Sushi Mon

105 Friendly Drive, Raleigh

919-322-0002

After our server places a gray ceramic bowl on the table, I barely give the cloudy broth a second glance before continuing to chat with my friends. As with most miso soups I’ve had at sushi restaurants, I had mentally written it off as mere filler on Sushi Mon’s lunch menu. I’ve certainly never considered it a dish that I’d waste precious stomach space on before my luxurious truffle tuna roll arrived. 

Yet another glimpse reveals a cloudier broth than in versions I’ve slurped in the past. As I dip the porcelain soup spoon below the surface, the opaque broth yields the typical scallions, and, to my surprise, generous pieces of fish. With inspiration from his own family kitchen, chef Tom Sung adds fish—as well as two kinds of miso—to a rich stock to craft Sushi Mon’s Mother Miso Soup. It’s a far cry from the powdered mixes we’ve come to accept as miso soup. Instead, it’s a dish worthy of its solo billing on the menu. 

Miso—a mixture of fermented soybeans, salt, and grains such as rice or barley—serves as an integral component in Japanese cooking and is used not only in soup, but also in braises, marinades, and sauces. Japanese for “fermented beans,” miso packs a hefty nutritional punch as a result of the probiotics that develop after the koji, the starter culture, is left to consume the other ingredients. Hundreds of varied styles exist across regions and Asian cultures, all of which enjoy starting the day with a bowl of miso soup to stimulate digestion.

However, the popularity of this gut-friendly addition to our repertoire of probiotic-rich foods has resulted in the mass-produced miso and miso-soup packets that have replaced homemade varieties in most circumstances, both in the U.S. and abroad. 

Before mastering the art of Japanese sushi during stints at Kabuto in Las Vegas and Michelin-star restaurants Manresa and Bird Dog in California, Sung, who is Korean, learned how to create an unctuous miso soup from watching his mother incorporate fish remnants into a savory stock full of kombu, dried mushrooms, and bonito flakes. It serves as the base for the Mother’s Miso Soup at Sushi Mon, which he and his business partner, Chris Lee, opened near N.C. State University in late 2018.  

Not only does this separate Sung’s homemade miso broth from its immemorable competitors, it also allows him to minimize food waste. The soup contains pieces of salmon, yellowtail, amberjack, and sea bream leftover from sushi that otherwise would have been discarded. The vibrant fish amps up the aesthetics of the dish and adds a buttery depth to the broth, while slivers of tender cabbage and spongy slices of mushrooms provide a surprising texture contrast. Sweet, rice-based white miso combines with the umami-rich red variety that acquires its color and flavor from a higher concentration of soybeans and a longer fermentation period.   

Before I knew it, I’d polished off the last spoonful of the broth. Though I was happy to know that I could order a full portion on my next visit, I found myself wondering if Sushi Mon would consider extending its hours. I’d gladly order this miso soup for breakfast. 

food@indyweek.com