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In the past several weeks I've had very bad luck with ordering food for delivery. As a New Yorker, this is particularly distressing, as we tend to order takeout more frequently than we turn on our own stoves.

It all started with a grilled chicken salad: I asked for the balsamic vinaigrette on the side, it arrived soused in a dressing so thick it bordered on mayonnaise. I practically had to spoon through it just to find the lettuce. Then, I got a falafel platter with ho-hum hummus instead of the babaganoush I had been craving. Finally—and this was the worst of all—my sashimi entree arrived all by its lonesome, without the miso soup.

I have no problem sending food back in restaurants, because the kitchen usually returns the dish within a few minutes. At home, it's a different story. Once that delivery boy's bike has careened around the corner, it could be 45 minutes or more before he comes back with your correct order. More often than not, it's best to just suck it up and make do with the wrong dinner. That said, sushi without miso soup is like pancakes without maple syrup, or a crab broil without Old Bay.

I decided to test several versions of instant miso soup for this week's Mixed Review, in the hopes of finding one I could keep on hand for emergencies.

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From left: Kikkoman, Hiraki, Sushi Chef.

The three most readily available brands of powdered miso soup were Kikkoman, Hiraki, and Sushi Chef. I found them all in the "international" section of my local supermarket. It's worth mentioning that of these three brands, Kikoman is the only one that contains monosodium glutamate (MSG). All are very inexpensive—less, in fact, than the fresh miso soup on my favorite sushi restaurant's takeout menu. To make the soup, I simply emptied the packets into bowls, added between 3/4 and 1 cup of boiling water to each, and stirred.

  • The Kikkoman soup was the most visually appealing, with meaty cubes of tofu and big pieces of seaweed. Unfortunately it also tasted the worst: granular, overly salty, and artificial. That, combined with the MSG, was enough to take it out of the running.
  • Next up was the Hikari soup. It was the darkest in color, a deep reddish brown. The flavor was quite gingery and the broth tasted like it had been made fresh, as opposed to from a mix. The tofu rehydrated nicely but the seaweed was a bit lacking—there were only a few tiny flakes. Overall the Hiraki soup was very good, but I was looking for something that was a bit softer in flavor, so as not to overpower the delicate sushi.
  • Lastly, I tasted the Sushi Chef version. It was by far the best of the bunch: smooth and mellow, with a burnished golden color and real miso flavor. The mix dissolved completely, and there were just enough bits of tofu and seaweed to provide some bulk to the soup.

While it wasn't quite as soul-satisfying as a bowl of the real restaurant thing, I would highly recommend Sushi Chef as the brand to stock for the next time the miso soup is left out of your takeout.

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