One of Japan’s greatest treasures is its huge variety of delicious food. The reason why there are quite a number of dishes in Japan is due to its rich and diverse culture and history, as well as the climates which differ in various regions. Therefore, there is an abundance of different local ingredients and food in each region. When traveling around, it isn’t unusual to come across dishes that vary depending on the area.
Many people know about miso soup, but have you heard of a similar dish called hiyajiru? Hiyajiru is one of the local foods in Miyazaki Prefecture (宮崎県) in Kyushu (九州), which is one of the main islands located in southwestern Japan.
The literal meaning of hiyajiru is “cold soup”. It is a bowl of rice mixed with cold miso soup, fish paste, and other ingredients such as mackerel, tofu, cucumber, and sesame seeds. Despite its name, it is not really a soup, but more like a thick rice dish.
This traditional dish has been around as far back as eight hundred years ago. It was found cited in a document dated from between the 12th and 14th century when the Kamakura (鎌倉) shogunate (Edo era military government) was established in the east of Japan. It is said that hiyajiru was a favorite food choice among farmers.
When you see regular meals in Japan, the soup, dishes, and rice are usually served separately. However, for hiyajiru, everything is mixed together as it can be prepared and served easily in one bowl. In the past, farmers could finish eating it up quickly while working in the fields during busy seasons.
A main feature of hiyajiru is that it is served cold as opposed to other soups, which are usually served hot. This is because hiyajiru is often eaten during summer, so the cold rice dish serves to counter the effects of the Kyushu heat and to restore one’s appetite.
Cucumbers are often added to hiyajiru to further cool down the body, as according to Oriental medicine, cucumbers are believed to possess cooling properties. The idea of drinking cold soup may seem strange at first to the Japanese, who were used to drinking hot soup. Due to the tastiness of hiyajiru, however, it has not only become a popular food in Miyazaki, but also in other areas of Japan.
The current version of hiyajiru is based on the traditional recipe from Miyazaki Prefecture. Usually, the stock known as dashi (出汁) is made with kelp, fish heads and fish bones, which are usually barracuda, horse mackerel, or flying fish.
The traditional way of making hiyajiru involves the use of a mortar and pestle known as suribachi (すり鉢) and surikogi (すりこぎ) to grind ingredients like tofu, miso, grilled fish and cold water. Many young people do not have these traditional tools anymore, so nowadays, it is quite common to use a blender instead.
Like many other dishes in Japan, each region added its own tweak to hiyajiru. For instance, Ehime (愛媛) Prefecture’s version of hiyajiru contains mikan orange peel and sea bream, which are specialties of that region. Another example would be Saitama (埼玉) Prefecture’s version, which uses wheat flour-based udon noodles or very thin somen noodles instead of rice, and the noodles are dipped into the soup.
You may think that hiyajiru should taste quite similar to miso soup due to the similar ingredients. However, although hiyajiru is for miso lovers, both dishes actually taste quite different, as the hiyajiru is much thicker due to the addition of fish paste. Expand your Japanese food horizons and give hiyajiru a try!