So, I’ve been taking Japanese lessons at the cultural center on Belmont, and a class or two ago, our teacher brought in a box of these spice packets. She was demonstrating something about the kanji on the box, but then she handed out the spice packets, and gave us the recipe. In Japanese. The little sachet of spices smelled amazing, but I didn’t catch the name on the box, or any of the ingredients. I felt adventurous the other night, so I decided to try out the recipe.

Niles has never, ever criticized my cooking. Even when I completely bomb a recipe, he’s always politely and dutifully eaten a helping of it. At the very most he might suggest an improvement for the next time, but he’s only ever had nice things to say about meals I’ve prepared. Because he’s so indiscriminate with his praise, the only way to know if I’ve really knocked something out of the park is when he goes back for seconds. And thirds. And maybe even fourths.

I knocked this one out of the park.

I made a giant pot, I had a bowl, Niles had a number of bowls, and there might be two servings left in the fridge right now. I’m not sure how to articulate why it was so great. It might be what the Japanese call “umami” – the base of the broth had an incredibly satisfying, savory, warm and almost buttery flavor to it. It’s the exact quality of my favorite dish at Urban Belly, their sweet chili lime shrimp udon. I tried to replicate it on my own dozens of times last winter, but I never really came close.

Now I know that umami flavor comes from this magical combination of spices. I can ask Fujii-sensei on Saturday what the dish is called… but in the meantime, if anyone reading this is super knowledgable about Asian cuisine, and this soup sounds familiar, I’m all ears! I’m hoping it’s a common enough dish that I’ll be able to find it at one of the Asian groceries in Chicago, because I’m going to need much, much more of it.

(PS: more detailed hints: the box it came in had only Chinese characters on it. I’m pretty sure it’s either Chinese or Taiwanese.)