One of the things about writing a blog about Japanese food and culture is that once the word gets out, people love to give you random things to do with Japan. I've had people give me Japanese vegetables that they grew in their garden, books on folding origami napkins, charms bought in shinto shrines decades ago, and other various items. I love gifts in all forms, but I especially enjoy these samplings of Japan. However, since I'm often getting them second hand and I do not yet speak Japanese with any kind of useful proficiency, sometimes I am a little at a loss as to what something is.
This was the case a few weeks ago when my mother brought home an item given to her by a friend who reads my blog. The only explanation that came with it was that she wasn't sure if it was still good. About the size and shape of an engagement ring box, and the same weight and color of a fortune cookie, it appeared to be an eatable good. The only clue I had was the label, identifying it as Mam Osuimono. The word osuimono did ring a sort of bell, and brought to mind soup. Then I remembered that this was a type of Japanese soup that has a clear broth (as opposed to miso).
As with any modern mystery, my first move was to do a quick google search. This brought up a couple of Japanese websites, a cryptic entry on Amazon for an out of stock item, and much more helpfully, this image:
(Well, thank heavens they used English to identify the step numbers, or this could have been very confusing.)
Okay, seems pretty straight forward. It appears to be a soup (which makes sense), that is dehydrated and stored inside a rice cake(?). Without further ado I opened the package.
Beautiful, trust the Japanese to make the most elegant dehydrated soup in existence. There was also a flavor packet, which was pictured nowhere in my instructions. So, after preserving the beauty in a few photos, I put the flavor packet in a bowl, poked a hole in the top off the cake with a chopstick, and boiled some water.
You know those packing peanuts that dissolve? when I was a kid we used to love those, running them under the tap and watching the crispy foam become floppy and squishy and then becoming nothing but a soggy, slimy something. Making this soup was remarkably like that, only more appetizing since the flavor packet sent off an amazing savory scent. I watched the rice cake slowly loose its crispness, collapsing, and then, out of figging nowhere, out pops a couple little flowers and some seaweed. Success!
I now had more or less the same thing as step three (though I don't know where their rice cake ended up). It took me a little while to figure out what the flowers were made of, but now I'm pretty sure they were dried tofu. The flavor of the soup was magnificent, full of umami and tasting strongly of dashi. The rice cake was perhaps a little slimy, but it still tasted good. All in all, a most delightful experience! A very special "Arigatou"to Catharine for sending me this mysterious soup!
My question for you today is, have you ever had to decipher mysterious packaging before? Tell me about it in the comment section below.
Until next time, try something new and enjoy the mystery!
P.S. I swear that this wasn't there the first time I looked, but while researching this post I found a link to a place where you can buy Mam Osuimono in a pack of six. It sort of seems like they might be a souvenir thing.