The soup is part of the gohan / shiru / tsukemono trinity
Dear friends of Miyabi!
Have you ever noticed that when you come to a Japanese restaurant and read the restaurant menu, it does not start with soups and appetizers like it is common in Czech menus. The menu in Japan goes straight to sushi sets, obento boxes or gourmet sets, and then somewhere at the end of the menu you will finally find soups. Usually there is only one and that is misoshiru, means miso soup. Yet, It does not mean that soup is not important. Actually it is part of the basic almost “holy” trinity of gohan / shiru / tsukemono. Rice/soup/pickeled vegetables. Yes, rice and its accompaniment – soup and tsukemono – are the main dishes in Japanese gastronomy and everything else are side dishes. Side dishes. Not main.
For me, too, the Trinity is a foundation and I like to see it somewhere in the shining place on Miyabi menu. The reality was though that I succumbed to the advice of Miyabi manager and the Trinity ended up slightly unnoticed behind the main dishes which are in Japan treated as side dishes. In addition, rice was in a separate rice category, soups in soup category and fermented vegetables in salad category. I finally decided to fix this in the present Miyabi menu. I believe that when guests think first from the Trinity to the side dishes (main in their mind), they will be in the right mood for Japanese cuisine. This would make Miyabi menu a little more authentic. But it does not mean that guests need to eat soup or rice before anything else. The soup is meant to be drunk with food. That’s why the bowl has a lid so that the soup stays warm inside. You can have it brought to you at the beginning of the meal, in the middle of the feast, and some people even want soup at the end. Similarly it is with rice and pickled vegetables. It is not strictly specified when to eat. But they are to be eaten as trinity set – gohan / shiru / tsukemono – and are meant to be understood as the basis of every menu.
In Japanese, soup is called shiru and its essence is always a broth called dashi. Dashi can be made of classic combu seaweed and shavings of fermented/dried tuna katsuo called katsuobushi, or it can be a broth of combu and dried shiitake mushrooms for the vege version. Dashi gives the soup a umami flavor. Umami is the fifth basic taste. The direct translation is the taste that tastes good. It remains longer in the taste buds like aftertaste.
If the shiru is clear without miso, then the broth must be of very high quality and sensitively flavored with soy sauce. Fine shiru tastes differently in Kyoto and differently in the slightly barbaric Tokyo. It is always a small work of art what floats in this clear soup. A picture. There can be, as a point of decoration, for instance white radish pieces depicting sakura blossoms, or yellow pumpkin cuts can evoke moody autumn. It is beautiful to add a green stem of leaves. A slice of yuzu citrus peel. As I write this, I enjoy the delicacy of the soup. And it’s just clear simple soup. In a menu, soup has prominent importance!
Even miso soup can be noble, especially when served during the Tea ceremony event. Dark miso is suitable in summer, light miso in winter. Here, too, guests enjoy greatly the virtual image of shapes and colors when they open lids of the nice looking lacquer pots. Miso soup is more popular than clear soup, probably because it is also a soup for every day. Well used, well known.
What is inside the miso soup? Usually tofu cubes, wakame seaweed and maybe one other ingredient is added to it. It’s never good to combine too many ingredients. The predominant taste should always remain the taste of miso, in the subtext adorned with umami from dashi. Nemekko mushrooms are nice in miso soup, also daikon raddish, negi onion and other vegetables. It is important never let miso soup boil. It would lose a lot of its flavor. Just let it come to a boil and immediately cut the heat.
Gourmet person would sure recognize miso soup, which was prepared from granulated instant dashi. The honest broth from basic ingredients are always the best. In Miyabi, we prepare misoshiru from honest broth. Not instant. Our misoshiru is very good. Maybe a beginner will not recognize and evaluate this, but I understand. I remember when I was a beginner. I did not recognize miso soup differences when I came to Japan more than forty years ago. I liked misoshiru soup right away and I drank it daily. I prepared it thinking I am doing it right. But I just heated water, added some vegetables and then miso. That was it. I thought my misoshiru was similar to the misoshiru my Japanese aunt did, or what I eat in Japanese restaurants. Maybe a whole year has passed before I learned that the basis is not miso, but that the basis is the broth, dashi. The Japanese laughed at me when it became clear how I cooked my misoshiru. Well, Darja is indeed a foreigner and what you can expect from a foreigner, they judged me.
Besided soups there are also whole soups. Their basis is broth too. But they come in front of guests in large earthenware bowls without a lid. Inside are, in addition to various ingredients, noodles – udon, soba, ramen or Zero konnyaku noodles. Broth may be also dashi, but often is made from bones and meat. This dish is a completely independent full-fledged course and in Japan it is not called soup at all. These whole soups are served in restaurants that specialize in the respective dish. These usually have nothing but the given whole soup with a given type of noodles. It is a folk dish than a dish of high gastronomy. Nevertheless the whole soups are so good. And relatively cheap. So they gain on popularity also in our lands. In Japan sometimes a line of guests stands in front of a renowned restaurant that serves nothing else but a noodle soup. These customers want to eat there and nowhere else because it is known that the taste there is famously excellent.
It is now clear that what we call soup and what the Japanese call soup may be different. People in Czech though have their own expectation. And because of that, for a Japanese restaurant in Prague it is a difficult task to form a suitable menu list. It is not possible to assemble correctly the dishes according to the Japanese standards and yet meet the expectation of the Czech customers. I am having problem how to emphasize soup as they deserves. Hard question is where to place the whole soups? In soup category? But it is not soup. And how to elevate the soup misoshiru to the forefront position on the menu when people treat it as an unnecessary dish sometimes? Some would search for it at the beginning of menu, some at the end. Where ever it is, the important thing is that shiru is very important and should be part of every Japanese feast. It is important because in it you may capture the mysterious taste of umami more than in anything else. Shiru banzai! Please come and check out our Miyabi misoshiru.