Written and illustrated by Misa Ono
You can find various kinds of seasonings such as soy sauce, miso, vinegar, cooking sake, mirin, and koji at any Japanese supermarket. Generally, we put them in the shopping basket, pay at the cashier, and use them them for cooking. Most people just check their price tags but few people ever look at their ingredients. Though strange to consider, probably half of Japanese people don’t know that soy sauce is made of soy beans and barley let alone what koji is. Actually, I used to be one of them. However, as I have started to learn more about koji, I have come that it’s more fun to make my own seasonings rather than buying them.
My grandmother was born in the countryside of Oita around 1920. She used to grow rice and vegetables, home-brew Doburoku, which is raw unrefined sake, pickle vegetables, and dry vegetables and mochi rice cake all on her own. People at that time thought that buying seasonings at the store was lazy and embarrassing. The only thing she bought was koji mold — Koji kin. They ground and steamed their own rice and made rice malt by growing koji mold in the steamed rice. They made miso, vinegar, sake, and mirin using the rice malt and ate vegetables with those seasonings.
People nowadays would think such a lifestyle is healthy and stylish; however, I thought it was rustic and didn’t like it when I was a child. As I grew up though, I started to realize how tasty my grandmother’s meals were and they were special because we could not buy any of it at stores. For example, I loved the soup she made using her homemade miso and her pickles with no preservatives. Since she never used pesticides, rice and beans that bugs would often breed in her rice and beans if she did not preserve them properly, but we would just make sure to wash the rice and beans carefully, and they were always fantastic. When I realized how valuable they were, she had already passed away. I still recall so many of her friends and families talking about her dishes at her funeral:“Her Nimono was so good!”“I loved her Takikomi Gohan!” – rice seasoned with soy sauce and cooked with meat or seafood, and other savory vegetables.
It is too luxurious to eat freshly picked rice and vegetables with homemade seasonings every day for me living in a big city, but I can certainly try to make some homemade seasonings more often. I would love to cook with homemade seasonings as much as possible. It’s important to live with good foods and have fun cooking!