Nagoya, the capital city of Aichi Prefecture, is famous for having an especially strong tasting and flavorful cuisine compared to the rest of Japan. One reason for this is the Nagoya red miso used in many of the popular local dishes. We recommend to every traveler who has ever complained that the Japanese food is too bland or flavorless to try some dishes made from red miso in Nagoya.
What is Aka Miso (Red Miso)?
Miso is a paste made from fermented soybeans. It is one of the main ingredients in Japanese cooking and especially famous as miso soup.
There are different kinds of miso depending on the region. In general, we can divide miso into three categories based on ingredients:
- Rice miso (kome miso): This miso is made from a combination of soybeans and rice. It has a very light color and sweet taste. Rice miso is the most commonly used miso in Japan
- Barley miso (mugi miso): Instead of mixing soybeans with rice, this miso is made from a mixture of soybeans and barley, giving it a slightly darker color than rice miso.
- Bean miso (mame miso): Is the purest kind of miso using only soybeans to produce miso. Hatcho miso, produced in Okazaki in Aichi Prefecture is the most famous brand of bean miso in Japan.
The first two have a lighter color and are therefore called shiro miso or white miso. Depending on the duration of fermentation as well as the percentage of rice or barley in the miso, the colors and also taste differ.
Red miso or aka miso, on the other hand, refers to bean miso. Using only soybeans to make miso gives the finished product a very dark color and rich flavor. Bean miso is mainly produced in Aichi Prefecture, which is why it is used so much in local cooking.
How is Miso Made?
The production process of miso is relatively simple. Soybeans are washed and left to soak for a couple of hours. Then they are made into a paste and formed into balls. A culture called koji is added to the surface of the soybean balls and in a controlled environment, the koji starts to grow.
The soybean paste is mixed with salt and water and transferred into gigantic wooden barrels that can hold five tons of miso. Three tons of stones are carefully arranged on the lid to press down on the fermenting miso paste.
After a certain amount of time (anywhere between a couple of days and a couple of years) the mixture turns into miso paste ready for consumption.
Is Miso Healthy?
There is good reason to eat miso, not only because it tastes delicious, but also because of the many health benefits miso offers. Like other fermented food the probiotics in the miso help to support a healthy digestive system.
The human body isn’t able to use protein but has to break it down into amino acids first. The fermentation process breaks down the protein of the soybeans which makes it easy for our body to absorb.
Miso also has many other healthy components such as vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, manganese, copper, and zinc.
5 Must-Try Red Miso Dishes of Nagoya
Here are 5 iconic red miso dishes from Nagoya!
- Miso Soup
- Miso Nikomi Udon
- Miso Katsu
- Miso Oden
1. Miso Soup
Everywhere in Japan, miso soup is an integral part of any teishoku (set meal). This is also the case in Nagoya. The only difference is that here you won’t be served white miso soup as you would get in Tokyo or Osaka, but rather red miso soup.
If you wanted to try this typical aka miso soup there isn’t a particular restaurant that we recommend. Just head to any locally-run restaurant in Nagoya and enjoy the rich flavor of red miso soup.
2. Miso Nikomi Udon
Udon noodles stewed in red miso soup. Usually prepared in an earthenware pot and served still bubbling hot, this Nagoya food is the perfect dish for cold winter days.
The ingredients for miso nikomi udon are simple. Red miso paste and dashi fish stock for the soup, unusually firm udon noodles cooked without salt, green onion, kamaboko fish cake, and a raw egg as toppings. Some restaurants add other toppings such as chicken or beef, mussels, mushrooms, or shrimp tempura.
Miso nikomi udon is very popular with the locals and you can find it at many udon restaurants in town. Yamamotoya is said to have popularized the dish in Nagoya. This chain of restaurants is specialized in miso nikomi udon and has been perfecting the dish for the past 95 years. They serve a standard version of miso nikomi udon, as well as a wide variety of toppings and seasonal menu items. A menu is available in English.
For everyone with a big appetite come by Yoshinoya, a small family-run restaurant in Shinsakae. Aside from the normal serving size, you can order two bigger sizes. The biggest one contains around 4 kilograms of udon noodles and is served in a gigantic earthenware pot that reminds more of a bathtub than a serving bowl.
3. Miso Katsu
Tonkatsu is a deep-fried pork cutlet. This dish can be found all over Japan. Usually, this piece of meat is topped with a dark brown sauce called tonkatsu sauce or katsu sauce. In Nagoya rather than katsu sauce, the tonkatsu is served with a red miso-based sauce. This dish is then called miso katsu.
Usually, miso katsu is served as a set meal with a side of grated cabbage, a bowl of rice, some Japanese pickles and a bowl of miso soup.
If you aren’t sure you will like miso katsu but you still want to try it, we recommend a visit to Misokatsu Yabaton. At this restaurant, you can order different parts of the pork either with their famous red miso sauce or the traditional tonkatsu sauce. For the undecided, half-and-half is also possible. This makes it possible to compare flavors. The mascot of Yabaton is a fat pig wearing a traditional Japanese sumo belt, which makes it easy to recognize Yabaton restaurants.
If you are brave enough, I recommend checking out Asahi, a small hole-in-the-wall type of kushiyaki restaurant close to Nagoya Station. They serve delicious and cheap dote skewers as well as other types of food on sticks. The whole point of this restaurant is for Japanese workers to have a couple of drinks after work and then move on home or to the next bar.
5. Miso Oden
Oden is a popular winter food consisting of different ingredients simmering for a long time in a clear broth. Typical oden ingredients are boiled eggs, chunks of radish, chicken skewers, and konnyaku.
You will have no problem finding it at any convenience store throughout the country. In the Aichi region, rather than giving out a small packet of mustard, convenience stores hand out packets of miso sauce as a topping for oden. Restaurants and izakaya serving oden in Nagoya go even one step further and simmer the oden ingredients in a miso-based broth, sometimes for hours.
One of the best restaurants to try delicious miso oden is Nonkiya located within walking distance of Nagoya Station. This shop has a very old feel to it and is the perfect place to grab a drink or two at night. Their miso oden plate comes with different samples of this delicious dish such as radish, egg, and konnyaku all turned dark brown from the hatcho miso it simmered in.
If you were wondering what to eat in Nagoya, the above mentioned miso-based dishes are a great place to start. For a red miso beginner, a miso katsu is a great introduction, but if you prefer to dive deep, try the doteni, it might surprise you.