My comfort foods [1] 豚汁 Tonjiru (Japanese pork stew)

My humble 豚汁 Tonjiru

I know my recent posts have been kind of heavy. Yes, I am dealing with some big issues but rest assured, on a day to day basis we’re actually doing pretty well, except for having to fight off and recover from minor colds just about once a month.

But I think that’s how life is – each of us face certain “bigger than life” challenges that require us to develop and stretch in order to move on to the next chapter of our lives. At the same time, life doesn’t stop so we can focus entirely on just those issues/crisis. And this is good. In the midst of handling life’s messy and endless to-do tasks, I cry and laugh a little each day. Some days there are more tears but other days are full of laughter. Hopefully with each passing day, there will be more joy and less sorrow…

Anyway, whenever I’m in need of something nourishing – both for the body and soul – there are a few dishes I turn to and 豚汁 (Tonjiru) is one of them. It’s relatively simple to make and uses common ingredients but the result is quit tasty and in my opinion, amazingly comforting on a cold or tiring day.

Even though 豚汁 is common and found everywhere in Japan, I don’t see it on menus here as often so I don’t know how popular or well-known it is in the US. Last time we ate at Hana Katsu in Torrance, the soup that came with the meal sets was 豚汁 except it was so “humble” (very basic, with few ingredients) that some people might have had it without knowing what it is, which is such a shame.

So even if you’re not normally a fan of miso-based soups, I hope that you will try this recipe just once. On a cold day served with a bowl of hot rice, it really is “chicken” soup for the soul.

The basic recipe I follow is from my trusty old “Better Home” cookbook for beginners (ベータホームの料理の2年生.) If you do a google seach, you will find many varieties of 豚汁 but if you want to start with the classic, try the recipe below:


  • Sliced pork belly meat 100g – cut into 1 inch pieces
  • Gobo 50g or about 1/4 of a stalk
  • Carrots 30g(about 1/3 of a stick)
  • Daikon 70g
  • Satoimo (or small taro root) 2 medium
  • Shiitake (fresh, not dried ones) 2
  • Konjac 50g (about 1/4 of a piece)
  • Green onion 5 cm (chopped to top at the end)
  • Dashi (bonito fish stock) 2 cups
  • Miso a little less than 2 T (about 30g)
  • Optional – shichimi togarashi

As for cooking instructions, they are simple as well. Basically, you cut all of the ingredients into the size you like. If you plan to serve it as a main dish, cut everything in larger chunks, maybe a little less than 1 inch or 2 cm long. If you plan to serve it as a side dish or don’t like your soups chunky, then you can actually use less ingredients (overall, I wouldn’t reduce any one particular item so you can maintain the balance between the flavors) and cut them in smaller pieces maybe around 1 cm big.

The Better Home recipe suggest that you slice everything into oval discs, strips, or rectangles (for the konjac) but the more traditional recipes tend to have you break up the konjac by hand (into small chunks with uneven surfaces). Also, you want to keep the skin of the gobo (you can use the flat, unsharp end of your knife to scrape the skin a little) and pre-soak it before cooking.

Next, you heat up some oil in the pot (over medium heat) and lightly saute everything except for the meat and the green onion. After everything’s had a chance to get coated with some oil, you add the meat, which should help keep it from sticking to the pot.

After the meat changes color (in about 1 – 2 min), you add the dashi. (I don’t make my own bonito dashi and use Ajinomoto Hon Dashi, which even Amazon now sells). Of course you can just use plain water, but making it with dashi will taste so much better.

Then at this point, you just wait for everything to boil and simmer for a little. If you’ve sliced everything then this would only take about 10 min. If your cuts are chunkier, add another 5 – 10 min depending on how soft you like your vegetables. Keep in mind that some things like carrots and satoimo break apart more easily so you don’t want to cook it to the point where those ingredients crumble.

Once the vegetables reach the level of desired softness, you add the miso a little at a time, until the soup reaches the right balance of savory and umami that you like. Please note, no other seasoning is necessary. The vegetables should lend a natural umami to the stew while the miso provides the saltiness.

Then to serve you just sprinkle some chopped green onion on top (or if you don’t like your green onion raw, you can throw it in the soup after turning off the heat). The shichimi tograrashi adds some spice to the dish and works like fresh black pepper for Western stews.

And that’s it. Simple, right?

What’s great about this soup is that you can make it for just one person or a large group of people. If you are adventurous, I’m sure you can just dig into your fridge for leftover ingredients that you can throw in. Try one new ingredient at a time and see what combos you like best.

If my enthusiastic recommendation still doesn’t convince you to try the soup, take a look at the following video from the Japanese TV drama, 深夜食堂 and see if it doesn’t make you hungry for some 豚汁!

(Note: for some reason, I don’t have many photos of my 豚汁 so I posted one that is missing the green onion but definitely add the green onion to get the most traditional flavor!)


Ling cod Cantonese style

First, I don’t have a photo of the dish I’m going to talk about. Sorry. We forgot to take one before eating. It’s rare, but it happens.

Second, I’m not going to post the recipe here but anyone interested should be able to figure out how to make the dish without any details.

Basically, tonight, I tried a new fish recipe (something I’ve been conscientiously trying to do), which was a Cantonese-style steamed ling cod dish using one of the cookbooks I got from Taiwan.

The chef/author is a foodie who used to work in mass media and ended up switching to cookbook writing because of the popularity of his recipes and simple style of cooking. We’ve tried some of his other recipes in the past but they weren’t all hits. His “Three Cup Chicken,” for instance, tasted a little diluted. Tonight’s fish dish, though, turned out to be a winner. I guess maybe we should stick to his “light” dishes from now on.

Anyway, so back to the steamed ling cod.

I actually bought the fish 3 days ago. I was at Ranch 99 for something else (squid for our famous “grilled squid” for a potluck BBQ on Saturday) and the ling cod caught my eye. Unlike the other lifeless fishes on beds of ice the ling cod was still “twitching” even though its head had already been chopped off. Having never seen this in a Chinese supermarket before, I stood there fixated.

Yup, there it was, the fish torso was definitely pulsating. I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed it. Nope, just me, the fish aisle newbie. So I asked the fish monger if it was still alive. “Yeah it’s still alive, it’s still moving, isn’t it?” he said. Even though I had no idea what kind of fish it was, how to prepare it, or when we were actually going to cook and eat it, I asked for a slice of the moving fish, as if that’s the respectful thing to do.

Then when I got home, I looked up ling cod to see what we could do with it and found that the nearby ABC Seafood restaurant serves it steamed. I’ve been wanting to try the steamed fish recipe in the book for a while so this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

After marinating the fish in some sake overnight, I sprinkled some salt, covered it with ginger slices, and steamed the dish on on high heat for about 12 – 15 minutes. After it’s been cooked, the ginger slices were replaced with fresh green onion, ginger, and bell pepper (the recipe calls for red hot pepper but we didn’t have any) and covered with a soy sauce, salt, and sugar sauce. The last step was to pour hot oil over the whole thing, lightly searing the herbs (is that what people call things like ginger/green onion/hot pepper? The Japanese call this kind of stuff “yakumi” but I don’t know what the English translation would be).

That’s it. It’s that simple. (Again, I wish I have a photo to show you.)

The taste is fresh. The fish is not fishy at all even though it had been sitting the fridge over the weekend. The sauce is a little salty on its own but perfectly seasons the white meat. The texture and taste of the fish reminded us of sea bass, although people seem to compare ling cod more often to halibut.

In any case, at $6.99 a pound, we’re happy to discover a new way to enjoy fresh seafood.

So I guess this makes one more dish we’re going to stop ordering at restaurants … I don’t know if this is good or bad. Eventually, we might not be able to eat out anymore. Hmmm…

Getting ready for winter?

Not sure what’s going on but I’ve been in the mood to pickle all week. It seems that most people only get this way when they visit a farmer’s market (and see irresistible produce) or with the approach of winter (to stock up on vegetables for times of need).

Me, I think I’m just in a bit of a domestic/homemaking kick.

On Tuesday, I first made Chinese pickled (napa) cabbage (sometimes called “Sour Cabbage” on restaurant menus). It’s a Northeastern Chinese delicacy that can be enjoyed many ways – straight, in pork and lamb hot pots, dumplings, or stir-fried with various meats. Not one for waiting, I’m using a recipe that requires only 3 days of fermentation. Since I reduced the recipe by quite a bit (the original called for 2 large heads of cabbage), C thinks that my batch is under salted/seasoned but I’m hopeful that it will turn out well. It’s now day 2 so we will see how it tastes tomorrow night. (Hopefully C will be willing to have the first bite…but I will be nice and cook it first before having him taste it. LOL~) If successful, I’ll probably proceed with the next step and make some lamb hot pot this weekend.

Today, I made Korean yul mul (water) kimchi or “pickled white radish (daikon).” Again, the fermentation process will be short, only 2 days this time. C isn’t a big fan of this dish but I love how it tastes with Naeng Myeon (Korean cold noodle). Again, something to be had this weekend.

Later tonight, I’m going to try a Japanese* recipe for homemade ginger ale. Supposedly, cafes and bars in Japan often serve a ginger ale cocktail with something made by Asahi called “Wilkinson Ginger Ale” but since the syrup is hard to obtain (even in Japan), people try to make their own versions at home. As with the other two recipes, this one won’t take too much time – only one night (mainly for the syrup to chill).

All this plus C’s homemade Magarita pizza for brunch on Saturday…I guess you can say it’s going to be another food-filled weekend. Which means that spring time is here in our household. Yay! Let the food play begin!

*Notice the use of CJK recipes? I’m such a freak.

[Photo credit: Metroblogging/Tokyo]