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The Soul Food of Snow Country



In Minamiuonuma, where the snow is deep and blocks off the area all winter, kirizai is a local staple of Snow Country cuisine. Consisting of finely chopped pickled vegetables mixed with fermented soybeans, it has long been eaten in people's homes. There are several theories as to the origin of the name kirizai, but according to older generations in the area, the name is a combination of “kiri” from the verb kirizamu, which means to finely chop, and “zai” from the words zairyo and yasai, which mean “ingredient” and “vegetable” respectively.

Historically, vegetables such as daikon radish and nozawana leaves were pickled in large quantities to make takuan and nozawana pickles, and eaten with rice as a preserved food during the winter. However, by early spring, the pickles would over ferment and become inedible, and the surplus would have to be thrown away. To avoid wasting food, people began mixing the leftover pickles with fermented soybeans to eat them together, and kirizai was born.

In the past, natto, which consists of fermented soybeans, was mostly homemade and a valuable source of protein in mountainous areas where fish and meat were hard to come by. For big households, covering the natto with pickles and other ingredients was a way to provide everyone a nutritious meal while stretching out this precious source of protein. Kirizai has thus been handed down by the grandmothers of this area as a home style dish born from their resourcefulness and care for their families.

With its long history, some even say that kirizai has been eaten since the Warring States Period, when Minamiuonuma-born generals Naoe Kanetsugu and Uesugi Kagekatsu were active.

As a regional dish well known by locals, every household has its own home recipe. There are many variations to eating kirizai, such as adding in kimchi, cheese, pickled plum, or even eating it as ochazuke. The Minamiuonuma Kirizai DE-Aitai, a public-private community development organization formed to promote Minamiuonuma throughout Japan, even went and created its own version of kirizai called the “Minamiuonuma Kirizaidon”. In addition to the usual nozawana and takuan pickles, this kirizai bowl features Minamiuonuma Koshihikari rice, spicy kagura nanban pepper, and salmon, which in the mid-Edo period was one of the largest catches in Japan from this area's Uono River. With this gourmet twist on kirizai, the organization seeks to promote Minamiuonuma's culture across the country.

History, regional culture, local ingredients – Kirizai embodies all that Minamiuonuma has to offer. While today it can be made from ingredients that you can easily find in the supermarket, kirizai is a food that was born from wisdom and familial love to nourish one's whole family despite the challenges of living in snow country. We invite you to come to Minamiuonuma and try for yourselves this flavor that has been handed down and eaten for generations throughout the region's long history.

Narrator: Minamiuonuma Kirizai DE-Aitai Leader Yuuji Nagumo

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Name Ajinomise Kyo
Address 2252 Muikamachi, Minamiuonuma, Niigata
Telephone 025-773-6606
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  • 1.The Soul Food of Snow Country : Kirizai
The Soul Food of Snow Country : Kirizai
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Narrator: Minamiuonuma Kirizai DE-Aitai Leader Yuuji Nagumo

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