Disclaimer: This post may contain Amazon affiliate links. Sudachi earns a small percentage from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you. See disclaimer for more info.
What is Tonjiru (Butajiru)?
Tonjiru (豚汁) is a type of miso soup made with pork and vegetables. Root vegetables are often used to make the dish nutritious and filling, and miso paste is predominately used for seasoning and flavor.
The name is made up of the characters 豚 which means “pork” and 汁 which means “soup.” In some regions, this dish is also known as “butajiru” but I’ll explain more later.
On a side note, if you use chicken instead of pork, it will be called Torijiru (Chicken Miso Soup).
Tonjiru is a favorite dish in many Japanese homes. What makes it so loved? It’s all about the broth, which pulls in the flavors of all the ingredients. The unique taste and texture of soft pork belly set it apart from other meats like chicken or beef and give the soup a special flavor.
Imagine enjoying a hot bowl of pork miso soup on a cold day. It’s the best treat you could ask for. I remember back in junior high, we had this rather strange event where all the students would run a city marathon from midnight until morning right in the middle of winter. Waking up that early for a school event was a pain, but the reward at the end was worth it: a delicious bowl of tonjiru. It tasted exceptional after the chilly run.
Incidentally, it is often eaten in cold regions and during cold weather for practical reasons: the fat from the pork covers the surface of the soup and keeps it from getting cold.
How I Developed This Recipe
When I first tried making this Tonjiru recipe, I wanted to add my unique touch to this well-loved dish. To achieve this, I used butter, an unconventional choice that adds a rich, creamy twist. Instead of the typical thin pork slices, I opted for thicker cuts.
This change really enhances the meaty, hearty feel of the soup. It’s like each bite is a warm hug for your taste buds!
If you’re in the mood to experiment with your miso soup, I highly recommend this hearty Tonjiru version.
Key Elements of Tonjiru
The key elements in Tonjiru are dashi broth, miso paste, pork, and vegetables. Let’s look at each element in detail.
At the heart of a flavorful Tonjiru is its dashi base. Dashi broth, a vital Japanese stock, can be made from a few different core ingredients. Some of these include:
- Kombu dashi: Made from dried kelp.
- Katsuobushi dashi: Created using bonito flakes from skipjack tuna.
- Shiitake Dashi: Uses dried shiitake mushrooms.
In this recipe, we’ll be cooking up Tonjiru using homemade dashi, lovingly brewed with a blend of kombu and katsuobushi. This type of dashi is called “awase dashi,” and we’ve got a detailed recipe ready for you to follow.
Japan’s miso landscape is as diverse as it is delightful, with the type of miso you choose for your miso soup ultimately boiling down to personal preference. Here’s a quick rundown of the different types of miso you might encounter in Japan:
- Rice Miso (米味噌): A trio of rice, soybeans, and salt makes up this common variant.
- Barley Miso (麦味噌): Crafted from wheat, soybeans, and salt, it’s a frequent find in the Chugoku, Shikoku, and Kyushu regions.
- Soybean Miso (豆味噌): Made with just soybeans and salt, this type is particularly popular in the Chukyo region (which happens to be my home turf!).
- Mixed Miso (調合味噌): This type is a tasty blend of two or three types of rice miso, barley miso, or soybean miso.
Miso can also be grouped by color, each offering a distinct flavor profile:
- White Miso (白味噌): Known for its light, delicate taste.
- Red Miso (赤味噌): Offers a deeper, richer taste.
- Mixed Miso (合わせ味噌): A perfect balance in taste.
These are just the broad strokes, though. The miso universe in Japan is vast, with countless variations from region to region. Traditionally, families even made their own miso at home, leading to differences from one household to the next.
A fun fact about my hometown, Okazaki, is that it’s famous for producing Hacho Miso, a kind of deep, rich red miso paste.
In my recipe, I opted for “awase miso” (yellow) this time, which you can readily purchase on Amazon. The choice of miso, much like any ingredient, can greatly change the character of your Tonjiru, making each bowl a unique experience.
Tonjiru, unlike its ordinary miso soup counterpart, boasts a medley of ingredients that inject it with its distinctive character. It’s like a festive gathering of flavors, each adding its unique touch. Here are some of typical ingredients used:
- Carrots: These bring a touch of sweetness.
- Green Onion: For that vibrant green and mild zing.
- Potatoes: Often, “satoimo” or taro is used, imparting a delightful creaminess.
- Mushrooms: Japanese varieties like shiitake, enoki, eryngii, and shimeji are popular choices.
- Daikon Radish: This adds a refreshing crunch.
- Burdock root: Also known as “gobo” in Japanese is a common pick that adds a unique flavor.
- Tofu: For a silky, satisfying bite.
- Konjac (konnyaku): This adds a unique texture to the mix.
While the choice of ingredients ultimately rests with you, I’d suggest picking at least three from this list to ensure a symphony of flavors in your bowl of tonjiru.
Ingredients & Substitution Ideas
- Pork belly block – As mentioned above, you can use thinly sliced pork belly or any other part of the pork, but I recommend pork belly block the most.
- Daikon radish – If you live in an area where daikon radishes are hard to find, substitute locally available radishes.
- Carrot – Fresh local carrots are the best.
- Gobo (burdock root) – If it is not available, you may use another root vegetable.
- Shiitake mushrooms – You can substitute your favorite mushrooms from your area.
- Green onion – If you prefer onions to green onions, onions can also be delicious.
- Konjac – If it is not available, you can add another type of vegetable.
- Aburaage (fried tofu) – You can also use regular tofu instead.
- Unsalted butter – Use unsalted butter, as using salted butter will change the salt content.
- Dashi broth – Awase dashi containing dried bonito flakes is recommended. If you do not make homemade dashi, you can use dashi packets in tea bag form or dashi granules.
- Miso paste – Use your favorite miso paste that is readily available. I like to use an awase miso paste.
- Soy sauce – If you want to know more about soy sauce used for Japanese cooking, please see my dedicated soy sauce post.
- Mirin – Choosing the right mirin can be tricky, as there are various “mirin-style condiments” that are not true mirin. When purchasing mirin, it is recommended to look for “hon mirin” (本みりん) for the best flavor. In the US, Hinode Hon Mirin is a high-quality and affordable option.
- Sesame oil – It is used for the final touch. I recommend Kadoya’s sesame oil.
- Chopped green onion to garnish (optional) – This improves the color of the final soup.
- Shichimi Togarashi (optional) – Japanese chili powder, recommended for those who want to add a little spiciness.
Curious about the exact brands and products that bring my recipes to life? Discover the brands and ingredients behind my recipes at the Sudachi Amazon Storefront. Explore my handpicked pantry essentials and find your next kitchen favorites!Jump to Full Recipe Measurements
Visual Walkthrough & Tips
Here are my step-by-step instructions for how to make delicious Tonjiru at home. For ingredient quantities and simplified instructions, scroll down for the Printable Recipe Card below.
Cut the pork belly into slices about 2mm thick. I recommend using a sharp knife and cutting it straight from the fridge so that it’s firm and holds its shape.
It’s actually more common in Japan to use the thinly sliced pork belly you can buy from the store, but I personally find it’s so thin that it becomes lost in the soup. Thinly sliced pork is also harder to find outside Japan and might be more expensive. Using a pork belly block is not only more accessible but also adds more texture and a meaty feeling to the soup. But of course, this depends on preference. Feel free to use thinly sliced if you prefer!
Wash and scrape the skin off the burdock root, then cut it diagonally into thin slices. Thinly slice the fried tofu pouch, green onion, and shiitake mushrooms. Peel and cut the carrot and daikon radish into bitesize chunks. If using konjac, cut it into bite-sized chunks, blanch it in hot water, and rinse it with cold water to remove the odor.
Use a good variety of vegetables (and tofu) to make tonjiru. By adding more vegetables, the delicious and complex essence from them will come out and make the dish have more depth of flavor. It also makes it more comforting and nutritious!
Heat a large pot on a medium heat and melt unsalted butter. Add the pork and seal on both sides. Using butter rather than oil adds a richer flavor and compliments the pork and miso!
Next, add the sliced burdock root and stir fry for one minute.
Add the carrot, daikon radish, shiitake mushrooms, konjac and fried tofu pouch. (Don’t add the green onion yet.)
Mix the contents of the pot thoroughly and add the dashi.
Add the first half of the miso paste by placing it in a mesh spoon, submerging it in the broth and mixing thoroughly until it’s incorporated. This technique prevents lumps of miso and ensures it’s evenly distributed throughout the soup. Mix well and simmer for 15 minutes.
The purpose of the miso here is to allow the flavor to be absorbed into the vegetables. Miso tends to lose flavor the longer it’s heated, so we flavor the soup right at the end to ensure maximum flavor.
As the soup simmers, the pork will release scum that floats to the surface. Scoop it off as it appears using a mesh spoon.
After 15 minutes, add the green onion and simmer for another 10 minutes.
Add the soy sauce and mirin, then turn off the heat. Add the other half of the miso paste using the mesh spoon technique from before. Taste test and add more miso if needed.
Divide the soup into serving bowls, drizzle with sesame oil, and top with chopped green onion.
Enjoy!Jump to Full Recipe Measurements
Tips & Tricks
- Use thick slices of pork for a meatier texture.
- Add a good variety of vegetables to help make the soup more complex and flavorful.
- Cut the root vegetables into rough bitesize chunks for better texture.
- Use butter instead of cooking oil for a richer taste that compliments the pork and miso flavor.
- Add miso at different times – half before simmering so the vegetables absorb the flavor and half at the end to flavor the soup.
- Turn off the heat before adding the second half of the miso paste, ensuring the flavor is the best it can be.
- If reheating, do not boil. Just heat to drinking temperature.
- Best eaten straight away as the flavor of miso deteriorates over time, especially after reheating.
How to Store
Since miso flavor tends to deteriorate after storing and reheating, it’s best to try and eat tonjiru on the day it is made. However, making tonjiru takes a lot more effort than regular miso soup and we wouldn’t want that effort to go to waste!
To store leftovers, transfer the soup to an airtight container and keep it in the refrigerator. It can be kept for up to 4 days in winter or colder climates. In summer or hot/humid conditions, leftover tonjiru should be consumed within 1-2 days. Note that these estimates are based on using fresh ingredients.
To reheat, heat on the stove and bring to almost boiling. Taste test and if a significant amount of flavor has been lost during storing and reheating, you can add more miso paste to revive it.
Not suitable for freezing.
Tonjiru has an uncertain history, partly due to Japan’s long-standing ban on meat consumption. This ban, initiated by Emperor Temmu in 675, suggests a relatively recent origin for pork-based dishes. Despite the ban, which lasted until the late 19th century, there are tales of the Satsuma clan in present-day Kagoshima Prefecture consuming pork, wild boars, and deer. This has led to speculation that Tonjiru may have originated in the Kyushu region.
However, there are other theories: some believe Tonjiru evolved from Kenchinjiru, a vegetable soup, by adding pork, or it may have been inspired by Botan nabe, a wild boar hot pot.
Another theory suggests its origin in Hokkaido. Regardless of its true origins, Tonjiru has become a beloved dish across Japan.
So, you might wonder, “Should I call it ‘Tonjiru’ or ‘Butajiru’?” Surprisingly, in linguistic terms, both names are spot on. In Japanese, the kanji character “豚” represents pork, and it can be pronounced either as “ton” or “buta.”
The reason why these two names, while linguistically identical, coexist lies in regional variations.
For instance, in Hokkaido, most locals refer to it as “butajiru.” Meanwhile, in Tokyo, you’ll hear the term “tonjiru” more often. For context, I’m originally from Aichi Prefecture, right in the heart of Japan, and in my experience, “butajiru” isn’t a term you’ll hear very often.
Tonjiru usually uses fatty cuts of pork, like pork belly or end cuts, essential for its rich flavor and fat content. In Japan, thinly sliced pork belly is commonly used, but an alternative approach is to use a block of pork belly, slice it yourself. This method offers two advantages: thicker slices than typically available in Japanese supermarkets, and practicality, as thinly sliced meat might not be readily available outside Japan.
Thicker cuts of pork not only provide a more substantial bite but also allow for a fuller appreciation of the pork belly’s taste and texture. Thus, for a heartier and more flavorful experience, thicker slices of pork belly are recommended over thin ones in making tonjiru.
I hope you enjoy this Tonjiru recipe! If you try it out, I’d really appreciate it if you could spare a moment to let me know what you thought by giving a review and star rating in the comments below. It’s also helpful to share any adjustments you made to the recipe with our other readers. Thank you!
More Miso Soup Recipes
Tonjiru (Butajiru) Japanese Pork Miso Soup
- Mini whisk
- 200 g pork belly block chilled
- 350 g daikon radish(s) peeled, thickly sliced and quartered
- 150 g carrot(s) roughly cut into bitesize pieces
- 75 g burdock root(s) (gobo) peeled and thinly sliced diagonally
- 20 g fresh shiitake mushroom(s) stems removed and thinly sliced
- 50 g green onion(s) thinly sliced diagonally
- 400 g sheet konjac cut into bitesize pieces
- 60 g fried tofu pouch(s) (aburaage) thinly sliced
- ½ tbsp unsalted butter
- 1500 ml dashi stock see how to make homemade dashi here
- 6-7 tbsp awase miso paste
- 1 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp mirin
- sesame oil to garnish
- finely chopped green onion(s) optional
- Japanese chili powder (shichimi togarashi) optional
- Cut the 200 g pork belly block into slices 2mm thick. (I recommend doing this straight from the fridge.)
- Wash, peel and cut 350 g daikon radish(s), 150 g carrot(s), 75 g burdock root(s), 20 g fresh shiitake mushroom(s), 50 g green onion(s) and 60 g fried tofu pouch(s) according to the notes in the ingredients list.
- Use a spoon to break 400 g sheet konjac into bitesize pieces. Blanch and wash with cold water.
- Heat a large pot on medium and once hot, add ½ tbsp unsalted butter. Add the pork belly slices and seal on both sides.
- Add the burdock root to the pot and stir fry for 1 minute.
- Next, add the carrot, daikon radish, mushroom, konjac and aburaage, and mix everything together.
- Pour 1500 ml dashi stock into the pot and stir.
- Measure out 6-7 tbsp awase miso paste and add half of it to the soup by placing it in a mesh spoon or ladle, submerging it into the broth and whisking on the spoon to break it up. Mix and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Scoop off any foam that develops on the surface of the soup. (This will prevent the broth from becoming cloudy.)
- Add the sliced green onion and simmer for another 10 minutes.
- Divide into serving bowls and top with a drizzle with sesame oil, finely chopped green onion(s) and a sprinkle of Japanese chili powder (optional).