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Making “So,” an Ancient Japanese Food, Is a Perfect Way to Enjoy Your Time Staying Home


ReleaseMay 8, 2020

Have you heard of a food called “so” (蘇), which has been much talked about on SNS this spring in Japan? This delicious “so” can be made easily at home. It is a perfect way to enjoy your time staying home.


Why has “so” become a boom?

In an attempt to prevent the spreading of COVID-19, schools all over Japan have been required to close since March 2, 2020. Then, milk producers and related parties raised concern about a surplus supply of milk due to the closure of the schools. The reason is that lunch served at elementary and junior high schools in Japan almost always comes with milk. Therefore, along with an increase in actions to support the dairy farmers by utilizing the surplus milk, “so” came under the spotlight.

What is “so”?

Among numerous recipes using milk spreading on SNS, why has “so” attracted so much attention? It is probably because of its simple recipe using only milk, its possibility to be converted into different arrangements, and its mysterious aspect of being an ancient food. These may have won people’s hearts.
There is a description of “so” in one of the historical papers found from Heijo-kyo Palace in Nara (in today’s Nara Prefecture), which was Japan’s capital city about 1,300 years ago. Other than being made by cooking down milk, details are not described. At that time in Japan, milk was considered a special food, which was said to be taken by nobles as a medicine. After more than 1,000 years, people are now again making, eating, and enjoying “so” all over Japan.

Let’s make “so”!

It is easy to make “so,” simply by cooking down milk.
From 1 liter of milk, you will get about 200 grams of “so.”

蘇 蘇
Pour milk into a pot, put the pot on low to medium heat so that it won’t boil over, cook the milk while stirring it with a spatula. As you cook, the milk becomes easy to stick to the bottom of the pot, so it is recommended to use a Teflon-coated pot.

According to some advice from those who have actually made “so,” you can enhance the flavor by spending more than 2 hours to cook down the milk! So, be patient and watch the heat level.

蘇 蘇 蘇
After a while, you will see the milk becoming sticky like custard cream. In order to prevent burning the milk on the bottom of the pot, knead the dough-like milk with a spatula in a way to scrape it off from the bottom of the pot.

蘇 蘇
As you keep kneading the milk, it will be able to be shaped with a spatula. Then, put the milk into an appropriate size, wrap it with plastic wrap, and let it cool.
When it cools down, cut it into slices as you like. Now you have “so”!

The cooking time ranges from about 1 hour to 5 hours, which should be adjusted according to your preference. If you want to enjoy the natural aroma and simple taste of milk, it would be better to cook the milk on very low heat, which doesn’t cause the milk to bubble during cooking.
If you cook down milk on low to medium-low heat for 3 to 5 hours, the Maillard reaction, which occurs when you heat milk, changes the color of milk to brown and adds a nice and unique burnt flavor as well as sweetness. If you cook down milk so as to cause the Maillard reaction, your “so” will have a flavor like cookies or caramels!

Arrangements of “so”

蘇 蘇
When you eat “so” as it is, you can taste the subtle sweetness of milk. On SNS, people enjoy “so” as a sweet, with honey, fruits, etc. Meanwhile, some people enjoy it with peppers, olive oil, and/or prosciutto as a snack with alcohol! If you toast a slice of “so” in an oven, it will be crispy like cookies.

蘇 This is “so” topped with frozen honey-coated strawberries. It looks like a pretty dessert served at a café!

There is an infinite possibility of arrangements of “so.” With the simple recipe, “so” may offer an opportunity for a whole family to enjoy cooking and eating. Since we are spending a long time at home these days, please enjoy your extended relaxing time to eat food along with “so.”

Photos and information by courtesy of @norapen