A Love Letter To Miso Soup

Our dining editor kisses and tells about her love affair with fermented soybean flavor bomb.
Let the deceptively simple fermented soybean soup at Ukiyo be a wakeup call to every sushi bar dipping out cups of pallid tofu-studded broth between the hot towels and the seaweed salad. At $5, this generous serving of funky comfort at Neal Brown’s kappo-style restaurant is no throwaway starter. It arrives warm and cloudy, topped with needle-thin shimeji mushrooms and sliced scallions just beginning to turn limp and shiny on the soup’s cumulous surface. Disturb the physics of liquid-and-solid separation with a gentle stir to turn the soup into an opaque slurry of transcendence. The complex salty, nutty, earthy, and mellow flavor bomb will hold your attention until the last slurp. And yes, you will want to—need to—tip the bowl to your lips to get that last drop. Apologies in advance for what we do to any good-meaning server who tries to clear the bowl before it is drained.

The secret, according to chef de cuisine Matthew Robey, is in Ukiyo’s housemade dashi, the broth base that gives the liquid its distinctive dungeon-floor umami. “There is a very specific process that we follow to cook our dashi,” he says. Ukiyo makes a new batch every morning. “You don’t want dashi to sit around, or it will get bitter.” They use three kinds of katsuobushi—dried and fermented skipjack tuna flakes—as well as shiitake mushrooms and kombu, edible kelp. Each serving is whisked to order with sweet blond miso and a higher-salt soy sauce. “Because it’s so simple,” Roby says, “we like to take all of the fiddly little steps to make it really good.”