Chawan Mushi with Ginkgo Nuts

One of the first Japanese recipes I ever made is this savory custard. It’s more unexpected than exotic, soothing and almost familiar. Twenty years ago, I had no idea what dashi was but I must have found an instant dashi soup mix in a store specializing in foreign foods. Ginkgo nuts, lily root, and chestnuts were impossible to find; eggs, chicken breast, shrimp, and soy sauce were easy.

Chawan-mushi: Japanese Egg Custard

Chawan-MushiChawan-mushi is a savory custard—”food steamed in a cup.” Though the egg sets completely in steaming, the added ingredients make the dish a little soupy, and it’s often served in place of soup. It’s so popular in Japan that there are special cups with lids just for serving this dish. It’s also a dish eaten with both chopsticks and a spoon. You can add anything to the custard base which compliments its delicate flavor: chicken breast, scallops, shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, ginkgo nuts, chestnuts, small strips of lemon rind, parboiled carrot slices, bamboo shoots, kamaboko, or even udon. I thought lobster might be nice!