Tsugaru Soup for the Soul
Happy New Year!
It’s cold outside and a lot of shops have been closed for the New Year holidays here in Aomori. I’ve been avoiding going outside except to shovel all the snow we’ve been getting, and instead staying close to my heater making soups.
Speaking of soup, today I’d like introduce “Kenoshiru” (けの汁) a traditional soup from Aomori. When I first heard the name, I was a bit surprised. “Shiru” is a general term for light broth soups like miso soup, but the word “ke” in Japanese means hair, so the first time I heard “Kenoshiru” I imagined it was something like “hairy soup.” Before you loose your appetite, let me assure you it has nothing to do with hair. In fact, the name is said to mean “rice porridge soup” in the local dialect.
While the ingredients vary from town to town in Aomori, generally Kenoshiru does not have rice in it anymore, and instead is chock full of vegetables such as daikon radish, carrots, and burdock root. It also has the wild mountain herb delicacies fuki (sometimes called Japanese rhubarb), zenmai (a Japanese fern), and warabi (bracken). It also usually contains some soy protein, such as tofu, abura-age (deep fried tofu), or frozen-dried tofu. All ingredients are finely minced into tiny easily edible cubes creating a most pleasing texture.
Some of the ingredients, like fuki can get expensive, especially in the winter so they sell packets of vegetables already cooked and chopped up for you at almost every supermarket in Aomori. All you need to do is add it to your soup stock base, add some tofu or anything else you like, let it simmer and you have delicious hot Kenoshiru. It’s also a traditional food during the New Years holidays in Aomori. I am told that in the past the New Years was the only time women had to rest from housework, so they would make a huge huge pot of Kenoshiru that would feed their families for days. This is the best way to have Kenoshiru since it keeps very well for several days in the cold Aomori winter, while its flavor deepens the longer it stays in the pot.
I think Kenoshiru deserves much more recognition in Japan. It’s very healthy, low in fat, rather filling, and tastes great. Many local foods, especially soups in Japan are rather fishy and prove to be a little bit challenging for most visitors from outside of Japan, but I think just about anyone can enjoy the great taste of Kenoshiru. It’s available at many local restaurants and eateries all over Aomori, all year round, so please give it a try!