All posts filed under “ASIA

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JAPAN: Toshikoshi – Soba Noodle Soup 年越しそば

JAPAN: Toshikoshi – Soba Noodle Soup 年越しそば

soop_japan_1114-8Here’s what we learned about Japan in  our research this week:

  •  Buckwheat noodles (soba) are traditionally eaten in Japan at midnight on New Year’s eve.    According to wikipedia, “the tradition started around Edo period (1603-1867) and there are several theories believed that long soba noodles symbolize a long life.”
  • A recent study revealed that approximately 50% of Japanese citizens eat toshikoshi soba on New Year’s eve.
  • While buckwheat is gluten free, many soba noodles are made with both buckwheat and regular wheat.  Check the packages carefully to find 100% buckwheat noodles if you eat gluten-free.

Here is a fun video showing you how easy toshikoshi soba is to make and how fun it is to say.


Remember back when Beckett chose Nsusu and Fufu because he could run around yelling those two words at the top of his lungs?  Anyone want to guess why we made toshikoshi soba this week? 

That only went on for 20 minutes or so.  No idea why schnitzel was part of his chant.  Anyway, our first attempt at toshikoshi soba was a complete flop and rendered utterly inedible due to the insane amounts of salt.  Luckily, we had also made sushi and, since Dungeness crab season just started, a cucumber crab salad, so we didn’t go hungry.  Plus, our friends arrived with fun Japanese sodas that had the kids so entranced, they barely noticed the food at all.soop_japan_1114-12Refusing to accept defeat, I retooled the recipe and nailed it this morning.    The fun part of toshikoshi is that you can add whatever floats your boat to the soup.  The first night (pictured here) included some leftover pork loin we had in the fridge, enoki mushrooms, and fish cakes.  This morning, we used shiitake mushrooms, spinach, and eggs (pictured at the bottom of this post).  The most important part of this soup is the broth and the noodles – the rest is just fun creation.  If you have kids who aren’t so sure about trying new “ethnic” foods, a nice way to introduce them to Japanese food might be to make toshikoshi and allow them to put in whatever toppings they would like (like taco night only with Japanese soup!).


Toshikoshi – Soba Noodle Soup 年越しそば
Serves 4


    • 8 cups water
    • 1 oz sliced dried shiitake mushrooms
    • 2 teaspoons HonDashi bonito soup stock granules *
    • 1/2 cup tamari (gluten free soy sauce)
    • 1/2 cup mirin
    • 1 tablespoon sugar (more to taste)
    • 200g package soba 100% buckwheat noodles
    • 2 large handfuls baby spinach leaves, optional
    • 2 eggs, soft boiled, peeled and cut in half lengthwise, optional
    • 4 green onions, sliced thin
    • 1 package Enoki mushrooms, ends trimmed and separated, optional
    • 6 ounce log fish cake, sliced into thin half moons, optional **
    • Cooked pork loin slices, optional
    • Shichimi Togarashi (Japanese pepper spice)


  1. In a large soup pot, bring water, shiitake mushrooms, and HonDashi to a boil.  Add tamari, mirin, and sugar.  Reduce heat to simmer and cover.soop_japan_1114-2
  2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add the soba noodles and cook until al dente – approximately 8 minutes.  Drain noodles and rinse well under cold water to remove any excess starch.soop_japan_1114-5
  3. While noodles cook, prepare all garnishes.soop_japan_1114-3
  4. Prepare bowls by adding noodles and garnishes to bowls.soop_japan_1114-11
  5. Add spinach to broth and cook until wilted.  Gently ladle spinach and broth onto noodles and garnishes.  Serve with Shichimi Mogarashi if you like things spicy.photosoop_japan_1114-10

Cook’s Notes

*  HonDashi is a flavor additive that contains fish and msg among other things and gives a very rich umami flavor.  You can make your own dashi if you prefer or you can substitute the dashi with salt.

** Many types of Japanese fish cakes contain gluten.  Be sure to read the packages carefully.

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SOUTH KOREA: Beef Seaweed Soup with Clams (소고기 미역국)

SOUTH KOREA: Beef Seaweed Soup with Clams / Sogogi Miyeok-guk (소고기 미역국)

The moment we drew South Korea we called our good friend Beau, who just moved back to the USA after spending the last 10+ years in South Korea, and asked him his advice. Without hesitation, he suggested Miyoek-guk. Actually his words were “Oh dear… um… Korean soups are really complex.  There’s a great one called Miyoek-guk. Miyoek = seaweed. Guk= soup. Seaweed slightly fried with soy sauce, sesame oil and tiny bits of pork. Then put into an amazingly savory soup often with tiny clams….” and then he fell silent with a dreamy look on his face. Okay, so we have our soup because Beckett heard the wistfulness, seaweed, savory + clams and he was sold.

Researching South Korea

Miyoek-guk is quite famous in Korea and is referred to as “birthday soup”.   It is the first food that new mothers eat once they give birth and people traditionally eat it on each birthday to commemorate their day of birth – hence the nickname.  According to legend, many, many years ago Koreans observed whales eating seaweed after giving birth and adopted the same technique for postpartum recovery.  It’s no wonder whales eat it: seaweed, one of nature’s superfoods, contains amazing amounts of iron, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin B12, and is purported to assist with healthy immune systems, proper thyroid function, and healthy blood pressure.

But wait!  There’s more! Apparently, seaweed is also really great for brain function and is often given to students before exams.  (Note to self:  remember this!  In order to do so, please eat more seaweed!) 

Based on recipes online, it appears that Korean “birthday soup” can be made with beef, pork, clams, or vegetarian.  For our version, we opted for beef + clams.   soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-13

Beef Seaweed Soup with Clams
Serving: 8-10



  • 2 teaspoons of Korean soy sauce* (guk-ganjang)
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced (approximately 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper


  • 1/2 lb lean meat such as brisket or flank steak, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 lb small clams**
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 oz (30g) dried seaweed (miyeok) (approximately 2 cups), cut or broken into 1-2″ pieces
  • 10 cups water
  • 4  tablespoons  Korean soy sauce* (guk-ganjang)
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce, preferably Korean anchovy
  • 1 clove garlic, sliced very thin
  • 1 green onion, sliced very thin

* Gluten free Korean soy sauce is available online. I found it on Amazon.
** If you can’t find good fresh clams, many asian grocery stores carry packages of small clams in the frozen section.


  1. Prepare the marinade by mixing all ingredients in a medium bowl. Add beef and allow it to marinate while you complete the next steps.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-2
  2.   Prepare clams by placing them in a large pot and cover completely with 10 cups cold water.  Bring pot to a boil then reduce heat to low.  Skim any foam.  Boil 20 minutes.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-1
  3. soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-3
  4. Strain clam broth through a cheesecloth, reserving both the broth and the clams, but discarding all impurities.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-7
  5.  Drain the seaweed then massage with 3 tablespoons of salt until seaweed is evenly coated.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-5
  6. Rinse salted seaweed with cold water 3 to 5 times until it no longer foams and all dirt and salt is removed.  Pull apart and discard any extra thick or stringy pieces of seaweed.    Squeeze out any excess water.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-6
  7.  Heat a medium-sized pot on medium heat.  Add 2 teaspoons of sesame oil and sauté the marinated beef for 2 minutes.  Add chopped seaweed and sauté on medium for 5-10 minutes until most of the moisture of the seaweed is gone.  Be sure to stir frequently so seaweed does not burn.soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-9soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-10
  8. Add clam broth, clams, soy sauce, fish sauce,  garlic + green onions.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer, cover and simmer for at least 1 hour (soup develops more flavor the longer it cooks)soop_SOUTHKOREA_sept14-11.

We tried several different kinds of seaweed and there was a definite winner.  If you can find this brand, you’ll be pleased you did.  Some of the others we tried were extra slimy, overly fishy, or simply fell apart.  This seaweed retains its crunch and delicate flavor.  Thumbs up.

The Meal:

Well, the Miyeok-Guk was not a huge hit with the kids*, but the adults all enjoyed it quite a bit once we put in extra hot sauce and kimchee.  We served it with egg custard (gyeran jjim), kimchee, bulgogi, rice, seaweed salad and Trader Joes’ Korean veggie pancakes (pa jeon).  Everyone left full and hopefully a little smarter thanks to the seaweed superfood.


*My theory on why it wasn’t a hit with the kids: we didn’t use the good seaweed and didn’t put enough soy sauce in the first batch.  When I tested the recipe again the next day with the good seaweed and more soy sauce, it was wolfed down.   The recipe above has been adjusted to reflect that modification.

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NEPAL: Chicken Thukpa

NEPAL: Thukpa


Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 2.21.51 PM  When my husband and I spent a dreamy month in Nepa before we got married (15 years ago!), our favorite meal was also (luckily) the meal we ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner: Dal Bhat*.  Dal Bhat, a lentil stew served with rice, is every backpacker’s staple fare and the national dish of Nepal.  Hearty, filling, and warming, it hits the spot after a long day of trekking.  We love(d) it so much it also hits the spot about once a month in our house.  SO, for our SOOP project this week, S is in charge of picking the soup and when I suggested Dal Bhat, he said “No way!  We have that allllllll the time.  I want to pick something different.”  Per the rules I made for myself for how this whole project will work, the boy who picks the country out of the cup also gets to pick the soup.  And pick he did.  The boy loves spring rolls and picked Thukpa because he says it sounds like spring roll soup.

*Dal Bhat is insanely delicious and Sasha over at Global Table Adventure has a fantastic recipe that is quick, CHEAP, really close to how it tastes in Nepal and vegetarian.  We eat it with basmati rice, roasted cauliflower florets that have been tossed in olive oil and curry powder, and usually a green salad.  Mmm.  Now I’m hungry.  Might have to make this for dinner tomorrow!

Thukpa, traditionally a Tibetan soup (the name translates from Tibetan as ‘noodles’),  has crossed the border into Nepal with wild abandon and is now popular all over Nepal as well as northern India.  It consists of spicy broth, long thin noodles, vegetables, spices, and is found vegetarian and with every meat you can imagine (in fact, I think we may have eaten this with yak meat in Kathmandu).  For our version, S chose chicken, rice noodles (to remain close to his spring roll vision), and carrots and cilantro.  I threw in the red pepper and bean sprouts (both traditional additions) for color and texture.  A few of the spices are a little hard to come by, but we’re fortunate to have many places to scoop up ethnic goods around us and we grabbed asafoetida and szechwan pepper at Oaktown Spice Shop in Oakland, but you can also find the spices online at Penzeys and Kalustyan’s.

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1999 Mustang, Nepal Trek Day 7: Marang (Chogo) La Pass – 13,878 feet / 4,230 meters. I hiked in a skirt to be more respectful of the local culture. I looked goooood didn’t I?

During our month in Nepal, we spent many long hours with our guides learning about Nepali cuisine, culture and language and teaching them important things like the game of spoons and various card tricks.  A few of the phrases we learned have stuck with us through the years and my husband is known to say to me as I approach some arduous task (hiking up a steep trail, folding the week’s laundry, getting the kids in the car on time in the morning), “Lahk bahk, didi.  Lahk bahk!”  (Translation almost there, big sister.  Almost there!).  Another phrase we use all the time is “Ookus mookus”.  It means, essentially, I am so full I am about to explode.

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 2.18.01 PM

From the left, the King of Mustang, our government liaison, us, and our guide Bhim Bahadur Lama. Jigme Palbar Bista, the last king of the remote kingdom of Mustang in Nepal’s Himalayas, was born around 1930 in Lo Manthang, once the capital of the former Tibetan kingdom of Lo. The youngest son of King Angun Tenzing Tandul, he inherited the throne in 1964. He likes orange Tang and is most grateful if you bring him some when visiting.

So, friends, with that we’ll get to cooking and (hopefully) by the end we will all be Ookus mookus!  To really get in the mood, create a Pandora station with the artist Udit Narayan or download THIS album.  We bought this album on the streets of Kathmandu and listened to it during both of our boys’ births and groove out to it all the time.  I hope you like it as much as we do.

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1999 Boudhanath Stupa, Kathmandu and rain clouds in the background. We got very wet that day.


Nepalese Thukpa
Serving: 4-6

Spice paste

    • 1 small onion, chopped
    • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
    • 1 tsp fresh ginger, chopped
    • 1 tsp ground cumin
    • ½ tsp ground turmeric
    • ¼ tsp ground Szechwan pepper
    • 1 pinch asafoetida powder
    • 1-3  jalapeño chili, deseeded, chopped (depending on how spicy you want it)
    • 1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
    • 1 tbsp fresh lime juice
    • 1 large tomato, chopped


      • 1 tbsp ghee
      • 8 cups chicken stock
      • ½ lb skinless/boneless chicken thighs
      • 300 g rice noodles
      • 1 large carrot, cut into thin matchsticks
      • ½ red bell pepper, thinly sliced
      • 1 cup mung bean sprouts
      • 1 tbsp lemon juice
      • salt and pepper, to taste
      • chopped cilantro, to serve
      • nepali chili sauce, to serve (recipe below)


      1. To make the spice paste, combine all the ingredients, except the tomatoes, in a blender or food processor and process until minced. Then add the tomatoes and process again until combined into a rough paste.soop_nepal_sept14-21soop_nepal_sept14-28
      1. Heat the ghee in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the spice paste and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes, until quite aromatic and the paste becomes soft.soop_nepal_sept14-29
      1.     Carefully pour in the chicken stock (it may sizzle at first) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chicken thighs and simmer gently for 10 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove chicken from the stock and roughly shred.soop_nepal_sept14-35
      1.  Meanwhile, bring large pot of water to boil. Add rice noodles and cook for 2 minutes or until al dente. Drain and rinse in cold water. Drain again and set aside.soop_nepal_sept14-32soop_nepal_sept14-34
      1. Add the carrot, bell pepper, and mung bean sprouts to the soup and simmer for 2–3 minutes, until the vegetables are just tender.soop_nepal_sept14-39
      1. Add lemon juice and season to taste – adding more salt or pepper as necessary.
      1. Divide the noodles between bowls (for pretty presentation, mound the noodles all on one side of the bowl) and top with the shredded chicken. Ladle the stock and vegetables over the noodles and top with chopped cilantro. Serve with chili sauce.soop_nepal_sept14-38

* Asafoetida and Szechwan pepper can generally both be found in spice stores online as well as local Indian markets. The traditional pepper used in Nepali Thukpa (timur) is currently unavailable in the United States, but Szechwan pepper provides a similar tongue tingling spice. Traditionally, it is served with a vinegary chili sauce.  Here is the one we made and used:

Garlicky Red Chili Hot Sauce (pictured above with the ingredients for Thukpa)
Yield: 2 cups (aka: enough to last you a very, very, very long time)
Recipe by Melissa Clark printed in the NYTimes 8/25/10

    • 4 hot red or orange chili peppers, such as habañero
    • 2 red bell peppers (3/4 pound), roughly chopped
    • 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
    • 3/4 cup distilled white vinegar
    • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt.
    1. Wearing rubber or latex gloves, roughly chop the chilies. Combine all ingredients in a small pot over medium-high heat. Once mixture is simmering, reduce heat to low, cover and continue to simmer until peppers are tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Do not inhale vapors; they will sting.
    2. Transfer mixture to a blender and purée. Pour into a medium jar and allow to cool uncovered. Cover tightly and refrigerate for three days. Keep stored in refrigerator; sauce will last for several weeks or months.


This is officially my first favorite soup.  It was quick, flavorful, filling, inexpensive, and fun.  We found that the Chili sauce was absolutely necessary for the tongue tingling fun.  If you don’t have the time or the desire to make your own, sriracha would be a nice option.

Our good friends joined us as we blasted Bollywood tunes, and slurped noodles to our hearts content.  Our thukpa was served on the metal plates we picked up years ago in India with basmati rice, melon, and a chopped cauliflower that we roasted in the oven with a couple boxes of Trader Joes’ frozen chana masala (chickpea curry).  It’s one of my favorite Trader Joe’s dinner hacks.  Our meal got 3 thumbs up and one medium thumb (perhaps because it was his brother who made it and he simply can’t approve of anything his brother does right now) so I’m going to say it was a success!



soop_nepal_sept14-44After dinner, we pulled out our slide projector and, once we finished answering the questions about what a slide projector is and how our photos are on the little pieces of plastic (called film),  ran through some of the hundreds of slides we took in Nepal.  What a wonderful way to cap off the night – the boys learned more about Nepal, about our trip, and about the history of photography.


Oh, the irony. We covered our TV with a white sheet to be able to show our slides. We are so retro that way!