Japanese People Are Reviving a 1,000-Year-Old Dish Because of Coronavirus

The cheese-like dessert known as so​​ (蘇​) was a delicacy during the Asuka period (538-710 AD) and the Heian period (795-1185).
March 11, 2020, 6:17pm
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Photo: Getty Images

As the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States inches further toward quadruple digits, everyone is responding calmly and rationally, by trying to increase social distance, practicing better hand hygiene an–– no, just kidding, people are losing their damn minds and buying toilet paper in quantities that seem to prove that they really don’t understand what coronavirus does.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Kroger, the country’s biggest grocery store chain, has put a five-item-per-person limit on hand sanitizers and cold and flu medications. Publix has put a two-per-customer maximum on a similar list of items, including bleach, tissues, rubbing alcohol –– perhaps for DIY hand sanitizer –– and assorted “eating utensils.”

But panic-buying isn’t limited to the United States; some supermarkets in the United Kingdom have also started to limit the amount of toilet paper, “long life milk,” and packages of dry pasta that each shopper can buy, too. And in Japan, rumors that dairy farmers could lose their jobs due to a virus-related milk surplus have caused well-meaning residents to buy more milk than they know what to do with.

As a result, people have been making a milk-based food that hasn’t really been eaten in the country for the past 1,000 years or so. The cheese-like so or su (蘇) was reportedly a luxury food from the Asuka period (538-710 AD) to the Heian period (795-1185) and is considered to be Japan’s first dairy product. At the time—and depending on which historical account you’re scrolling through—so was eaten by the aristocracy for either medicinal reasons or just as a straight-up dessert. It was also possibly given as a gift to assorted emperors.

Regardless of its purpose then, so is having a moment now, because what else are you going to do with those five extra gallons of milk? According to SoraNews24, there’s no exact recipe, but a book that was finished in 927 has a set of “governmental regulations” regarding its preparation. The general idea was to boil down approximately 18 liters (4.76 gallons) of milk until there’s only 1.8 liters (.48 gallons) left. That results in a dense dairy solid that can be sliced and eaten.

A SoraNews24 reporter named Idate Ayaka made her own so this week, and chronicled the entire process from start to finish. (“I'm convinced of the victory and I'm working hard,” she wrote as the milk started to harden and clump together in the pan.)

She had a slight advantage, having tasted it before at a museum, so at least she sort of knew what he was going for—and after a lot of stirring, and then some more stirring, and some additional stirring, she did it. Ayaka also notes that a Heian-era aristocrat reportedly died from diabetes, caused by eating too much so.

If you do make this stuff, maybe go easy on it, yeah? Also, maybe return some of that toilet paper. There are other people who need it for, you know, now.