Niigata Prefecture is primarily known for three things—snow, rice, and sake—so it comes at no surprise that its meibutsu products (local specialties) center on those things. The one I will introduce today happens to be associated with treasured Niigata crop—koshihikari rice—and this regional specialty is the perfect topping:
Simply put, Nanban Miso is a chili-infused miso. Miso, as some of you readers out there will know, is a mixture of fermented soy beans, koji, and rice or barley (of course, rice in Niigata's case!). This particular type of spicy miso paste is popular in the colder prefectures in the north of Japan’s main island of Honshu. Places like Niigata, Yamagata, and Aomori all have their unique takes on this special kind of Miso.
Although Miso is traditionally used to make soup or broth-based dishes, Nanban miso is used as a condiment for any number of foods. In Niigata, restaurants may use it with meat or nabe (hot pot)-based dishes, but a fair few keep it simple: just use it to top some rice. The Nanban Miso alone is a satisfying enough topping for the rice, offering a sweet and spicy flavor to each bite.
Certainly, it pairs well with any number of other Japanese (and even western) dishes, and it makes a great pick-me-up in the morning with some eggs and rice.
Nanban Miso can be found at most gift shops in Niigata, but the best I've had comes from a little shop in Shiozawa, a short train ride away from the Urasa shinkansen stop.
If you're hankering for some but can't find it in a store, you can also order it on amazon.co.jp simply by searching for Niigata Nanban Miso, or "新潟産なんばん ."
So there you have it...
...Niigata’s unique take on a spicy condiment. If you like a bit of spice and are looking for a way to liven up your dish, I say zehi, give Nanban Miso a shot!
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