I picked up a new found love for Japanese food and its simplicity when I was in Tokyo last month. So many restaurants and food stands are coveted not for their range but because they do one thing really, really well. We’d go to one stand and they just served eel onigiri (rice balls stuffed with various fillings), or another restaurant only served chicken yakitori, or another spot specialized in just takoyaki (octopus balls). I really appreciate that. It takes serious skill and dedication to work on just one thing, and do it really, really well, but it also makes things easy for the customer. Sometimes you get to a restaurant and you are faced with so many options you can’t pick. I like only having to choose between a few items. It takes the pressure off. The other unique thing about Japanese cuisine is how clean the flavors are. Nothing is muddled or hard to discern. You can taste the seaweed or the soy sauce or the ponzu or the wasabi. It’s exciting to feel like you totally understand what it is you’re eating instead of trying to guess. It’s unlike any dining experience I’ve had elsewhere, and even last night Kramer and I were talking about how we just have to go back. Five days wasn’t enough and we need more time. Now, that’s not to say that we didn’t adore the food in Taipei – it was just a little different. Where things in Japan seemed delicate, the food in Taiwan really packed a punch. Pungent, spicy, and texturally interesting would be words I’d use to describe what we ate in Taipei, and the photos below are just a taste (pun intended) of what we consumed while in Taipei.
Our first stop was to the Raohe Night Market, where our new friend, Ronnie, offered to take us around. He was an incredible guide. He zigged and zagged out of crowds as Kramer and I struggled to keep up. He just kept handing us food and we happily accepted, wolfing down whatever we were given. There was spicy barbecued corn (one of my favorites) brushed with some kind of glaze, sausage stuffed into a sticky rice bun (which could be the next big thing in Brooklyn if they figure it out), fish balls on a stick, candied tomatoes on a stick (another favorite – unbelievably good), pig’s blood cake covered in peanuts (surprisingly delicious), some kind of salad sandwich in really good bread with hard boiled eggs, beef bone soup, oyster pancakes, stinky tofu soup, fried stinky tofu (my favorite of the evening), mochi, pepper pork buns, and dessert of sweet red bean with some sort of ice cream. Needless to say, we were beyond stuffed, but were able to squeeze in a quick night cap before passing out with stomaches fuller than they’ve ever been. We slept well!
In an effort to relive some of the flavors we experienced abroad, I want to share this miso soup with you today. I wanted to make it an accessible soup, so while it may not be perfectly traditional, I think it will hit the spot and fill your miso soup craving just as well. Most importantly, it can be on the table in well under 1 hour, making it a quick and easy after work dish to throw together, or, even better, make it on Sunday to enjoy for lunch or dinner for a few days during the week. A poached egg added a touch of luxury to your average miso soup, and plenty of savory mushrooms and cubed tofu help turn what is usually considered an appetizer or side into a dish you will happily eat for a meal on its own and feel satisfied after doing so. I like to garnish my miso soup with a little extra sesame oil, some scallions and a sprinkle of red pepper flakes, but it’s really up to you. You don’t need much to make miso soup delicious, and it is endlessly customizable to fit any taste preference. I always keep a big tub of miso in my fridge because it takes forever to expire and allows me to make a hearty, comforting soup in a matter of minutes without having to spend hours building a stock. Enjoy a little taste of Tokyo tonight, then chase that feeling by packing it up to have for lunch tomorrow.