Thursday, November 6, 2014

Instant tonjiru udon taste test

Tonjiru (豚汁) is a hearty type of miso soup made with pork and vegetables that is considered a staple of Japanese home cooking. Ingredients vary from household to household and person to person, but (along with the pork) most recipes include carrots, gobou (burdock root), and konnyaku (konjac or devil's tongue) among other ingredients.

I love tonjiru and usually make mine with pork, carrots, potatoes, onions, gobou, konnyaku, and shiitake. Throw in some udon and tonjiru is also an awesome meal on its own!

homemade tonjiru udon
homemade tonjiru udon

So when I saw instant tonjiru udon available at the grocery store, I knew I had to try it! There were two brands available, so I bought both and did a taste test.

maruchan nissin instant tonjiru udon

Left: Maruchan "Atsu Atsu Tonjiru Udon"
Price: 108yen
Net Wt.: ~109g
Toppings: pork, aburaage, gobou, potatoes, carrots, leeks
425kcal; 6.1g sodium

Right: Nissin "Donbei Tonjiru Udon"
Price: 138yen
Net Wt.: ~99g
Toppings: pork, aburaage, gobou, carrots, leeks
416kcal; 5.1g sodium

Maruchan Atsu Atsu Tonjiru Udon Nissin Donbei Tonjiru Udon

Inside both packages, there were pieces of aburaage (a type of fried tofu), a package of toppings (kayaku かやく) and soup (ekitai soup 液体スープ), but the Nissin one also had a package of shichimi spices (七味).

The preparation instructions were also pretty much the same for both:
1. open up the lid halfway and remove the topping/soup/spice packages
2. add the toppings to the noodles
3. fill with hot water up to the line inside the bowl (~350mL for Maruchan, and ~370mL for Nissin)
4. close the lid, place the soup package on top of the lid (to warm up the soup), and let sit for 5min
5. remove the lid, add the soup (and spices for Nissin), mix and enjoy!

instant tonjiru udon prepared just add water
just add water!
Maruchan Atsu Atsu Tonjiru Udon
Maruchan Atsu Atsu Tonjiru Udon
Nissin Donbei Tonjiru Udon
Nissin Donbei Tonjiru Udon

 Both were pretty tasty, but the Maruchan soup had a stronger miso taste, and the toppings were in bigger pieces and had a bit more variety than the Nissin version, so the taste of the toppings was more obvious.

The Nissin soup was a bit lighter so you could appreciate the addition of the shichimi spices. Since I tend to use a lighter hand with the miso when making my own tonjiru, the Nissin soup was closer to the taste of my tonjiru than the Maruchan soup. I also preferred the Nissin noodles since the texture was a bit...softer? They tasted/felt closer to regular udon than the Maruchan noodles, which were more rubbery/firm and obviously instant noodles.

So, here are my picks for the better brand based on various criteria:
Price/Value: Maruchan
Health: Nissin
Toppings: Maruchan
Noodles: Nissin
Soup: Tie (really a matter of preference, both were equally good)

As you can see, each is good in its own way, but if I had to pick, I would choose the Maruchan Atsu Atsu Tonjiru Udon for the value and the very clear "tonjiru!" taste from the stronger miso taste and size and variety of the toppings.