Friday, February 6, 2009

"Chowderlike" Miso Soup: How do they do it?

Today's school lunch was outstanding! Every time I look down at my neatly-arranged tray, I think to myself, "how balanced!": about half vegetables, half carbohydrates, meat mostly as a flavoring device, AND it looks tasty! I remember school lunches in Hawaii being mystery meat sloppy joe, a cottony roll, canned fruit cocktail, and forlorn frozen peas. The cafeteria workers basically just opened a bunch of cans and emptied them onto our trays. It was pretty unedible and unhealthy most of the time. Today in Okinawa:

half a fresh mikan, or tangerine/mandarin/clementine/something like that

Heaping pile of Mugi-Gohan, or chewy, white, short-grain rice with a touch of wheat in it. Japanese rice is always exceptional, no matter where I get it. Even in Hawaii, rice is nowhere near as good.

Salad consisting of soft, melding flavors of daikon, carrot, and other unidentified things. Also a bit of fish, in very small, flaked form. It didn't taste fishy at all. How did they do that? I love love love the way they do vegetables.

A small, golden-brown fried "cake" made from fishcake (kamaboko), infused with plenty of green onions, sweet yellow onions, and corn. Very tasty and flavorful. Something to savor.
A rich, rich bowl of miso soup with big pieces of shiitake mushroom and that clear white stuff that's kind of crunchy but looks like a noodle and is big. Maybe it's some kind of fungus? It reminds me of jellyfish you eat in Chinese restaurants, but I don't think it's jellyfish.

Anyway, this miso soup was superb. When they were spooning it out, I thought it was chowder, it was so incredibly rich and creamy, yet I know it doesn't have an ounce of dairy in it. How do they make it so breathtakingly delightful?

Believe you me, I have had my share of miso soup, but I've never really taken to it. Especially the way they do it in America, what with the dense cloud of gritty miso that always settles to the bottom and the lack of anything substantial, it feels like I'm drinking salty water with grit in it. In Japanese (in Okinawa) restaurants, they always at least add a few chunks of star-shaped kamaboko, and some substantial knots of seaweed. Still, most of the time, I don't like it because it feels empty. I like soups of substance. And I never thought I'd say that the best 味噌 soup I've ever had in my life was in a school lunch.

The secret of the chowder-like miso soup is still a mystery that I would love to solve.

1 comment:

  1. I hear Japanese rice is soooo good because they have some crazy system of trade barriers to encourage domestic production (ie by making ordinary foreign rice just as expensive as domestic superb rice with tariffs)... and I was watching "top chef" the other day, and a contestant almost got eliminated for trying to capture a master chef's rich miso by adding butter -- which separated as it was heating, leaving a kind of oily slick across the top. It's amazing how even at high-end sushi restaurants in the US, the miso is half-dissolved powder packets...