Having lived in Japan for four years, Japanese food (specifically homestyle cuisine) is a topic near and dear to my heart, so I was thrilled when my friend Atsuko Ikeda released “Atsuko’s Japanese Kitchen,” which contains the wisdom accumulated over more than 10 years of her cooking classes.
In a country as ancient as Japan, tradition and ceremony plays a huge role in everyday life, influencing every aspect. Nowhere is this truer than in the kitchen. Many of the principles of Japanese cuisine (five colors, flavors and cooking methods, best known for its role in Zen shojin ryori) date back hundreds of years (if not longer).
Beginning with a very helpful overview of the eight major regions of Japan (each one with its own regional specialties), the introduction (particularly the graphic organizers / sample meal planners and cooking timelines) alone is worth the cost of the book.
The very helpful illustrated guide to pantry essentials and kitchen tools will help you to track down exactly the right items to make your Japanese meals a success. You’ll also learn to craft dashi (Japan’s “mother sauce”), how to cook the perfect rice, and how to pair/choose sake.
The “small dishes for sharing” include staples like nasu dengaku, dashimaki tamago, wasabi edamame, deep-fried skewers, fried tofu, karaage, and gyoza along with fusion items like mushrooms with blue cheese, yuzu ponzu and truffle.
Miso soup is a must in Japan (it’s consumed at nearly every meal). I absolutely loved the variations like miso soup with watercress and fried tofu and aubergine and sesame miso soup to add a little variety to my regular routine.
And noodle-based soups like ramen and udon are ubiquitous in Japan; I greatly appreciated that Atsuko provided some vegetarian alternatives like Piri Kara Soba, Tonyu Kinoko Jiru, and an eggplant mapo tofu (I was surprised to learn that we share the same shojin ryori mentor Mari Fujii-san!).
You’ll find regional specialties like Miyazaki’s Chicken Nanban and comforting family meals like shabu shabu, tuna tataki, nabe (hotpot), braised pork belly, and traditional sides like green beans dressed with toasted sesame seeds and pumpkin salad.
Although many of the dishes are meat and seafood-based, there are several excellent sides for pickled, marinated and dressed veggies and a number of tofu-based dishes (including a savory shio-koji marinated tofu cutlet).
Desserts include Dorayaki, ichigo daifuku, baked tofu cheesecake, an amazing matcha tiramisu, yuzu rare cheesecake, and a vegan almond kuzu tofu,
The food photography by Yuki Sugiura is uniformly outstanding, with beautiful Japanese ceramics and tablewares showing off ingredients and dishes to their best advantage (in Japan, we eat with our eyes first…)
So if you’ve wanted to learn to cook Japanese food at home but thought it was too daunting, this wonderful cookbook will guide you step by step and give you the confidence to soon be cooking dishes that would be at home on any dinner table in Japan.