Believe it or not, I have never felt so homesick that I want to go back to Japan. Even though I had a difficult time adjusting to my new environment and U.S. culture, I was able to overcome my homesickness little by little as time passed.
Still, there is one thing I miss. It is Japanese food. It is not too much to say that my college life would be affected by how satisfied I am with each day’s meals.
I remember I ate bacon, bread and fried potatoes for two weeks when I was quarantined in a dormitory. I thought the Sparks Center was giving those to me because it was still summer vacation. It seemed they were not prepared to give meals.
However, they provided junk food such as hot dogs and hamburgers during the past semesters. I heard the meal drastically changed from a buffet style to those because of the pandemic. Moreover, I was surprised that many students took pizzas even though they already had a meal in one of their hands. I have never seen students going to a salad bar.
I was afraid of what I was going to look like in the future. I did not want to be a typical fat American. Unfortunately, I did not have any choice but to get my meal from the Sparks Center. Therefore, I always thought carefully about my meal balance, having less high calorie food, and getting enough vegetables.
One day I was happy that I went for a drive with one of my friends to a Japanese restaurant in town. Going off campus is a rare opportunity for me because I do not have a car.
We carried out our ordered food and went back to his dormitory to eat. One of the foods I ordered was miso soup. I have missed eating it since I arrived in the U.S. Although I brought some instant miso soups from Japan, I was not satisfied with the quality.
My expectation suddenly went away when I opened the lid. I was not able to smell anything. I suspected I had COVID because a loss of smell is one of the symptoms. Then, I sipped the soup a little. All I could taste was saltiness. I really thought I had to immediately quarantine myself from my friend. But then, my friend said, “It is just salty.”
I was relieved when I heard that. However, what came to mind next was that I had wasted my money. Realizing I could not enjoy food even off campus, I no longer tried to enjoy the action of eating. I just ate the meals for my body to survive by getting enough nutrients.
Then, summer vacation arrived. Although I could not be bothered to do some cooking at first, I gradually began to enjoy cooking. I find that I am quite good at it. Especially, tasting food while eating is a blissful moment. I have finally decided to make miso soup for myself, believing my tongue still functions properly even though I have been exposed to junk foods almost a year living here.
Some people might be curious what miso is. According to the dictionary, it is described as a high-protein fermented food paste consisting chiefly of soybeans, salt and usually grain (such as barley or rice) and ranging in taste from very salty to very sweet. It also has a wide variety of color, such as red and white, depending on the ingredients used to make a miso. There are many ways to use miso besides soup such as stewing with fish or grilling with meat.
“This (Tonjiru) is healthy and less salty,” said Professor Richard Warner, associate professor of history and the chef of Wabash College. He joked that this kind of Japanese food is the reason why Japanese people are less fat compared to Americans.
What he said is true. There is a report that eating miso soup can prevent developing cancer compared to those who do not eat at all.
“Miso no Ishagoroshi (miso kills a doctor)” is a Japanese proverb that shows people know how miso is good for the body from the old time.
When I finally finished cooking Tonjiru and opened the lid, I was able to feel peace of mind by the sweet flavor of soybeans. This is the Washoku (Japanese cuisine) that I have been missing for almost a year. The instant miso soup cannot have such an emotion driven scent. The vegetables’ sweetness helped to add rich taste in the soup. They produced the stock before I poured in tablespoons of miso.
It is usually eaten during the winter because it makes people warm. The oil covering the surface of the soup prevents it from getting cold. I know that eating it during the summer is a strange decision because it is getting hotter day by day. However, I live in a city where the temperature sometimes rises more than 97 F and is almost 90% humid during summer. I always felt like I was taking a bath all day long. Therefore, I enjoyed eating Tonjiru since Indiana’s summer is not “summer” for me (yet).
Tonjiru (Pork Miso Soup)
2/3 to 1 cup pork ribs
1/2 cup radish
1 green onion
5-6 Tbsp. Miso
1 tsp. seasme oil
Slice the vegetables and pork ribs. (The thinner you can slice the pork, the more the miso soup will soak in.) Pour the sesame oil into a pot over medium heat. Add the vegetables and stir for 2 minutes until they are coated with the oil. Add the pork ribs on the vegetables. Reduce heat and stir slowly until pork browns. Pour in four cups of water, increase heat and bring to a boil. Skim any residue from the top of the water. Pour in half of the miso. By adding only half, the miso will better soak into the ingredients. Simmer for 7 minutes over low heat. Finally add the last of the miso.
* After trying this version, try using different vegetables.
Io Maeda, a rising sophomore at Wabash College, is serving as an intern in the newsroom at the Journal Review.