Japanese Noodles with Shiitakes and Bok Choy

Mmm, the perfect lunch! When I lived in Hawaii, you could find any number of little shops serving Japanese ramen (or as they call it in Hawaii, saimin - no one knows quite where that name came from) and I'm certainly not talking about the 10-cents-a-pack stuff.  It comes with all kinds of stuff in it - BBQ pork, slices of hard-boiled egg, kamaboko fish cake, or yellow pickled daikon...  But here, if you see a Japanese restaurant, it's sushi or teppanyaki - they may have a decent udon noodle soup on the menu, but I can't think of a single place to get real Japanese ramen.

Sometimes I get cravings for this stuff, so I had to make my own. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you need to see the movie Tampopo (Juzo Itami, 1985). As they say in the film, one key is that the broth should taste really good - I don't claim to be any sort of expert, and it's been years since I've been back to Hawaii, but this super-simple formula hits the spot for me. I just use a little miso and a little bit of dashi, which is sold as Memmi, or Tempura Dipping Sauce, or any number of other names - just look at the label and if it contains bonito flakes, kelp, and possibly soy sauce and/or mirin, it's basically the right stuff. To find these ingredients, try an Asian market or natural foods store, although I was able to find a few of them at my regular grocery store.

For 2 people:
4 oz dried soba or udon noodles
~1/2 lb baby bok choy (pictured)
Generous handful of dried shiitake mushrooms
2-3 Tbs miso
Any other vegetables (try carrot, broccoli, maybe spinach or shredded cabbage instead of the bok choy), and/or hardboiled eggs, any thinly sliced meat, whatever you have around!

Boil water in a 2-qt saucepan and cook the noodles until they are tender. In another saucepan, bring 1-2 cups of water to a boil with the dried shiitakes and bok choy (and/or other veggies). Cook until the shiitakes are tender, then add vegetables and meat, and cook until they are done (veggies should be just tender). Finally, stir in the miso, and start adding Memmi until it tastes good. Add the noodles and serve!


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