Traditionally in Japan, miso shiru soup represented the taste of home cooking. Each family would have its own recipes, prepared using local or homemade miso but served up with favorite combinations of ingredients. Vegetables, seafood, mushrooms, tofu, seaweed and even small quantities of meat all find their place in miso soup, according to taste and seasonal availability.

Countless cookbooks have been published catering to this deep-seated love of miso shiru. But we prefer to gain our inspiration from the menus of specialist restaurants. Whenever we are in Ikebukuro, we make a point of dropping by the food section of Tobu department store — not just because it is one of the largest in the city (with an excellent sake section) but also to visit Misogen.

This is a small counter run by a miso retailer that serves freshly prepared miso shiru, either on its own or along with simple rice dishes. There are four or five styles of soup to choose from; our favorite is prepared with fresh yuba (soy-milk skin), mushrooms, spinach greens and sliced okra. Simple, warming, revivifying and with no artificial additives, it calms and satisfies the parts that Starbucks can never reach.