Butterbur Sprout (fukinotou)
One of the favorite ingredients found in the hills of Japan is fukinotou. The pale green sprouts are some of the first plants to poke their way through the late-season snows of winter and are a sure sign of the arrival of spring. The blooming of its namesake fuki flower also makes it a springtime favorite.
Fukinotou is referred to as “bakke” in the local Tohoku and Hokkaido dialects, and “bakke miso” is just what you would imagine – fukinotou mixed with miso paste. The dish complements a stiff drink well, but it can also be devoured atop a bowl of hot rice.
The bitter taste of mountain fields mixed with the sweet scent of miso will have you craving for more. Cooking the sprouts with a touch of miso and sugar has a preservative effect, allowing for the mix to last up to a year in the refrigerator. My family seems to eat it at virtually every meal, so even if we cook it in bulk, it will barely last a month.
I first discovered bakke miso while on a bike tour to a neighboring prefecture during my first year of junior high school. An elderly woman with a thick accent from one of the small towns invited me to her home for a bite to eat.
Since a child’s sense of taste is underdeveloped, I did not enjoy the bitter and sour tastes found in many Japanese foods. However, the bowl of steaming rice covered in bakke miso opened up a new world of adult tastes.
The sweet smell of bakke miso grows better as you add more fukinotou. However, if you want the full flavor of the miso to come forward, use less fukinotou. Keep this in mind the next time you come across a patch of fukinotou next spring.