What is Miso?
The first stop after arriving in Matsumoto was the Ishii Miso Brewery, a six generation, artisanal producer of Miso: a fermented paste of soybeans, salt and koji (fungus). If you visit Japan, chances are you will eat a lot of miso. It is the base of various dishes in Japan and was originally made in China. Nowadays, it’s served in almost every meal in Japan, even at breakfast, most commonly in soup.
Growing up, I didn’t like many Japanese foods, but I loved Miso, so naturally I had to stop by the brewery and learn more about this Japanese cuisine staple.
Getting to Ishii Miso Brewery
The location is not easy to find, but getting a private, free tour of the factory by the 6th generation president of the business followed by a sample of the best miso soup I had in Japan, was well worth the walk from the train station in the smoldering summer heat.
The brewery has been in business since 1868 and sits in a residential neighborhood. If it wasn’t for Google maps, I don’t know I would have found it, so print out a map before you go.
What makes Ishii Miso better than others?
I am a firm believer that artisanal products have better taste and quality. That said, Ishii is not a small manufacturer. They produce 250 tons of miso per year, yet they produce it through a slow, natural fermentation process and use only the best ingredients. That makes their product a lot richer in flavor. Once you try it, you will notice the difference in the flavor of an artisanal 3-year, cedar barrel-aged miso versus a mass-produced, artificially heated and chemically aged 3-month miso.
Visiting Ishii so early during my trip spoiled Miso soup for the rest of the time I was in Japan, because none that I had afterwards tasted as good as the sample I had at Ishii.
What else can you make with Miso?
Other than delicious soup, Miso can be used in a variety of food products. some that you would never even think of, like cakes, cookies and even ice-cream. It just so happens that you can have a set lunch at Ishii for about U$10 (make a reservation if traveling in large groups) that uses miso in several dishes.
If you just want to purchase products to take home, Ishii offers a showroom displaying all the different foods in which miso can be used. I had to try the Miso soft-serve ice-cream (U$3) and several of the food samples available. I wanted to buy a whole cart full of cookies to bring home, but I quickly remembered that I was backpacking for 5 weeks and would not be able to carry everything with me, so I had to compromise. I bought a tub of 3-year miso after trying it in soup and lugged it around for 2 weeks before shipping it home.
And yes, it was worth it! It was soooo good and besides, where else could I have bought artisanal miso?
So if you are visiting Matsumoto, stop by Ishii for a tour, some great food and shopping. Here is their website: Ishii Miso Brewery.
Ps: This is a non-sponsored post, however Ishii Miso is totally accepted as payment or bribe.