“There’s an epidemic going around and we’re here making so…so is it the Nara Era?

Now that Japanese primary and secondary schools throughout the country are temporarily closed due to the spread of the coronavirus, rumors have become rampant that there’s an excess of milk in the country and dairy farmers are on the verge of losing their businesses. Whether that’s true or not, many people have been trying to help by pitching in to buy more milk than usual. One way to use up vast quantities of milk is by turning it into a dairy product called so (蘇) that was consumed in Japan in ancient times. Consequently, social media accounts in Japan have been abuzz as people document their attempts to reproduce a recipe that’s now in vogue for the first time in 1,000 years. 

“I made so! It took about five hours.”

The origins of so are masked in mystery but it is estimated to have been consumed by the nobility in Japan throughout the Asuka Era (circa 538-710 CE), Nara Era (710-794 CE), and Heian Era (794-1185 CE), a span of time which witnessed everything from the introduction of Buddhism to Japan to the moving of the country’s then-capital to Kyoto. No one quite knows the exact recipe anymore but a basic outline was referenced in the Engishiki, a book completed in 927 that contains a set of governmental regulations and customs:

“Boil down 1 to (an ancient unit of measurement; around 18 liters/4.76 gallons) of milk to get 1 sho (an ancient unit of measurement; around 1.8 liters/0.48 gallons) of so.”

With such limited instructions to go by–basically just heat milk and wait a number of hours before it starts to take solid form–many net users began experimenting with their own variations while cooking such as adding seasonings, simmering in a pan over different levels of heat, stirring in a mix of sugar and salt, and pairing the finished product with honey or black pepper before eating.

“So and more so. The heating conditions between the two were a little bit different. You can tell by the difference in color.”

“From the right are regular so, milk tea so, and café au lait so.”


It also appears to be quite fluffy when cut:


Finished so is said to taste something like cheese, candy maker Fujiya’s Milky candy, or a slightly less sweet milk cake, but still noticeably different from western dairy products such as yogurt.

Japanese net users reacted to the culinary trend for the most part with intrigue but a few cracked skeptical jokes as well:

“I never imagined that the next big thing after bubble tea would be so…”
“It takes so long to make so. That must be why it was originally a food for nobles.”
“I can’t decide whether the people propagating this so boom are refining our culture to the next level or are just a bunch of idiots.”
“I tasted it at a restaurant in Kyoto once. It had a simple caramel-like flavor.”
“How about using up milk by taking a milk bath instead? You could easily get rid of about three liters that way.”
“蘇が蘇る–So is revived.” [Note: This is a fun bit of linguistic play. The kanji for so () is the same one used in the root of the verb yomigaeru (蘇る/to be revived).]

If you find yourself with an excess of milk no matter where you are in the world, why not give making so a try? So will we.

Source: J-Cast News via Hachima Kiko
Featured image: Twitter/@sarisally1
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