DIY Miso Soup

I’ve argued for years that if children’s books can have illus­tra­tions, why shouldn’t nov­els for adults? When Jonathan Safran Foer pub­lished Extremely Loud and Incred­ibly Close I felt vin­dic­ated. It has draw­ings, typo­graph­ical exper­i­ments, pho­to­graphs, a flip-book …and it’s magnificent.

Safran Foer has just out­done him­self. I’ve spent the even­ing read­ing his latest work Tree of Codes. It’s a start­ling and phys­ic­ally beau­ti­ful book, a rework­ing of Bruno Schulz’ 20th Cen­tury story The Street of Cro­codiles. Even the new title is a vari­ation on the ori­ginal — slice ten let­ters from The Street of Cro­codiles and Tree of Codes is the result.

The die-cut book is a work of del­ic­acy and ingenu­ity. Turn a page too briskly and it will tear. Words glim­mer through the gaps so that each read­ing of the novel pro­duces a new story.

It’s a novel that expects effort, but the reward is that it becomes one’s own. As I explored Tree of Codes this even­ing, I ate a bowl of DIY miso soup, some­thing I’ve been eat­ing most days since Janu­ary 1st. DIY soup demands that the eater works at it, cre­ates it at the table. And just like Tree of Codes, it’s dif­fer­ent every time.


Serves 2

20g dried shi­take mushrooms

2 table­spoons miso paste

3 table­spoons soy sauce

3 table­spoon fish sauce

1 litre water

2 cm chunk of fresh ginger

2 cm length of lemongrass

2 nests of fine egg noodles

Half fresh red chilli

Hand­ful cori­ander leaves

2 spring onions or scallions

2 cloves finely chopped garlic

200g raw King prawns

Pour a little boil­ing water over the mush­rooms and put to one side. Peel the ginger and grate it into a sauce­pan large enough to hold 1 litre of water. Chop the lem­on­grass roughly and add to the pan, along with the miso paste, and the soy and fish sauces. Bring to a gentle sim­mer, take off the heat and allow the fla­vours to develop.

Finely chop the chil­lis and spring onions and put into two serving bowls. Put the washed cori­ander leaves in a third bowl. Rinse the softened mush­rooms and add to a fourth bowl. Line these up on the table with a serving spoon in each. Place the uncooked noodle nests into two soup bowls, bring the soup back up to a sim­mer. Strain it and divide equally between the two bowls, pour­ing it over the noodles to soften them while you cook the prawns. Saute the prawns in a little olive oil with the finely chopped gar­lic. When the prawns are pink, tip them into a fifth serving bowl and take to the table. By this time the soup liquor will have cooked the noodles. Just add gen­er­ous help­ings of all or some of the extra ingredi­ents to your soup and start to eat.

I made DIY soup for twelve people yes­ter­day and the choos­ing and the eat­ing made a simple meal into an event. It would have been even bet­ter if all twelve of us had had our own copy of Tree of Codes to read aloud from as we ate.

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15 thoughts on “DIY Miso Soup

  1. A lovely lit­er­ary blog soup to start the New Year. I think the soup might be more nutri­tious than the book. Both are beautiful.

  2. Actu­ally, both are nutri­tious in their way. But Tree of Codes is bet­ter if you’ve read The Street of Cro­codiles first. Thanks so much for leav­ing such a cheer­ing com­ment x

  3. Just caught up with you last few posts (like an omni­bus!) and really enjoyed all. I love your words and thoughts! Hope to see you some­time soon and happy New Year too.

  4. I loved Safran Foer’s other nov­els, and this one sounds just as intriguing. The pic­tures are amaz­ing. I won­der if it is worth look­ing for at the lib­rary?? If it’s already been read by a dozen (care­less) people it might be unread­able now…

    The idea of a DIY meal really appeals to me. My Mum makes DIY meals for most of her enter­tain­ing, because it’s so relaxed and sets every­one at ease. There is no pre­ten­sion there. She does “stuff your own baked pota­toes,” “top your own hearty salad,” and “top your own pizza.” Thanks for the soup idea, though, that’s a new one for me!

  5. Hi Sarah Thanks so much for com­ment­ing. I agree com­pletely about DIY meals — they also appeal to the part of me that loves pic­nics. The Safran Foer book is def­in­itely worth look­ing for. I ordered it in Novem­ber but only got my copy last week. I think they’re hav­ing to reprint already which is an encour­aging sign.

  6. Hi Oxslip
    I think it’s more fun to read it without the blank paper behind — sur­pris­ing words appear in the gaps as you read… Thank you for intro­du­cing me to Kim Rugg’s work. Have you seen Su Blackwell’s book sculptures?

  7. Fas­cin­at­ing format for a book… reminds me a bit of a show I saw at the Royal Academy once that was all text from books in book sized frames. I bet it’s wrapped in plastic in Water­stones as it’s so fragile.

  8. Intrigued by the book… Makes me think of those shildren’s coulour­ing in books where each page was cut in half hori­zont­ally, so you could turn the pages to have a stern policeman’s top half matched with a frilly tutu-clad ballerina’s bot­tom half — but for grown-ups! I’d love to own the book purely for the tact­ile exper­i­ence of those del­ic­ate pages… Love the DIY soup — I used to have DIY piz­zas as my enter­tain­ment food of choice as a stu­dent. Provide the bases, provide bowls of chopped top­pings, and… go!

  9. Hi Jeanne
    Ooh that pizza makes me feel very nos­tal­gic. Why did I ever think pine­apple and ham was a good com­bin­a­tion? x

  10. Hi I Thanks for leav­ing a com­ment — I love to hear from vis­it­ors to my blog. The noodles are straight from the local store, but they’re very good and I love the fact that they’re so fine.

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