Got An Umami Tooth? Try Sunrise Mart’s Tonjiru Soup

I’ve always been fascinated by the science of taste. Back in my elementary school days, I learned the “taste map” on the tongue consisted of sweet, salty, bitter, and sour. But apparently this wasn’t the full or accurate story. In college, I first heard the taste map was bullshit, and they had introduced the new the flavor “umami“. “What the hell is umami??” I wondered. It was described as the savory but not quite salty flavor of meat.

It took me a long time to wrap my head around that. Almost all meat I’ve eaten is embedded with salt, making the separation of favors nearly impossible in my mind. But last week, sadly craving Yagura (RIP), I decided to stop by Sunrise Mart (41st Street btw. 5th + Madison) since I like their bento boxes. Instead, I tried something there that was almost pure umami. This was the $6.50 ($7.02 with tax) tonjiru soup special. As soon as I put it in my mouth, I was mesmerized by the umaminess of it. I finally fully understood what umami tastes like without a salt mask.

I did some research on the tonjiru, and I found that many of the ingredients in tonjiru are umami poster children. According to wikipedia it “is usually made by stewing thinly sliced pieces of pork, alongside vegetables,in dashi stock, and flavoured by dissolving miso.” Dashi stock and miso are both known for their umami qualities, and included with the stock were fatty pieces of pork, carrot, and mushrooms — all umami foods.

Squishy konjac, soft tofu, boiled daikon, and sliced spring onion make the soup incredibly chunky, and some of these veggies took on the flavor of the dashi stock. (I think there was one other kind of root as well, but I couldn’t tell what — perhaps burdock root?)

I was a little upset about the fact that they didn’t fill up the soup container all the way. I know Lunchers are gonna be pissed about this, but I should note that this was the single chunkiest soup I have tried in Midtown so far, and much more hearty than the soups at the Hot Soup Cart. By its very nature, it’s chock full of vegetables and meat, and for $7, it’s still a better bang for your buck that you would get from a lot of other places and it’s pretty filling. And, like most soups, it’s warming and comforting on a cold day. But another down side… that the tonjiru doesn’t have any bread or noodles to accompany it, so you might think about getting something on the side.

Lunchers, for a pure, unadulterated experience of what it means to taste umami, or if you just have an umami tooth… I recommend this soup.

Sunrise Mart, 12 E 41st St, (646) 380-9280


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    “umai” or sweet in Japanese. This Tonjiru soup certainly lived up to that, with its subtle undertones of sweetness. Yet, at times I found myself befuddled. Oh pork, oh pork,…where art thou??

    • Amai is sweet. Umai means delicious. Neither of those words were mentioned.

      Umami is the kind of ‘sweetness’ or ‘savoriness’ that is tasted from the presence of glutamates found in foods such as seaweed, soy sauce, meats, mushrooms, tomatoes, grapes, Marmite, and cheeses.

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