There are two things people from Okazaki, a small city in Aichi prefecture, are proud of.
Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Tokugawa period and the one who united Japan was borne right in Okazaki.
And Hatcho Miso, a strong and dark type of red Miso originated in Okazaki almost 800 years ago. And is still produced today.
In this post, rather than talking about history, I would like to talk about Miso. What it is, and why you should care!
What is Miso?
Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans. It is one of the main ingredients in Japanese cooking and used all over the country. We can group Miso into different types, based on ingredients and color.
Kome Miso or Rice Miso (White Miso)
Kome Miso is the most popular type of Miso in Japan. It is made by fermenting a mixture of soybeans and rice. The color is very light because of the rice and very short fermentation time. That’s why it is referred to as white Miso. Rice Miso has a light taste and is a little bit sweet.
Mugi Miso or Barley Miso (White Miso)
Soybeans and barley are mixed to make this type of Miso. It is a variation of white Miso or Shiro Miso because of its relatively light color even though the color is much darker than Kome Miso. Mugi Miso is especially popular in Kyushu.
Mame Miso or Soybean Miso (Red Miso)
The purest form of Miso is soybean Miso using only soybeans and adding no other ingredients in the production process. Because of this and its long fermentation time the resulting Miso has a very dark reddish-brown color and is referred to as red Miso or Aka Miso. The taste of Mame Miso is very strong and can be overwhelming if you aren’t used to it. This form of Miso is mainly produced in Aichi Prefecture and mostly used in the region.
Awase Miso or Mixed Miso
Awase Miso is a mixture of two or more types of Miso to create a blend. You can buy different types of Awase Miso at shops and supermarkets or mix your own at home tailored to your preferences.
What is Hatcho Miso?
Hatcho Miso is a type of Mame Miso (Red Miso), and while it is probably the most famous type of Miso it makes up only around 0,2% of the Miso paste produced in Japan.
The name Hatcho Miso comes from the place it originated from. 800 years ago Hatcho used to be a small village about 870 meters from Okazaki Castle.
The Cho in Hatcho is a unit to measure blocks and Hat comes from Hachi which means eight. Hatcho, therefore, means eight blocks from Okazaki Castle.
When Hatcho Miso was first created Hatcho used to be a village. Today it is a part of the city that is Okazaki.
The first company producing Hatcho Miso paste was Maruya which was established in 1337. It still exists today and you can do free factory tours to learn about the Hatcho Miso production process.
Right next door is another company specialized in the production of Hatcho Miso called Kakukyu. They are a little bit newer but still impressively old by any standard (founded in 1645). They also offer free factory tours where they explain about the production process.
I took the time for both tours because I wanted to see the differences of both companies, because I had time and because the tours were free with food samples at the end. No drawbacks at all.
At both companies, tours start every 30 minutes. The tours are unfortunately in Japanese only.
How to Make Hatcho Miso?
The only ingredients in Hatcho Miso are soybeans, salt, water and time.
To start the process soybeans are immersed in water and are left to soak.
After the beans have absorbed a carefully measured amount of water they are steamed with hot vapor.
The steamed soybeans now have their characteristic reddish-brown color. They are formed into baseball-sized lumps and a starter culture called Koji is added to the surface of the soybean lumps. Now the soybeans are left for a couple of days to ferment. Thereby the original Miso is created.
Next salt and water are added to the mix.
The finished mixture is transferred to gigantic wooden casks which can hold 6 tons of Miso. A worker in rubber boots will stomp on the layers of Miso to get rid of any air that might be in the Miso mix. The mixture is very firm and stable enough that a worker can stand on the surface.
The casks are made from cedar and can be used for more than 180 years. Since one barrel costs around 2 million yen (20.000 US dollars), it’s a real investment to purchase new barrels.
The cask is closed with a lid, and 3 tons of stones (around 500 of them) are laid carefully in a pyramid shape on top of the lid to press heavily on the Miso mixture inside. The skilled worker piles the stones so carefully that they can withstand even earthquakes.
To become true Hatcho Miso the wooden tubs are left alone for at least two years (two summers and two winters). During the summer the Miso expands in the tubs, in winter it contracts. The workers say the Miso is alive.
Why is Hatcho Miso so Famous?
The fame of Hatcho Miso can be attributed to two factors.
1. The location of the factories in Hatcho directly at the Tokaido. The famous road connecting Kyoto and Tokyo in the Edo Period. Travelers would stop here to drink some Miso soup on their long and hard way to the capital. There is also the Yahagi river to be considered as it made the transportation of the finished Miso very easy.
2. The fact that the first Tokugawa Shogun Ieyasu loved Hatcho Miso from his birthplace is also a factor that played a role in the fame and popularity of Hatcho Miso today. The Miso was used by his Military as battle rations.
How to Eat Hatcho Miso?
There is a saying in Japan, that people from Nagoya put Miso on anything. While this is, of course, a blatant exaggeration, there is a grain of truth to it.
These are all dishes with a very strong Miso flavor and widely popular in Nagoya.
During my tour of the Kikukyu Hatcho Miso factory, I got to try a Hatcho Miso soup as well as an Aka Dashi Miso soup.
While I liked both, the Aka Dashi Miso isn’t as strong and less overwhelming for the senses, so I feel it would go better with other foods.
The shops at both factories sell a wide variety of Miso based ingredients and dishes, such as Miso Nikomi Udon, Miso pastes, and sauces. They even have Miso pudding.
You can, of course, find Miso soup here as well.
At Kakukyu they have a small stand selling some snacks with Hatcho Miso. One of which is Miso soft-serve ice cream.
Since I can never say no to soft-serve in Japan, and especially not if there are interesting flavors on offer I had to try it!
To be honest, it wasn’t bad. I mean when have you ever had a bad ice cream before? But it wasn’t all that great either. I wouldn’t necessarily want a second serving of it any time soon.
Join a Nagoya Meshi Food Tour
In my opinion, the best way to learn more about Hatcho Miso is by trying it for yourself. You can do that by joining a Nagoya Meshi Food Tour.
These tours run daily from 2:30 p.m. and in 3.5 hours you will learn a lot about the local Nagoya cuisine, the culture, and history of Nagoya and Japan and much more.
If you prefer more flexibility you can also get in contact and I will put together a private food tour in Nagoya for you and your friends and family. These custom made tours are tailored to your preferences and so you can choose the foods you want to try, and when the tour should start.
Final Thoughts on Hatcho Miso
Miso is a main ingredient in Japanese cooking together with sugar, salt, vinegar, and soy sauce.
Even if you have tried Miso before, I highly recommend you try some dishes made from Miso in Nagoya. It’s a special place to try some unique dishes and a great opportunity to experience the unique flavor of Hatcho Miso.
You can find more information about these dishes and the best restaurants to try them by reading the Nagoya Food Guide.
If you want to learn more about Hatcho Miso and these dishes join me on a food tour in Nagoya! Find more information here.
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In love with Japan and its amazing food, Lena wants to share her passion with the world. That’s why she started Nagoya Foodie. To teach about Nagoya, her adoptive home online through blog posts and offline through unique food tours.