We just got back from an amazing family trip to Asia, and I’m excited to share a yummy miso soup recipe we learned while we were there! I couldn’t believe how much it tasted just like the best miso soups we ate in Japan the first time I made it once we got back home. Jump to recipe ->
It’s no secret that I love to travel (the more adventurous, the better!) and, inspired by my cousin who was recently living in Tokyo, that’s how we came up with the idea to take the girls on a trip to the other side of the world this summer.
I’m big on using airline miles for these types of trips, and, since you have to book pretty far in advance for good options with those, we pulled the trigger 11 months ago on flights from the US to Tokyo. Knowing we’d want to visit more than one place once we’re all the way over there, we randomly picked Bali for our return flight home (on multi-city award tickets). The only thing is, a lot can happen in 11 months … including my cousin’s job being transferred back to the US!! We wondered if we should still go without anyone to visit and ultimately decided we’d be disappointed if we missed out, so off we went. :)
Japan had never really been too high on my list to visit (before knowing someone who lived there), and I have to tell you what – I enjoyed it so much more than I was expecting! The kids really loved it, too! It is such a clean and orderly place with almost no crime. I am so used to having to watch my back in big cities so it was refreshing to walk around such a nice place feeling so safe.
The culture is also (obviously) so interesting, and the food was even better than I was imagining. I thought we might be eating sushi to the point where we were tired of it, but there are actually so many different types of yummy cuisine in Japan. And what we learned is that each restaurant has their own little specialty and that’s basically all they offer. So one restaurant might be a tempura place and all you can order there is different types of tempura (along with rice and sauces, of course), another restaurant might specialize in skewers, the next ramen, the next sushi, and so on. We only ended up eating at sushi restaurants twice, almost not enough!
One of my favorite meals on the trip was actually at a sushi conveyer belt restaurant. It was such a fun experience and also very reasonably priced. You just pull off the plates that look good to you (thanks to the helpful signs in English), and then they count up your empty plates when you’re done to determine the total price. Thankfully my kids are fans of sushi so they enjoyed this one just as much as we did … clearly based on the number of plates we polished off in the stacks pictured below!
We visited both Tokyo and Kyoto while in Japan and did so many fun activities to attempt to immerse ourselves in their culture. Some of the highlights included dinner with a geisha (Japanese women who study the ancient tradition of art, dance and singing – pictured far above), dressing the girls up in kimonos (a very common sight for tourists in Kyoto – kimonos are readily available for rent or purchase), a rickshaw ride through a bamboo forest, samurai sword lesson for the girls, visiting beautiful temples & gardens, staying at a traditional Japanese inn (called a ryokan where you sleep and eat on the floor), a cooking lesson in a Japanese home (where we learned how to make the miso soup – more on that below), a walk up to the monkey park, a city bike tour (in Tokyo), visiting the manga (Japanese comics)/anime capital, taking the bullet train (shinkansen), eating really good 7-11 sushi (onigiri, aka rice balls), trying out some of the vending machines that are everywhere (for everything), and sitting on the floor at the Japenese-style Starbucks in Kyoto! We were clearly very busy little travelers!
One of the other interesting things we learned about Japan is that there is almost no diversity. We were told almost 99% of the people living in Japan are in fact Japanese (it is an island after all), and since almost all Japanese people are trim and petite with dark hair it felt sooo different than walking around a city in the US where people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Our little family (with a blonde girl and a curly haired girl) could not have fit in no matter how hard we tried. It was so interesting being the minority with hardly any other non-Asian tourists passing by … I actually thought that part was a really special and fun experience!
After a week in Japan we flew directly to Bali, Indonesia. It was about a 7-hour flight, which is not as close as we originally imagined, but worth it! I am not quite sure why we chose Bali other than just hearing about how amazing it is for so many years. So why not see for ourselves what everyone is talking about?
Bali is a fairly big island (taking many hours to drive from one side to the other) with each area having something different to offer. So when planning our trip I quickly realized we should move around a bit rather than staying in one place the entire time. So we stayed three nights in Seminyak (where I was told is the happening place to be), three in Tulamben (where the most famous scuba dive site is in Bali – USS Liberty shipwreck), and three in Ubud (the jungle area that was featured in the book/movie Eat, Pray, Love).
No matter where you are in Bali though we learned the people are some of the nicest and happiest on Earth. You’d be hard-pressed to walk past a Balinese person without them smiling and bowing at you. Anger is very much looked down upon and religion (along with many MANY rituals and ceremonies for almost everything – even including the purchase of a new car as pictured below) is the center of their culture.
It took no time at all to agree that Seminyak is one happening place for sure. Full of swanky restaurants, clubs, and hotels, it almost felt a little like South Beach in Miami. We thought it was a great vibe! Definitely one of the touristy areas of the island. We decided it’d be best to pick a hotel or villa in the heart of town and just walk to the beach or anywhere else we may want to go to avoid the traffic backups. Massages at our villa were only $15 each, so it was a great place to stay put and relax!
We did take a one day trip to Uluwatu though to experience the Kecak and Fire Dance we heard so much about. And boy, an experience it was! I’ve never been in a stadium where they packed in the people quite like this, but the sunset behind the show was so picturesque and the chanting, acting, dancing, and costumes provided such a fun window into their culture. If only we didn’t run into sooo much traffic trying to get back to our place in Seminyak when it was over!
The main reason we went to the Tulamben area was to scuba dive. We’d been to Indonesia one other time (in 2011 – not with the kids) and basically have not stopped thinking about how amazing the diving was in that part of the world. Our girls had been diving one other time (so we knew they could do it), and we had planned to just do a few “Discovery” dives together. But soon after arriving at our dive-centric hotel they actually talked us into all four getting certified while we were there. That was not in the plan, but it’s what we ended up doing and we are so glad we did! We learned that it’s about a third of the price per dive (once you’re certified and pay for that, of course) compared to each Discovery dive, so it just made sense considering future trips.
I was excited to see Ubud (the jungle) after learning about it in Eat, Pray, Love. There is a beautiful river running right through it and we had planned to go white water rafting down it (a popular activity there), but were honestly too tired after all the work we’d put into our scuba diving certifications! So we ended up chilling (and eating) around our beautiful hotel, complete with an organic farm, and checking out the very happening town. The girls also did an aerial yoga class, and I surprised my husband (on his birthday, which was during this part of our trip) with a guided meditation session at a local ashram. I was going to book it for just him, but they said to bring the whole family – so we all went and enjoyed it even more than we were expecting!
We also visited rice fields and temples on our way to and from each place so we could see more of their beautiful island. We were glad to end our trip with a little relaxation because we certainly needed to recharge our batteries before the LONG trek home. We had to take three flights including a 16 hour one from Hong Kong to JFK (with a 12 hour time change) – that’s about as long as they get, but we did manage to survive!
Here are some of the highlights from our visit there:
As I mentioned, we had a cooking lesson in a Japanese home while in Kyoto. When doing the research for this activity I came across a company called Traveling Spoon that connects travelers to home cooks all around the world – how cool! So through their website, we chose a “Vegetable-forward Japanese home cooking lesson with a charming local” named Keiko (you can also find her through her Instagram page or website). She was so great!
Keiko emailed me in advance and asked if I had any requests or preferences. I told her how my daughters loved miso soup and that one of them had tried making it at home, but it didn’t turn out so well. So she offered to show us how to make miso soup two ways (among other recipes), and it was such a fun learning experience! I love to see what it’s like inside someone’s home when we’re traveling abroad. Not to mention we get to bring the yummy recipes back home with us!
A big thank you to Keiko for showing us how easy it can be to make really good miso soup (and for allowing me to share it here). I will say though, while it is super easy and simple to make, the ingredients may be a little harder to track down here in the US. I typically only post recipes with standard ingredients, but this is going to be an exception to that rule. We luckily have an Asian supermarket not too far from us, but you can order some of the ingredients online (or even ask to buy them from your favorite local Asian restaurant!). I certainly think it’s worth it for something fun and different. Hope you enjoy this recipe as much as we do!