Books on Japan: Japanese Food and Drink
Japan Food Books
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Lonely Planet World Food Japan
by John Ashburne and Yoshi Abe
Essential reading for anyone even remotely interested in Japan's incredibly sophisticated food culture. This pocket-sized book is crammed with useful information both practical and historical, not merely chronicling recommended restaurants (it does that too), but seeking to explain the culture through the cuisine. Its chapters cover staples and specialities; drinks and drinking; home cooking and traditions; foreign infusion; celebrating with food; regional variations; shopping & markets; where to eat and drink; understanding the menu; a Japanese banquet; fit & healthy; and the culture of Japanese cuisine. The concluding bilingual glossary is particularly useful, for first-time visitor and Old Japan hand alike. Ashburne's writing is fun, almost irreverent, and the research (as one might expect with an LP title) is highly detailed; the definition of the origin of Tempura is the most complete that this reviewer has ever encountered. It made me laugh too. Highly recommended.
Tsukiji: The Fish Market At The Center Of The World
Long a popular destination for foreign visitors to Tokyo, Tsukiji, the world's biggest fish market with some 450 different types of fish and a daily turnover of more than 2,000 tons of fishy products, is nevertheless facing a crisis in Japan's changing business and food culture. Though it is only a short hop from Ginza, its appeal to foreigners has left some locals bemused. A recent article in the Nikkei Shimbun marvelled at the number of tours for foreigners to this most Japanese of institutions.
This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out
The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen
by Eric Gower
A dedicated gourmet, the author spent 15 years in Japan but never lost his carefree, Californian touch. Bemoaning the fact that people "come to like and expect the standard repertoire when it comes to Japanese food" and that Japanese "learn from childhood that there's a right way to eat almost anything," he relishes the opportunity to ignore convention and combine the quintessentially Japanese with the distinctly non-Japanese. "
This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out magazine
What's What In Japanese Restaurants: A Guide to Ordering, Eating, and Enjoying
Perfect for hardcore gourmets and foreign visitors or residents in Japan who are ready to move beyond pointing at plastic food models to order their meals, Robb Satterwhite's What's What In Japanese Restaurants is a gastronomic guide, menu translator and restaurant phrasebook that begins with the basics of Japanese language pronunciation and dining etiquette and moves through a sweeping survey of the major genres of Japanese restaurants and the many variations and permutations of Japanese dishes. Lists of menu items for the different kinds of Japanese restaurants are rendered in parallel Japanese script, romanization and English gloss.
Washoku: Recipes From The Japanese Home Kitchen
Ten Speed Press
Longtime expatriate in Japan and graduate of the prestigious Yanagihara School of Classical Japanese Cuisine in Tokyo, author Elizabeth Andoh is considered one of the top experts on Japanese food culture in the English-speaking world. Nearly 40 years ago, Andoh left America for Japan, where she was first introduced to Japanese home cooking or washoku, which literally translates as the "harmony of food," by the matriarch of her host family who would later become her mother-in-law.
The Book of Sushi
For sushi aficionados there is only one thing to do, and that is to learn as much as possible about this wonderful food. This book provides a very informative and compact introduction to sushi, how to make it and what utensils are necessary, and gives details on how to gut a fish and the correct knives to use when doing so. As such it focuses on the whole process of sushi from beginning to end, giving a sound and easy to digest primer on the art of making good sushi, the training of sushi chefs and how to spot good raw fish when in a market or restaurant. Well worth reading as an introductory look at sushi.
The Japanese Kitchen: 250 Recipes In A Traditional Spirit
In the foreword to The Japanese Kitchen, celebrity East-meets-West chef Ming Tsai praises Hiroko Shimbo's "belief in traditionalism and purity of cuisine," but also recognizes that Japanese gastronomy is a living art that does not exist in an isolated time capsule. The Japanese-born and New York-based Shimbo is well aware of her North American audience. She incorporates "international" ingredients like olive oil into some of her recipes and gives US-based sources for harder to find Japanese ingredients. Shimbo succeeds in transmitting the "traditional spirit" of Japanese gastronomy in an elegant and accessible way to contemporary Western readers.
Recipes of Japanese Cooking
Supervised by Yuko Fujita and Navi International
Ranging from the typical and familiar internationally-known Japanese dishes like tempura and sushi to less stereotypically Japanese dishes like potato salad and more obscure and exotic offerings such as kazunoko herring roe, Recipes of Japanese Cooking is a bilingual survey of Japanese culinary culture and traditions. While covering a wide range of Japanese dishes, the recipes tend to lean towards the tried-and-true dishes found in more traditional Japanese restaurants and homes. There is little in the way of more contemporary fusion elements found in other Japanese cookbooks published in English, although it is interesting to note that dishes like tempura, yakisoba and hayashi rice are derived from earlier periods of borrowing and adaptation of outside culinary influences.
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Harumi's Japanese Cooking
Japan's best-selling cookery author, Harumi Kurihara, is a household name with her best-selling books, Suteki Recipe quarterly magazine and popular NHK TV show. Kurihara takes a no-nonsense attitude to preparing food, something that has endeared her to millions of busy homemakers across the country. She is also happy to employ such modern conveniences as microwaves.
This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out
New Tastes in Green Tea: A Novel Flavor for Familiar Drinks, Dishes, and Desserts
by Mutsuko Tokunaga
Rich in both caffeine and vitamin C, Japanese green tea is beginning to gain popularity in the United States and Europe as a healthy alternative drink to black tea and coffee.
Green tea contains strong antioxidants that slow aging, help fight viruses, and have a beneficial effect on health in general. Vice President of the World Green Tea Association, Tokunaga goes over the basics of tea, and then introduces the most popular types of green tea.
New Tastes next continues with how to brew Japanese tea, a review of tea utensils, a short history of green tea, and even a page of well-known labels and amusing tea-related Japanese expressions (from ocho wo nigosu to "muddy the tea", or speak vaguely to nichijo sahanji literally: "every day drink tea and eat dinner," or an every day event).
The text is also lavished with lovely photos of tea and quirky recipes.
Japanese Dishes for Wine Lovers
With wine pairing advice by J.K. Whelehan
While Japanese food has traditionally been paired with sak and later shochu and beer, only recently has wine begun to catch on as a pairing for Japanese food. Japanese Dishes For Wine Lovers is the perfect primer for people wanting to make simple and modern Japanese dishes at home and enjoy them with a variety of wines.
Nobu: The Cookbook
With restaurants on three continents and a loyal, star-studded clientele, Nobu Matsuhisa is perhaps the most internationally renowned Japanese chef/restaurateur of our times. Nobu: The Cookbook is his first book in any language and is more than just a cookbook; it is a monument to his culinary skill and ingenuity. It also traces his life story, from his apprenticeship at a sushi restaurant in Tokyo to his time running Japanese restaurants in South America, the tragic loss of his Alaska restaurant in a fire, and then his meteoric rise to become an innovator in contemporary Japanese cuisine and chef to the stars. Like the dor of Nobu's restaurants and the presentation of his food, the book is impeccably presented, from the simple clean lines of the layout to the sumptuous full-color photographs.
The Enlightened Kitchen
by Mari Fujii, translated by Richard Jeffrey
This lovely coffee table cum recipe book is full of ancient, delicious recipes from the kitchens of Japan's Buddhist temples. This vegetarian fare is simple and excellent - and this book a must for vegetarians, vegans, and anyone who wants to eat well.
Cool Tools: Cooking Utensils from the Japanese Kitchen
As one with a somewhat indifferent relationship to his kitchen - I love to eat but am reluctant to actually cook - books related to cooking are a low priority. Cool Tools, however, is a work of art, dedicated to cooking tools that straddle the divide between crafts and fine art.
Before the advent of electrical appliances and stainless steel, Japanese kitchen utensils were routinely made out of bamboo, steel, wood, ceramics, even shark skin. And the attention to detail is astounding. Instead of a bulky food processor, for example, have a look at a mortar and pestle for grinding and mashing that is featured. The "suribachi" mortar is a work of art. It is hard to imagine using it, let alone leaving it on a kitchen shelf.
The bamboo items, too, are lovely. One zaru strainer - used to scoop beans and noodles and dumplings from boiling water - has a delicately carved head. To make this, a piece of bamboo is split, stripped at the top, and shaped to fit the frame. This is the same technique used to make Japanese fans.
Even a simple rice cooker is a thing of beauty. The okama consists of a cast-iron vessel, which is crowned by a cypress lid. Finally, there is one item that must be put in a museum: bamboo colander. The shikizaru, which is used in ryotei cooking, is key for handling delicate items such as sea bream. To avoid even the slightest tear, this colander is essential.
A beautiful book, highly recommended by the likes of Terence Conran and Nobu.
The Book of Sake: A Connoisseur's Guide
Once found only in Japanese restaurants and sushi bars, sake now is ubiquitous. Still, the choices are confusing and the labels often hard to decipher (even for a native Japanese). How should a particular bottle be drunk? Chilled or warm? Which brands go best with which dishes?
In The Book of Sake, Philip Harper lays it all out. Harper is the first non-Japanese to attain the rank master brewer. He has been working for more than a decade in Osaka, and is the author of The Insider's Guide to Sake. For this volume, Harper has teamed up with Haruo Matsuzaki, a well-known sake critic.
Harper takes us through the ins and outs of sake history, a guide to reading the labels, a tasting chart, and provides a selection of sake for all palates and budgets (sake can be very expensive). At the end he explains the regions of sake in Japan, which are somewhat akin to the French idea of terroir. The taste and culture, process and history are all tightly tied to the soil.
The perfect drinking companion. A beautiful coffee table book.
Kaiseki: The Exquisite Cuisine of Kyoto's Kikunoi Restaurant
And yet another slab of beauty arrives ready for review.
Among the many things Japan does well are coffee table books. Whether it is Mount Fuji, a lone geisha, or food, Tokyo publishers put out a stream of gorgeous tomes every year. And at long last, one is to be published on kaiseki, a cuisine so beautiful it is almost a shame to eat it.
Kaiseki ryori is Kyoto cooking for those with a large expense account. It is not soulful Italian food made to be devoured before lovemaking; no, kaiseki was created to be looked at and photographed. It is often served at Kyoto teahouses or sumptuous weddings. Like many things in Japanese life, kaiseki follows the seasons, and it never disappoints visually.
Author Yoshihiro Murata is the third-generation owner and head chef of Kikunoi, which has two branches in Kyoto and another in Tokyo.
Murata-san chooses approximately 20 dishes for each season. For each dish, Chef Murata explains the history and components, preparation methods and the philosophy of the dish. The book also includes a glossary of terms and recipes from the Kikunoi kitchen. Last, or rather first, the text has forewards by two stars of global cuisine:
"It seems fitting that Kyoto should be the home of a cuisine, which, like the city itself, is born of an intimate communion between the work of man and the gifts of nature. This is what makes Yoshihiro Murata a truly unique chef." - Ferran Adri [elBulli]
"Chef Murata represents the best of a rarified area of Japanese cuisine: he has a firm commitment to traditional excellence along with a desire to always look for something fresh and innovative." - Nobu Matsuhisa [Nobu]
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