In his Mimi Ferments store in Moabit, Markus Shimizu uses fermentation to create ingredients for fine Japanese cuisine.
When you enter Markus Shimizu's shop in Moabit's Stephankiez district, you are first struck by a unique smell – something slightly sour and wholly indefinable. "Most of my customers like it," says Markus Shimizu, who experiments with fermentation at his small shop.
Here, the floor is covered with pallets supporting massive wooden barrels filled with aging artisan soy sauce. The process can take between three months and three years to complete. The longer the sauce ages, the darker and more aromatic it becomes. Markus Shimizu explains that it makes sense to store the barrels on the ground since soy sauces have to be stirred so frequently. Other fermented foods such as the infamous nattō, which is made of fermented soy beans, is stored on shelves along the walls.
Fermentation, the practice of preserving foods through the activity of microorganisms, enjoys a long tradition in Japan. The most important ingredient is kōji, a fungus that, when introduced to the steamed and softened substrate, induces enzymatic changes. This process can also be used to make miso paste, rice vinegar, and even sake. "Most of our products are vegetarian or even vegan," shares Markus Shimizu, "but I like to experiment with meat, eggs, and cheese, too."
A new art
Initially, fermentation was just a hobby for Markus Shimizu, who was born in Tokyo as the son of a Japanese father and a German mother. Markus Shimizu studied art in Holland and Berlin, and his scholarships allowed him to spend a lot of time traveling – to India and Brazil, among other places. But when his friends, and friends of friends, started asking about his fermented creations, he organized a miso workshop followed by his first cooking course. That's when he started making contacts with chefs and restaurants.
At his own shop, which opened its doors in 2018, he sells small quantities of his products packaged in bottles and jars. "A lot of my customers are creative professionals," says Markus Shimizu, "and some are even top chefs." They like to use his creations to produce unique foods – ones that don't necessarily conform to Asian traditions. Markus Shimizu is always designing and testing new and challenging products for his clients. He just loves to experiment. So what happened to his art? "This is my art now," Markus Shimizu answers with a laugh.
Author: Ludwig Peters