usually add oil in miso soup when they cook it, and also when there is no meat in miso soup, they add lard or margarine. It seems effective for softening vegetables. Also miso soup such as Inamuduchi made with ingredients like pork, kamaboko (fish sausage), konnyaku (a gelatinous food made from devil's-tongue starch), shiitake mushroom and seasoning with white miso, and sakanajiru made with fish (whole or chunks) are popular.

Instant miso soup

It can be easily made just by putting freeze-dry ingredients and powdered miso in a bowl and pouring in hot water. Mainstream instant miso soup products have been those with fresh miso. There are many variations now like a cup of instant miso soup with pork and short-neck clams with shells.