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.


  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 OxslipI 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 JeanneOoh 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.

I'd love to know what you think - do leave a comment