By Akio Oikawa / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterMiso soup, a traditional part of Japanese meals, is enjoying a transformation into more than just soup.
Some new recipes treat it as a main dish to serve with rice by featuring filling ingredients, a trend becoming popular among younger people even as modern lifestyles have contributed to a decline in the purchase volume of miso.
Misojyu, a restaurant specializing in miso soup dishes that opened last June in Asakusa, Tokyo, is crowded with customers, mostly younger ones.
Misojyu’s signature menu item is called “goro-goro yasai to kakuni no sungoi tonjiru,” which means “an amazing pork soup with large chunks of vegetables and simmered a cube of pork.” The vegetables include daikon, carrots and burdock roots. The pork is cooked for hours with wine.
“The meltingly soft meat and vegetables are so tasty,” said a 26-year-old male visitor from Yokohama who tried it for the first time. “This soup can satisfy my stomach.”
The restaurant’s menu was developed by food director Edward Hames. “With miso soup, you can enjoy various umami flavors and the blessings of nature all at once,” he said.
The restaurant blends miso produced in Shimane Prefecture using organic soy beans, while the dashi is prepared with kombu kelp, bonito and so forth. Also popular is what the eatery calls “miso potage” with some Western twists.
“Just by making miso soup as a main dish, you can have a well-balanced meal,” said Hames.
According to the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry’s family income and expenditure survey, the annual purchase volume of miso per household — with at least two members and excluding those engaged in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries industries — has halved over nearly 30 years, with the figure falling below 10 kilograms in 1989, and even further to 5.1 kilograms in 2017.
The decline can partly be attributed to “an increase in the bread-based diet, which does not go well with miso soup,” an official at the Japan Federation of Miso Manufacturers Cooperatives explained. “It’s also because more and more single-person households do not bother making miso soup just for themselves.”
Aside from being nutritious, miso has a healthy list of antioxidants, which is said to help slow aging.
According to Hiroyuki Kobayashi, a professor at Juntendo University’s Faculty of Medicine who has written the book “Isha ga Koanshita Nagaiki Misoshiru” (Miso soup for longer life, as deviced by a doctor), light-brown miso is rich in gamma-aminobutyric acid, which is effective in reducing stress. “Red miso is rich with vitamin E, which can promote blood circulation,” he added.
Some, however, may be concerned over sodium content. “You don’t have to worry so much,” he said. “I hope people will have a meal with miso soup at least once a day.”
Cooking expert Maki Watanabe has worked out recipes for miso soup that can be enjoyed at home. A book featuring such recipes was released earlier this month.
For example, sundubu miso soup is a Korean-style recipe that features lumps of ingredients such as chikuwa fish paste so that the dish can be filling for children with big appetites. Tomato cheese miso soup is designed to make it easier for children to eat their vegetables. It can be enjoyed like a risotto when rice is added.
When developing these recipes, Watanabe focused on making miso soup a main dish to serve with rice, so that those who are busy can enjoy a satisfying meal just with the two items.
“You can make a number of recipes by changing the combination of the ingredients,” Watanabe said. “You won’t get tired if you add ingredients that are in season.”
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