Somehow, I totally missed the September 15th episode of Aiba Manabu (相葉マナブ), and that threw off my queue, so sorry for the delay in the review for this episode – it was totally unintentional. I’ll try to hunt for the Sept. 15th episode to find out what happened there.

This episode is a food episode. Since I don’t know if the Sept. 15th one was as well, I’ll have to wait until I do my review of that one to complain about them doing too many food episodes. Once a Japanese variety show goes down that road, the chances grow increasingly dim that it’ll ever bounce back, so I’m always on alert.

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If you think the image above looks like ice cream, I should warn you – those are not the flavors you think they are. This episode is all about miso soup (味噌汁 – miso shiru) , so those are . . . yeah.

But, truth be told, this is one food topic I’m actually interested in, though only if they end up showing me how to properly prepare miso soup. I’ve messed around with miso paste from time to time, but never managed to get miso soup tasting to my satisfaction (of course, there’s a chance that I simply don’t like miso soup – I’ve never actually had it prepared by an expert).

Aiba-kun’s guests this time were Watabe Ken-san (who is always up for these food episodes because they don’t involve hard work), Sawabe Yuu-san (who is always up for Aiba Manabu episodes, no matter what’s going on), and relative newcomer Hamatani Kenji-san.

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It didn’t take them long to get seated and ready to eat . . .

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. . . but they can’t dig in just yet. The specialist of the day quizzes them on what changed about the usage method in the Heian period (around the 9th and 10th century A.D.).

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Part of the trouble with someone clueless like me trying to figure out miso is that there are so many varieties of it:

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And when the guys finally lifted the lids of the pots in front of them, it turns out they didn’t have meals at all, but rather samples of different types of miso.

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They got to taste test each one and elucidate on how they’re all different. Unfortunately, my weak Japanese failed here, so I didn’t really understand the distinctions being made.

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Of course, when they said it was sweet . . .

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. . . or really tasty . . .

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. . . that was easy to understand, but not at all helpful.

The discussion turned to what Japanese like to put into miso soup . . .

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. . . and after making a few guesses, they were presented with a ranking. Just to give you a taste, green onions were an obvious choice at #4, daikon – white radish – was at #5, potato was at #6, a type of mushroom (nameko) was at #7, onion was at #8, eggplant (eww!) was at #9, and clam was at #10. I’d opt for green onions, potato, mushroom, and possibly the clam, but I’m personally way more carnivorous than they seem to be from #4 to #10. Could they have some meat in the top three spots?

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Actually, the item at #1 is such a must that not only is it not a surprise, but it’s going to come up again very soon – it’s tofu.

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In fact, they get right into tofu production, and thankfully this meant they were out of their seats and in the kitchen. Note that Watabe-san isn’t there.

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Aiba-kun seems eager to get into it, and he has to carefully cut a huge block of tofu into smaller carton sized blocks with a butcher knife while the tofu is still floating in the water. Be careful, Aiba-kun!

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Watabe-san not only doesn’t like to get involved in any real work, but he apparently doesn’t even like to be where it happens, so he and Hamatani-san went out to street vendors to try out some other ingredients. Rather than helping to make something, they were just doing taste tests.

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For Aiba-kun, he had to deal with two tubs of hot oil – one at 210 degrees Celsius and the other at 130 degrees C – to prepare fried tofu.

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He got to taste the fruits . . . or soy beans . . . of his labor, but with it being fresh out of the vat of oil, he choked on it a bit. Best to let it cool down next time and have something to drink with it. You know, like miso soup.

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Watabe-san and Hamatani-san went to hunt for dashi – the raw material for the soup stock. This is usually katsuobushi – dried and smoked skipjack tuna – but can also be dried bonito.

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That left Aiba-kun and Sawabe-san to purchase the miso. And those ice cream-like tubs are actually miso paste:

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Once again, I wish I could understand the explanation of the differences between the types of miso.

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Aiba-kun was perpetually excited with every taste. It’s hard to imagine that anyone could be more engaged by this topic.

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So, with all the ingredients for a good miso soup ready . . .

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. . . how do you actually put it all together? Looks like Aiba-kun is actually going to do the preparation.

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So, if I wanted to know how to put together a good miso soup, this ended up a great episode to watch, since they pretty much go through it step-by-step.

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They’re very specific about everything, at one point requiring low heat for two to three minutes . . .

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. . . and then also giving rather precise ratios between three different kinds of miso:

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So, with all the preparation complete, how did it taste?

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While I’m down on food episodes in general, I look favorably on them if the people eating had to prepare the food first, and that’s what we got here. This was certainly much better than the food quiz episodes we had early on in the series, and if they continue to show us how to make Japanese dishes with as much detail as they did here, I probably wouldn’t be able to complain as long as they threw in something else every other week. Also, this half-hour was in keeping with the theme of the show – to learn about the things that make Japan distinctive. Some of the episodes have strayed from that, but miso is definitely on-topic.