Today I am making miso soup. Authentic, from scratch, miso soup. And I’m making my own dashi, or soup stock, as well. No mean feat, you’d think, since 67% of Japanese use instant dashi granules.

I spent the morning reading recipe after recipe after recipe, with their similar ingredients lists but wildly differing proportions and cooking times, and now I’m more confused than ever. Many have no measurements at all, or say things like “three strips” or “one square” for an ingredient that may come in sheets, in twisted strips ropes like licorice, or any number of other arrangements. I’m going to wing it, and keep careful notes so that I can revise and tweak the recipe in the future.

I’ll write later this week about my relative success or failure at the project, but since today is Poetry Sunday, I thought I’d post something I found in my research. It wasn’t a poem when I found it, but simply a discussion of one of the soup ingredients.

by Issendai

A kind of kelp
which is used to flavor broths and sauces.
It starts off looking like
a grungy dried banana leaf,
and turns into
a massive, pulsating tentacle
which hangs out both sides of the pot,
writhing and thinking dirty thoughts
about your Rei figurines.
Japanese porn is instantly comprehensible
when you use kombu for the first time
and see what every Japanese child grows up seeing
in Kaachan’s kitchen.

If you’re still willing
to use kombu after that introduction,
wipe both sides of the dry kombu gently
with a damp cloth, taking care
not to wipe all of the white powder off—
it’s the powder which provides much of the flavor.
(The kombu is safe to go near at this point,
since it has no power in its dry state.)
Place the kombu in the cooking water or broth to soak,
and witness its mighty expansion.
Two minutes before the recipe tells you
to remove the kombu from the water,
pick up your weapons and psyche yourself for battle.
You will need both minutes.
At the appointed time, enter the melee.
When you have wrestled the kombu from the water
and it hangs, limp and flopping, from your knife,
nail it above the kitchen lintel
and mock it while you bandage your wounds.

Buy it at a Japanese grocery.
Groceries of other nationalities
are sometimes foolhardy enough to stock
this menace to life and virtue,
and American supermarkets
occasionally indulge in fatal innocence
concerning this ravage,
but you’ll have the best luck at a Japanese store.
Kombu is usually near the nori and wakame,
where it terrifies the delicate and sensitive wakame
into fits.

Categories: Poetry Sundays | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “Kombu/Konbu

  1. Mali

    It is indeed deserving of being a Poem. How was the miso soup? . . . yummmm . . . miso soup. . . .

  2. Maybe you shouldn’t keep strict records, but go with a handful of this, a dash of that. It seems more soulful somehow.

  3. Mali, I learned that some traditions have you soak the kombu overnight in water, so that’s what I did. I’m about to head into the kitchen and see what I can do with it.

    Lali, I’m a firm believer that you can’t break the rules until you know what the rules are. You can’t vary your seasonings if you’ve never made the stew before. So I made exhaustive notes, and now feel I know the essential steps, the quantities and proportions that show up most often, and which quantities are most variable or are changed according to taste. Now I have enough info to actually cook to taste, since I know where the range should be. We’ll see.

  4. indigo bunting

    I think I’m in love.

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