Recipe for Home-Style Japanese Miso Soup

Miso-the ancient super food. First brought to Japan from China by Buddhist priests around 1,300 years ago it was originally consumed by nobility because it was considered a delicacy. At that time it contained rice which was expensive.

Miso’s fame spread when it became known for its rich energy-giving properties and was adopted by samurai as a staple part of their diet.

Miso is made from fermented soybeans and grains and contains millions of beneficial bacteria. It’s also a good source of  B vitamins, vitamins E, K and folic acid. There are various types and blends but the most common is made from fermented soybeans. This is usually the kind that I use daily. Sometimes I use mugi-miso or barley miso. Some miso is saltier, some sweeter and some fermented longer.

Miso is a protein-rich paste and we add it to various dishes. It adds a wonderful flavor base to soup. I also muddle it with mirin and use it to season stir-fried vegetables. Sometimes I spread it on fish that is cooked in a pan. It is lovely muddled with mirin and added to stir-fried eggplant that is then sprinkled with sesame seeds.

There are a variety of ways that you can make miso soup-this is how I make ours.

Basic Home-Style Japanese Miso Soup

Ingredients:

Vegetables-carrots, Chinese cabbage, seaweed (dried or fresh depending upon what I have). Sometimes I add sliced onions and mushrooms.

Dashi- I used to use powdered dashi which is made from fish. When my husband was diagnosed with diabetes we started to order liquid dashi that is made from kombu or seaweed (kombu is seaweed-not to be confused with a concoction called “kombucha” which is not Japanese and not seaweed). We switched to the liquid kombu-dashi at the recommendation of my husband’s doctor.

on the left-powdered dashi made from fish-on the right kombu-dashi

Miso-I use either plain soybean miso or a barley-soybean miso.

I use a 5 cup sauce pan.

Making the soup: One note-my husband is a diabetic and needs a very low salt diet so my measurements are for his diet. You can adjust the dashi and miso to suit your taste. The recipe is flexible. Although-I eat the same food and am much healthier for it. My blood pressure was high before but, since I started eating low salt, my blood pressure is normal. No more headaches either.

First you have to make the dashi- or the base. I fill the sauce pan about 3/4 full of water and add a tablespoon and a half of liquid kombu-dashi.

Then I slice the carrots, I cut the Chinese cabbage into small pieces, maybe some sliced onions, even a few mushrooms-and add them all to the pot. I throw in a spoonful of dried seaweed or add fresh seaweed if I have it. I let the veggies simmer for a few minutes.

Many people add a potato cut into small cubes. Because of my husband’s dietary restrictions I don’t.

After about 5 minutes or so I add 2 tablespoons of miso paste and use my long-handled cooking chopsticks to stir the paste around until it is pretty much dissolved.

Then I turn the gas down low and simmer the soup until the vegetables are cooked.

That’s it. It is a very easy soup to make and it is very flexible. Different areas around Japan might have their own twist -but this is how it is generally cooked in our area.

If you have an Asian store near you with Japanese products you will probably be able to find the powdered dashi. It is a staple product and can be found in almost every Japanese kitchen. Every Asian store that I have ever been in (outside of Japan) has this product.  It is called hon-dashi and made from fish.

Happy cooking-let me know how your soup turned out!

Familiarity and Morning Soup

This morning as the aroma of simmering miso soup permeated our kitchen I realized how familiar and ordinary this  was to me now.
As I gently stirred the miso paste into the pot with the long cooking chopsticks the pungent smell of miso brought back memories. I remembered the trips to visit my husband’s family in Japan before we moved.

Every morning my mother in law (Okasan) arose early to cook breakfast and we were awakened to the smell of simmering miso soup, a standard part of the Japanese breakfast. We would lay quietly for a few minutes, snuggled warmly under the thick futon blanket in the tatami room and listen as she bustled about the kitchen-the aroma of simmering soup drifting under the shoji doors.

When we left and returned home to Saipan I remembered how the smell of simmering miso always aroused a homey and warm feeling as it reminded me of Okasan and the times we spent in Japan with family.

This morning as I bustled about the kitchen preparing the same breakfast Okasan always prepared for us, I realized that the aroma of simmering miso -something that was once part of a memory that belonged to a foreign country- was now part of my everyday life.

But deeper than that, this foreign country was now a part of my heart. It was no longer “foreign” to me.

I can now say-I’m home.

Hints of Spring

I worked in the garden today and noticed signs of spring everywhere.

Taking a little break I wandered down the road a bit and saw buds and little blossoms beginning to cover branches. The ume trees are beginning to blossom. It is actually the ume tree that heralds the spring in Japan.

The old sakura across the street is sprouting little buds too. Soon the stores will be selling sakura “everything”.

I’m starting to think about our Hanami already.

How lovely it is to live in an area where we enjoy such a short “winter” if you can even call it that. Maybe I shouldn’t say anything-who knows we might have another “historic” snow storm like we did last year.

I took full advantage of the sunshine and mild temperatures to putter around the garden rearranging, potting and building.

I was thinking of not cutting down the dead tree. Perhaps I’ll just cut some of the branches off and leave the tree up for the birds. We are in the process of creating kind of a bird rest-stop.

I managed to photograph some of our recent customers.

These are mejiro メジロ, 目白- or Japanese white-eye. If you are fond of looking at Japanese art you will see this bird depicted often. My husband told me that when they were kids they used to go into the forest and put some sort of sticky substance on a branch with fruit as a bait-and then wait until an unsuspecting mejiro was attracted to the fruit and got stuck on the branch. They caught them and caged them as pets. These are common to have as pets. They have been exported to other parts of the world and sold as cage birds. I love to see them in the wild though.

I removed the bowl and replaced it with a homemade bird-feeder. We will build a few more and place them up around the yard.

Hopefully the vines will grow up into the old dead tree because we’d like to keep it as a bird stop.

The mint at the back of the garden is starting to fill out. Some of it is now sitting on my kitchen window in this little pot. It reminds me of my granddaughter who loved to go out early in the morning and pick a handful of leaves. We’d make it into tea for our tea-parties.

As I strolled down the road I noticed Mr.K had harvested his daikon. This year the daikon is just delicious. The other night we had daikon -chicken nimono–delicious!

This week February will be here. I had better purchase my seeds soon so I don’t forget. I can’t believe we are at the threshold of spring already-where has the winter gone? Gardening has shortened the winter season for me considerably. I start thinking about planting seeds at this time of the year and gathering my supplies. Makes the winter fly on by!

I wanted to share a video with you. It is actually part of a whole series that you can find on youtube. It is a regular program here in Japan. The woman in the video is named Venetia and she lives in Ohara, Kyoto. I love watching her videos! They are in Japanese but she does narrate in English-but even if they were all in Japanese you would still love them. You will be swept away to rural Kyoto watching these. Actually much of the scenery looks very similar to our area. I truly hope you enjoy them.

You can read about her here.

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A little about Japan’s Onsen Culture

About a week ago a reader had a question about Japanese onsen etiquette.

There are two types of spas in Japan-onsen and sento. Onsen, literally hot spring, are governed by the onsen law of 1948. To obtain an official onsen certificate  a spa:

must have a natural spring that contains a defined amount of natural chemical components and is over a temperature of 25 degrees at its point of release.
There are a number of different onsen categories, according to chemical composition and temperature.

Japan Association of Official Hot Spring Inns

Japan’s onsen history goes back about 3,000 years. Basically onsen are geothermal pools. There are over 3,000 onsen throughout Japan mostly in the Kyushu and Tohoku areas. Japan is 75% mountainous with many  active volcanoes and geothermal underground rivers and springs. It is interesting because many of the hot springs were discovered by hunters who followed wounded animals to remote onsen pools who, as legend has it, knew that the waters were healing.

Below is a photo I took when we were in Beppu over the New Year holidays. That is steam rising up out of vents. The steam comes from the geothermal streams that criss-cross under the ground.  The entire area is literally sitting on top of boiling streams.

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People visit an onsen for the healing quality of the water. There are various types of onsen. Our favorite type of is one that is located in a ryokan or traditional Japanese inn. I just love these type of places. Decorated in the traditional style most ryokan serve guests in the old style with generous hospitality in stunning surroundings. This is our favorite get-away ryokan.

Most hotels have a spa but not all are official onsen.

Sento are local community bath houses. These have changed over the years but in deep rural Japan you can still find a local village bath house. My husband said in the “old days” many houses didn’t have a bath -hence the village bath house.

In our area there are government built onsen in most towns because we live in a geothermal spring- rich area. The government onsen do not have overnight accommodations but most have a large tatami room with Japanese style tables and a TV where you can go to rest and lounge around before or after your bath. Some also have a restaurant. The one in our local area has a “healthy food” restaurant that we like to dine at on occasions-if we can get a seat. On most days they are really full.

Internet image-if this is your image let me know so I can give you credit.

There is a certain etiquette followed when visiting an onsen that Japanese know by heart however a foreigner visiting an onsen for the first time might not intuitively understand the “rules”. I’ve seen posters for foreigners in several onsen-here are a few that might make you laugh.

Obvious -I would hope.

I’m a bit puzzled by the last one-“Please do not walk around in wet body”. I am not sure how you avoid not walking around wet in a spa. I wonder what they meant by that.

A photo of a typical shower set-up. Notice the small stools and washing bowl. You would wash with soap here first before getting into the tubs.

No towel and hair inside tub. The idea here is that your towel should stay on the edge of the tub while you are inside. Although I always see women wearing their towel exactly like this-on top of their head. You should also refrain from dunking your head under the water.

This is a biggie for many foreigners. It is not okay to use the onsen if you have a tattoo. Why? Because tattoos are associated with the Japanese Yakuza-or Japanese mafia.

On occasion I have seen a Japanese women in the onsen with a small tattoo.No one said anything to them. I noticed that all of them were conscious of trying to keep it covered.

Probably by now you have noticed that onsen are not swimming pools. They are a form of bath house and therefore we do not use bathing suits or any type of “cover-up”-unless you opt for a mixed gender onsen. Yes-men and women bathing together. In this situation then it is proper for women to use a big bath-towel and wrap it around themselves and keep it on the entire time while using the tubs. Even in the water. We do not go to mixed gender onsen. I’m quite comfortable with nude bathing in an onsen where men and women are segregated-but I would not be in a mixed gender situation. No thanks.

I will say that we do use small towels – the size of hand towels- to cover up our private parts while walking around. You kind of hold the towel with one hand on your belly and let it drape down to cover yourself while you are walking from one pool to the other or just walking around inside the bath area.

You figure out the ladies side from the men’s side by the color of the door curtain-ladies is always red. It’s standard as far as I have seen. Many times they switch sides every morning so you can have a chance to experience each spa-most times they are each decorated differently.

Usually there are indoor and outdoor pools. The outdoor pool is called a rotenburo and most are set within a Japanese style garden often with a mountain or river view. Always stunning and deeply relaxing.

We have an older Japanese home with an old-style bathtub. It is kind of our private-mini onsen.  I LOVE it. I can say with certainty that pretty-much every house and apartment in Japan has a soaking tub. The tubs are deep, when you sit in them the water comes up to your neck. In newer homes (some not all) and apartments the tub room is small. Really small-it’s like a one piece molded plastic unit. My mother-in-law has one in her home and it is a one person deal. Actually even for one person it is a bit of a squeeze.

Toilets are never inside the tub-room, they are in their own little “toilet room”. Except perhaps in a hotel room.

We have a lovely old-style tub room. The room itself measures 180 cm x 180 cm which is a little over 5×5 feet. Pretty big for a tub-room. It fits two people easily.

Below are a few images from this past December-right before New Year. We had our traditional (cultural) yuzu bath. Yuzu are a citrus fruit that are in season in the winter. There are many different varieties. My friend has a tree and she never fails to bring us a bag of yuzu right before yuzu bath day.The tub is filled with fresh hot water and then the yuzu are tossed into the tub filling the room with a soothing and aromatic natural citrus scent. The natural oils are released into the hot water leaving your skin soft and smelling like citrus. December 22 is yuzu bath day-winter solstice day. Japanese tradition says that taking a bath on the night of the winter solstice keeps you from catching a cold the rest of the year.  I just like it because it’s so relaxing and wonderful smelling.

You can see that our tub is quite deep. Half of the tub is sunk into the floor or it would be too high to safely climb into.

It is a lovely thing to take a bath with my husband on a warm spring or autumn evening. The idea of bathing together in Japan is not lewd. Culturally-nudity is viewed differently. I’m not saying it is a free-for-all and everyone walks around naked in front of each other-not at all. I’m talking strictly about the onsen culture and family bathing. It is not at all unusual for families with small children to bathe together at home.

Mothers bring little boys -about preschool age into the ladies side of the onsen all the time. I have even been in baths where older boys (they must have been about 6 or 7 years old) were with their grandmother. I know that must sound horrifying to some but I don’t even blink an eye anymore. No one here thinks of it in any way but natural.

If you want to see some beautiful pics of Japanese onsen you can check out google.

 

Technical Juggling

There are some changes I’m having to make to the blog. I had upgraded my blog to a premium account but honestly-it gets expensive trying to maintain it. I refuse to add a “donate” link . My blog is a hobby and I don’t expect people to pay me to do a hobby. Besides, that would put pressure on me and take all the fun out of writing here.

I’m not renewing my premium account ($$$)-but that means that I can not keep all the posts here on this blog site because I’m over quota. A free account is only allowed 3G of space.

SO…putting my thinking cap on I decided to export older posts into two other blogs. I had to split them up into 2 blog sites because of all the photos. That way I can maintain free accounts because I can make sure I am within quota.

I have placed the links to the archived posts in my link section in the left sidebar. They are already there, go ahead that try them. 🙂

Easy-right? The two new sites are kind of bland right now but I’ll fix them up when I have time.

ALL CURRENT POSTS WILL BE HERE ON THIS MAIN SITE. That won’t change. What will change is where the archived posts are but finding them will be as easy as clicking a link.  🙂

You might see ads on this site now that I have reverted to the “free” version again. Sorry. That’s how WordPress makes money from us elcheapos. If you don’t want the ads it costs you 99USD a year.

Garden Puttering

We had a nice day the other day. A day of 50 some degrees tucked in-between the lower 40 days. When that happens -especially on a day when I have a bit of time-I throw on my garden duds and head outside. Even if it’s winter.

I got the shovel out and turned over the dirt. It was nice to smell it-damp and reeking of decaying leaves.

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I moved the “arch” down to the end of my little bed. I figure I’ll plant the cucumbers there and let them climb up the arch. That way I can still plant things under the arch.

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The sunappu endo (sugar snap peas) can climb up the other trellis. We have about 6 weeks to go before I can start planting seeds. The potatoes will go into their bags shortly after. I plan on doing much more container gardening on top of whatever I put into the ground.

On the back of the seed packs you can determine sowing times. This is horenso or spinach. I can start to sow it next month. Same goes for the sugar snap peas and komatsuna or mustard cabbage.

Got some trimming done while I was out there. Garden doesn’t look like much now but just wait. It is heavenly in the spring.

I found a way to get some help cutting down the big dead tree. We have something called The Silver Center. It’s a community organization that gives retirees a chance to do odd jobs. I was over at Mrs. NG’s house the other day and a couple of “Silver” guys were outside trimming and doing a general clean-up of her mother-in-law’s yard who now lives in a nursing home. The silver center guys had piled all the wood in a heap because Mrs. NG lives in a log-cabin house and they heat with wood.

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That solves two problems-how to get the tree cut and what to do with the wood. Mrs. NG said they would take the wood.

It was interesting because she told me that they ordered their house from Canada. I was surprised to learn that their wood stove heats the entire home. Very cozy I might add. It came all precut and the company just assembled it here. It’s a typical log cabin home inside but Japanese “small”.

At any rate-Gardening has been on my mind. This is panning time.

This is a nice little video of a typical Japanese vegetable garden. Mine isn’t so neat. I have a small space and try to fit things where ever I can.

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Robin’s Questions Answered

Robin had these questions:

How do you/they survive in the heat and humidity? Do you at least use fans? Is air conditioning even available? I can never understand why Japan, a country of such wonderful electronics etc, puts up with season after season of cold and heat and humidity without doing what Americans do – get central heating and air conditioning.

To answer these questions I actually discussed them with the four women in Tuesday-ladies group. I really wanted to get their opinions and perspective. It was very interesting! The answers are from the perspective of native Japanese-all older mature women.

Here are their comments (various comments from the 4 women):

Central heat and air conditioning are not cultural in Japan. We Japanese enjoy living naturally with the seasons and natural temperatures. Culturally we have other ways of keeping cool or warm during various seasons. For example-we have kotatsu heater tables , kerosene stoves and warm clothing in the winter. In the summer we use electric fans, cool neck scarves, hand fans, and ice.

Living with the natural temperatures is good for the body. We are hard workers both inside and outside. Relying on central heat or coolness would affect our body in an adverse way and we would become weak-and not be able to work so hard outside during winter or summer months.

Japanese people view central heat and cool as something “foreign” in many ways. It does not fit well with our philosophy of life.

Central heating and cooling is considered a luxury. It is a very expensive system to install and only rich people can afford such luxury.

Traditionally Japanese do not have personal rooms for everyone. Houses are small and families traditionally gather together in one room. That is the room that is heated with a kotatsu or kerosene heater. It is considered wasteful to heat or cool the entire house when only one room is being used.

Japanese houses are structurally different. They aren’t built with the intention of installing a central system-anyways, it would be far too costly to install.

Electricity to run a central system would be too expensive.

There is some form of central heat in Hokkaido because it gets very cold there and they have lots of snow. We don’t need that kind of system here because it does not get as cold and anyways-we are tough.

And some notes from Mrs. N: Robin-we do have wall units that can be installed (not cheap) that blow cool air in summer and hot air in winter. We have two such units-one in our bedroom and one in the TV room. However we only turn on one at a time-running them both at the same time is expensive and anyhow-we only heat or cool the room we are in-this is the philosophy here-motainai or waste not want not. This is Japanese culture. Takes some getting used to. Sometimes I complain and whine….  🙂

Kentucky Lady’s Questions answered

Kentucky Lady’s questions were:

1. Did you know Japanese before moving to Japan? Before we moved to Japan we used to come once or twice a year to visit my husband’s family. We did that for about 12 years. Every time we came I picked up a few words or phrases but I couldn’t read or write. I am still studying the language when I have time. I can’t read much but I can hold a simple conversation. The language is a HUGE challenge – especially when you are older and trying to learn it. I have a very full life here and do not always have the time to sit and study so it has been slow going. Hiragana and Katakana I know but there are around 2,000 or something Kanji and I doubt that I will ever learn them all. Written Japanese is mixed with all three–so it’s tough.
2. When I visit, even in a large city, I get many stares. Do you in a small town still get the stares? Yes- this is normal. I get full head turns! Often when my husband and I go out to eat people will crane their heads to stare at me. It’s not unusual for one person at a table to be staring at me, say something to the others at the table and then the entire table of people turns around to look at me. I just ignore it now.
3. My family suggested me moving to Japan after retirement, BUT I don’t speak Japanese and don’t have friends other than family. Ideas or suggestions? That’s a huge decision to make.  I am thankful my husband helps me navigate because there are so many things that would be almost impossible for me. If I lived on my own I’d have to try and navigate the government offices that everyone has encounters with. I’d have to navigate the Japanese medical system, insurance, immigration, and much more. I do my best but I’ll be honest and say that I really need my husband’s help with much of it. Perhaps if I had come here during university days and knew the language well it would be different. I have several foreign friends who have been here over 20 years having come when they were much younger and had the energy and time to learn the language well-they probably do fine on their own. We moved here after retirement and that was an entirely different story.

If you are considering trying to move to Japan after retirement you may want to gather as much information about visa requirements as you can. You may also want to research all the various other requirements -the various government offices you’ll have to deal with. Research renting (it’s a bit different here) an apartment or house. If you are planning on working you’ll have to pay taxes to the Japanese government and the US government-US citizens are the only people who still have to pay taxes to the US on wages earned in foreign countries. I’d also do some research on the medical system here-it was a huge shocker for me the first time. There is really no such thing as patient privacy in Japan and it is still hard for me to deal with. The doctor-patient relationship is also very different from what we are used to in the West.

I do love living here but -my spouse is Japanese and that makes all the difference for me personally. I got going as soon as we arrived and found my little niche. I had a lot of help and support from my husband. Japan can be terribly isolating for foreigners. Japanese are lovely people but making friends takes a lot of effort and persistence. I would study everything I could about the culture before making the decision.

I would also start now on learning the language-if you live here you will need to be able to communicate in Japanese because not many people speak English and official forms (government forms etc) and such are in Japanese only.

Juanita’s questions answered

Juanita asked:

Do floor toilets still rule the bathrooms? In most public restrooms there are both floor toilets and Western style toilets. In the countryside you may find more floor toilets. I actually prefer the floor toilets!

Was there really a curfew for dancing after dark until a few years ago?I had to google this because I really didn’t know. We don’t go to bars and such. From what I read this is true. Don’t know much else about it.

Why is everything so expensive? “Everything” encompasses a lot. Certain things may be expensive but not everything. But- that also depends where you live. Tokyo is an expensive place to live. We live in the country and it is much cheaper.

We find the cost of living much cheaper here than we did in Saipan where we lived for over 35 years. For example our food bill is very reasonable. Our utilities are also very reasonable-compared to Saipan where we used to pay almost $300.00 a month just for electricity and we were uber conservative-no hot water heater, no clothes dryer, we only used the AC from around 10pm-6am (in one room) and the only thing we really had running all the time was the fridge. Coming to Japan as a tourist and actually living here are different. Tourists pay tourist prices. We know where to shop for our needs and get good prices. Certain things are expensive because of availability or perhaps because the product is imported. Did you have anything in mind that you felt was really expensive?

Why do so many people in Japan live to be over a hundred years old; is it the diet?   I would say that and actually- the entire life-style and philosophy towards health and eating habits.  People are also much more active here. Walking is a normal mode of transportation. So is riding a bike-and that includes the elderly.

People have healthy diets here compared to westerners. Yes-the diet has changed throughout the years but generally the Japanese diet is chock full of fresh vegetables of all kinds (not canned). Since we moved here I have never eaten so healthy in my life. We have a Japanese diet-lots of vegetables from the farmers market or our garden, fish, rice from our farm, we eat meat but in small portions-no huge 12 oz steaks! Portions are much smaller here. We don’t eat things like pancakes and bacon for breakfast. We almost never eat junk food. I can honestly say that in the 6 years we have lived here I have never bought a bag of chips! Never drink sodas. We do drink lots of green tea, barley tea, burdock tea etc. And exercise! We get lots of exercise. I walk to do my grocery shopping and haul it all home in a wheeled cart. My lifestyle has really changed here-for the better! I’ve adopted the life-style here and it has done me a world of good.

And yes- people here like cats. We are dog people ourselves but there are many cat lovers here.

🙂

Healthy Eating-Japanese vegetables

This is a shot of a typical grocery haul for us. Notice all the fresh vegetables.

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I was surfing the net not long ago and came across a photo of a typical grocery haul by a family in another country and I was startled because the table was piled high with packaged foods, junk foods, sodas and other non-nutritious foods.

It made me think about how really fortunate we are to live here. Healthy eating is not something out of the ordinary, it’s the norm. At least for us, in this area.

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This is a picture of my typical breakfast: a grilled fish, scrambled eggs with onions, spinach, mushrooms or some other vegetable. Vegetable miso soup, komatsuna-wakame (mustard cabbage and seaweed) with a vinegar and sesame seed oil dressing, 50 grams of rice from our farm-topped with grated daikon radish in the photo.

Hubby eats the same. We wash it down with hot green tea.

This is kind of a typical Japanese breakfast. Add natto for hubby (I can not get past the smell).

I really enjoy cooking with all the wonderful vegetables from the farmers market.

Fresh spinach gets par-boiled, drained and squeezed. Then I cut it up and top it with dried, shaved bonito (fish).

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Eggplant ready for grilling…..

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Lovey vegetable miso-soup. Ingredients are Chinese cabbage, carrots, onion, wakame (seaweed). I use kombu dashi (a broth made from seaweed) as the base and then I add 2 tablespoons of miso paste. Healthy and hearty!