Homecooking: miso soup

If asked what the most typical Japanese food is, I would probably say miso soup. I already imagine some of you raising your eyebrows at this point, thinking to yourselves “what about sushi?” Contrary to popular belief in the West, sushi is not a part of daily meals in Japan. Sushi is more of a restaurant food, enjoyed on special occasions or on a fun night out with the family.

Miso soup, however, is very much part of Japanese home cooking. I think it is safe to say that most Japanese people still eat miso soup (almost) every day. Rice and miso soup make up the basics of most Japanese meals. When I found myself missing Japanese food after having moved back to Belgium, the taste of miso soup was what I missed most. It is just so typical of Japan.

The recipe for miso soup is very simple. The first thing you need is of course miso paste. Miso is made by fermenting soy and/ or rice and barley. The result is a thick, salty paste. It comes in many varieties. Most common are white miso (shiromiso 白味噌), which has a mild taste and the more spicy red miso (akamiso 赤味噌), which is typical of the Nagoya region.

Japanese miso
Japanese miso

The other basic ingredient for miso soup is fish and seaweed stock (dashi, 出汁). These days most people use dashi powder that can be added to water, rather than making their own stock from scratch. Other than miso and dashi, you can add anything you like to miso soup. Typical things to add are wakame seaweed and tofu, or daikon and fried tofu.

miso soup ingredients
Ingredients for miso soup: on the left instant dashi to be solved in water and on the right miso paste

When I had just arrived in Japan, the task of making miso soup at home seemed daunting. There were so many overly complicated recipes on the internet, while in fact it is very simple to make miso soup. I will therefore describe my own, easy way of making miso soup. Of course you are more than welcome to leave suggestions or remarks in the comments section. I’m always open to learn more!

Japanese miso soup with wakame and daikon

1. Soak the dried wakame in water for about five minutes or until it has stopped swelling. Drain the water and rinse the wakame. Don’t take too much; perhaps start with a teaspoon. The quantity of dried wakame can be deceiving since it swells so much in water.

daikon and dried wakame
daikon and dried wakame

2. Cut off 1/3 of the daikon. Peel it, cut in half lengthwise, cut in half again and then slice it.

peel the daikon
peel the daikon
slice the daikon
cut lengthwise and then slice the daikon

2. Heat water and add the instant dashi according to the instructions on the package.

3. Add the swelled wakame and the daikon to the dashi and boil for a few minutes. At this stage you can replace the wakame and daikon with other ingredients of your choosing.

miso soup recipe

4. Remove the soup from the fire. Take a spoonful of miso paste and dissolve it in the soup. You can add as much as you like. It depends on everyone’s individual taste. Start with a large teaspoon and add more if you like. Never bring the soup to the boil after having added the miso.

miso paste
miso paste
miso soup
It is possible to dissolve the miso paste directly into the soup but I prefer to use a small strainer. It makes dissolving the miso easier and you avoid finding chunks of undissolved miso in your soup afterwards.
miso soup finished
Miso soup finished. I used a lot of miso since I like the taste to be quite strong. If you use less miso, the soup will be a little less opaque.

Et voila! You have the basis for a simple Japanese home cooked meal. Enjoy!

basic japanese homecooked meal
Simple Japanese meal with salad, brown rice (genmai), miso soup (miso shiru) and pickles (tsukemono). The solid ingredients in the miso soup are eaten with chopsticks. The liquid is drunk directly from the bowl. The miso drops to the bottom of the bowl after sitting for a while. This is normal. You can stir it with your chopsticks before drinking.

36 thoughts on “Homecooking: miso soup

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  1. here in all countries in asia, we have our own version of ‘miso’ for cooking. i like miso as much as i like other asian countries’ fermented soy bean paste. having tried various kinds of miso in japan and the fermented soy bean paste in other asian countries, i can safely say that japan has the mildest fermented soy bean paste, both in saltiness and aroma.

    1. I didn’t know other countries use fermented soy bean paste as well. Could you tell me more about the soybean paste in your country? What is it called? How is it used? What does it taste like?

      1. unlike miso, most fermented soybean paste in southeast asia are stronger in flavor and smell. mostly used as seasoning for cooking dishes, not for soup.

  2. I love this blog, my family and I are heading off to Japan next month and I’m a little nervous. Your style is helping me relax and feel more confident with our plans.

    1. I absolutely loved living in Japan and am a little jealous of you because you are moving there 🙂 In my experience, Japanese people are generous and welcoming. My main advice for being comfortable in Japan is to keep an open mind to cultural differences. After that, the rest should take care of itself. I hope you have a wonderful time!

        1. It does help to read up about Japanese culture and customs before you go. In unknown situations I usually hold back a little and take my cues from the people around me. In my experience, as long as you are clearly trying your best to be respectful, Japanese people will be pretty lenient toward foreigners who don’t know the rules. If someone does get angry at you, the best way to difuse the situation is to apoligize and bow profusely, even if you don’t know what you did wrong. It would be great if you could find a Japanese friend to confide in and ask all the awkward questions about cultural misunderstandings. That really helped me during my stay in Japan. I have tried to put a few tips and tricks together in the section of this blog titled ‘Japan guide’: https://thejapans.wordpress.com/gaijin-guide/. I hope they can be of help to you. Please feel free to contact me if you have any more questions. Good luck!

    1. Yeah! Akamiso Nagoya style! Word! :3

      Whenever I have taken foreign visitors to eat akamiso dishes in famous Nagoya restaurants, like akamiso tonkatsu at Yabaton or soba with akamiso, they didn’t seem to like it at all 😦 I think they found the taste to be too strong. Their loss I guess.

  3. ooooh miso soup is so good! I can never make it quite right myself though! I like your use of the strainer – I often find little bits that I don’t like in the miso soup I make. I’ll try that strainer thing next time. 🙂

  4. I have been following your blog for a while and i enjoy it. The miso soup looks delicious. Make we wonder is there any Japanese take-outs near my place.

    1. I’m so glad you like my blog 🙂 Thanks for taking the time to comment! I love getting to know new readers. Good luck on your quest for Japanese take-outs. I think it’s a good thing there are none near my place or I would eat there every day and spend a fortune.

  5. Japanese Miso Soup is Soul Food for me and something that I also crave when I’m not feeling well. It always forms part of our meal at home. Thanks for sharing your recipe 🙂

    1. You’re welcome 🙂 Speaking of feel-good foods, lately I have been feeling a bit under the weather and I have had a real craving for okayu (salty rice porridge). A big bowl of okayu with an umeboshi, and some miso soup, and you’re good to go ^_^

  6. I love making miso soup! I haven’t tried it with daikon though- I’ll need to give it a shot soon!

    1. That miso making party looks like a lot of fun! I wonder if something like that exists in Belgium. I once had the privilige to taste homemade miso in Japan that was made by the family of my tea teacher. So good!

        1. Those look like detailed instructions. Thank you! Maybe one day I can organize my own miso making event for all those Belgian japanoholics out there. Now if that isn’t a motivation to seriously start studying kanji from now on, then what is? ^_^

          1. You could try visiting the guy and convince him to hold a miso-making as well as a tasting party when it’s ready to be used. He will have more customers for his veggies that way perhaps??

            1. Oh it’s in Belgium! So sorry, it’s very silly of me that I hadn’t noticed that yet. I’m really terrible at reading Japanese :s Thank you so much for finding that link for me. Visiting that guy, perhaps with a small group, is an excellent idea 😀

              1. Sorry, I should have explained. He is a Japanese living in Tubize outside of Brussels, running a farm, and growing organic Japanese vegetables. You should definitely visit!!

  7. Thanks for another well presented post. I buy my miso in a natural foods store. There are a few good organic brands. I live in Byron Shire, NSW, Australia. It’s a very alternative lifestyle region. Sometimes someone gets ambitious and makes miso to sell locally. That is a real treat. I use it to flavour many soup style dishes. I just mix in a tablespoon at the end of the cooking. I also spread it on buttered toast sometimes for a savoury snack. It’s a very nutritious food. When I’m I’ll, it’s an excellent way to get nutrition as a simple broth. I prefer the mugi miso but each type has it’s own lovely flavour.

    1. Hmm, I might try it on a piece of toast too. That sounds interesting. I also love it spread over a piece of tofu, for example as part of a salad. Locally made miso sounds wonderful. Maybe one day I’ll get equally ambitious and give it a try ^_^

  8. Thank you for the recipe! Seems like something I could make myself. Did you buy the ingredients in Japan or at an Asian shop in Belgium? The only thing I can find, is miso packaged soup…

    1. The freeze-dried miso soup powder tastes very different from the real thing. If you feel like having a go at my recipe, please do. It’s very easy! がんばってね! ^_^

      I bought a very nice white miso paste in the Asian supermarket Sun Wa in Antwerp near the Central Station (not the miso in the picture though). As for the dashi, the same brand of ‘hondashi’ featured in the picture can also be found in Sun Wa (the Japanese ingredients are on the first floor in Sun Wa Antwerp). Of course I imagine you can also find miso and dashi in several other Asian shops in Brussels and other large cities. In Brussels I have heard of three shops that sell Japanese items only: Tagawa (Chaussée de Vleurgat, 119), Kenchan (120 Rue Kelle) and Haruchan (17 Rue des Begonias). I haven’t been there yet but they were recommended to me by Japanese people so I’m sure they will carry good products.

      Let me know how your miso soup turns out! (^v^)

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