Japanese food, and sushi in particular, has become very popular around the world, and inevitably the word has managed to screw it up. So much so, in fact, that many Japanese citizens are coming back from traveling abroad and calling their government with complaints about soggy seaweed, limp noodles and sushi with toppings that are far from traditional.
As Japan is a culture that values its tradition and national identity, the Japanese Agriculture Ministry has responded by putting together a blue ribbon panel of experts and tasking it with evaluating and certifying the world sushi restaurants. The panel is set to unveil its standards for certification by the end of February, and starting next April, inspectors will spread out around the world to give restaurants either the all-important stamp of approval or the dreaded stamp of shame.
Some people think it’s not right for the Japanese government to impose their rigid standards on restaurants in other countries, but I disagree. Perhaps it’s just that I’m more interested in Japanese culture than the average person, but when I go out for sushi, I’m also trying to learn something about Japanese etiquette. Should I ever find myself in Japan, or any other country for that matter, I would like to have some idea what I’m doing so I’m not seen as just another stupid American tourist.
We have a wonderful Japanese restaurant near my home called Moritomo. We go there often for sushi, and I’ve always been amazed with the quality of their food, especially their miso soup.
I’ve tried a number of different recipes in an effort to make a soup that tastes similar to theirs, and after a dozen or so failures, I finally feel that I have come close. The trick, as it turns out, is adding just the right amount of bonito flakes to make the soup stock. This is my variation to a recipe that I found printed on the back of a block of shiro miso which I bought from an Asian food store in Burlington, VT.
Start with four cups of water in a sauce pan, and add two inches of kombu kelp. Bring this to a boil, and remove the kombu just as the water begins to boil.
Next, reduce heat to maintain a gentle boil and add 1/4 cup bonito flakes (lightly packed). Leave them in for 5 minuets
Prepare a colander lined with coffee filter material and run the soup stock through it to remove the bonito flakes. Add the stock back to the sauce pan. This is your soup stock. Known as dashi, it is the base stock for most Japanese soups and broths.
Add 3/4 cup soft tofu, cut into 3/8 inch squares, and three inches of wakame seaweed cut into 1/4 inch strips. Bring to a rolling boil for seven minuets to cook the tofu and wakame.
While the tofu and wakame are cooking, remove one cup of the soup stock, and place it into a bowl. Let it cool for one minuet and dissolve 3 and 1/2 tablespoons of shiro (white) miso, making sure that no little chunks remain.
Remove from heat, and allow to cool for two to three minuets.
Add the dissolved miso, garnish with chopped scallion rings and serve.