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Japan Food Books II

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Japan Food Books II

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Washoku:
Recipes From the
Japanese Home Kitchen

Washoku: Recipes From the Japanese Home Kitchen

by Elizabeth Andoh

Ten Speed Press

ISBN: 1-5800-8519-9
320 pp

As the name suggests this handsome and thorough book focuses on katei-ryori, the simple but deeply satisfying food of a Japanese home. The author has lived in Japan for over 30 years and is a well-known authority on Japanese food ways. Though aimed at a North American readership there is, thankfully, no dumbing down or adapting of dishes for the non-Japanese palate. The recipes are authentic and all the better for it. Washoku is probably the most authoritative guide to home-style Japanese cooking available in English.
The book starts with a lengthy tour of the Japanese pantry and good explanations of all those unfamiliar but essential ingredients such as kombu or dried shiitake. What is pleasing about this section is the clarity and thoroughness of the research - even the arabesque greenling (hokke), that darling of the izakaya gets a rare peak in. There follows an essential guide to the techniques and secrets of a Japanese kitchen. Why, for example, are foods decoratively slashed or what is the point of shimo furi (blanching)? One helps them absorb more flavour while the other removes aku (bitterness and scum).
The recipe section itself is, naturally, the highlight. Andoh has to be commended for the breadth and depth of the different foods covered. Rice cooking starts with the golden rule (that cooked rice must sit for at least 10 minutes) and the ditty, known to every Japanese, that drills it home: Hajime choro choro/ Naka pa-ppa / Akagao naite mo/ Futo toru na (First it bubbles / Then it hisses / Even if the baby cries / Never remove the lid).
No less than 19 rice recipes follow but this is how it should be as plain white rice is not the norm. Learning the gamut of recipes from this book will provide a sound grounding in Japanese cooking that goes well beyond the familiar classics. Yes dengaku is there but so is nanban-zuke, which is more representative of what is eaten in the home anyway.
Indeed the pleasure of this book is that hijiki, konnyaku and other 'difficult' items (that are all too often ignored) get a fair hearing and, unsurprisingly, prove to be scrumptious. The result is a delicious compendium of a fantastic cuisine. The indexing and cross-referencing are excellent and the recipes always clear. Though not cheap this is one tome well worth considering for anyone keen to get to grips with washoku.

Aidan O'Connor

This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out magazine

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Michelin Guide Tokyo 2008

Michelin Guide Tokyo

by Michel Rollier

Michelin Travel Publications

ISBN: 2-0671-3069-2
411 pp

Bibendum, Michelin's pneumatic icon, has landed in Japan only to find himself at the centre of a storm. How could Frenchmen understand and appreciate Japanese cuisine? More than one commentator has suggested they first study Japanese culture and history before having the gall to pass judgement on the cuisine. That such a reaction was provoked should come as no surprise. After all, food brings out the jingoist in us all and perhaps more so with the Japanese than anyone else. To have been born Japanese, as we all know, is a blessing every meal time. None of this stopped the little red book becoming an instant best-seller however. In just two days it had sold out. Perhaps the news that Tokyo's 191 stars made it the most starred city on earth overcame any reservations foodies in the capital might have had. But what will they find when they paw through in search of gustatory bliss? What follows is a Michelin-style review to put you in the picture and no mistake is unintentional.
A guide book that lists 150 restaurants in central Tokyo. One of the most famous guide book in the world that has been published for the first time in 1900. English is not his native tongue so he will use definite article or not according to the whim. He will pay careful attention to the hue of the wainscot and not tolerate any showboating by the chef. Three of the inspectors come from France and the rest the inspectors are Japanese. There are a French restaurant where the sommelier recommends various bottles, another where the bones are used for stock and the tempura house where the chef changes the oil often. One establishment with waiters serves bean curd and another with wait staff tofu while one more uses vegetables grown by Matsuki Kazuhiro who is well-known. Joel Robuchon, Bruno Menard, Stephane Gaborieau and Pierre Gagnaire are celebrated but Japanese chefs, even with three stars, remain as anonymous as the inspectors. Kansai features as Sanada beef from Hyogo is on the menu with Shogoin turnips while the ebi imo is procured from Tondabayashi in Osaka. Elsewhere mushroom porridge and crabs from Kobe are served and some places have 500 bins wine lists. In a couple of instances the food is not even mentioned. There are an establishment called Cucina Hirata which is Italian for Hirata's kitchen and one with bronze figures of a fork and spoon outside that used to be owned by a famous restaurant in Paris. Sometimes the decor is reminiscent of La Belle Epoque (late 19th and early 20th century France) and sometimes it is designed by Ikenami Shotaro of Super Potato. Finally, three star restaurant Hamadaya, popular with the Finance Minister, allows one to call in geisha and other companions to add to the pleasure.
The Michelin Guide is everything it expects restaurants not to be: inconsistent, sloppily put together and riddled with flaws. A very big surprise.

Aidan O'Connor

This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out magazine

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The Book of Sake:
A Connoisseur's Guide

The Book of Sake: A Connoisseur's Guide

by Philip Harper

Kodansha International

ISBN: 4-7700-2998-5
96 pp

The world of sake is is marvellously varied and diverse but can be devilishly hard to navigate. Indeed the brewer's saying sake-zukuri banryu (there are ten thousand schools of brewing) highlights the epic nature of any quest to fathom the true potential of the world's most potent fermented beverage. Until recently there really was very little reliable information available in English. That has changed and one of the main figures responsible for the upsurge in awareness is Philip Harper. One would be hard-pressed to find anyone better placed to enlighten either those already smitten by the charms of sake or timid would-be imbibers. His knowledge is nothing short of encyclopaedic but his style is refreshingly straightforward.
The Book of Sake is divided into four parts and covers a lot of ground. Everything from the process of sake making to understanding the labels, via regions and food matches gets covered. Perhaps the most welcome addition is that of an easily digestible flavour chart. Used throughout the book when specific brews are featured this chart helps not only see a sake's strengths but also pinpoint the 'sweet spot' - the temperature at which it will blossom. Harper's love of sake is infectious and his ability to find clarity of focus in the fuzzy world of nihonshu quite admirable. A very valuable guide.

Aidan O'Connor

This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out magazine

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The Asian Vegan Kitchen

The Asian Vegan Kitchen

by Hema Parekh

Kodansha International

ISBN: 4-7700-3069-6
192 pp

Even the unreconstructed meat-eater in me could not resist this book.

Hema Parekh has collected a wide variety of recipes from around Asia that look and sound wonderful. She is a well-known teacher of vegetarian cooking in Tokyo, and has chosen 200 recipes from many countries in the Far East.

The recipes include sushi, northern Indian curries, Vietnamese spring rolls, and spicy Chinese tofu. There are also recipes from Burma, Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

The recipes are simple, and the book contains an easy-to-use glossary.

This carnivore was nearly converted.

C. Ogawa

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Drinking Japan

Drinking Japan: A Guide to Japan's Best Drinks and Drinking Establishments

by Chris Bunting

Tuttle Publishing

ISBN: 4-8053-10545
288 pp

Japan has perhaps the highest per capita number of bars and drinking establishments in the world. A short walk through any major city will present tens if not hundreds of choices of where to imbibe.

Japan is also home to some of the most fascinating alcoholic beverages.

Drinking Japan is the premier survey, in English, of the Japan's diverse alcohol culture.

There is detailed coverage of sake, shochu, awamori, beer, wine, and Japanese whiskey.

Best yet, the book offers a list - with maps, address, and telephone number - of some of the best bars and drinking places in many of Japan's major cities. There are 122 drinking establishments in Tokyo, Yokohama, Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Hiroshima, Okinawa, and more.

An excellent guide for anyone interested in a drink.

C. Ogawa

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My Japanese Table

My Japanese Table: A Lifetime of Cooking with Friends and Family

by Debra Samuels

Tuttle Publishing

ISBN: 4805311185
176 pp

Drawing on years of experience in cooking and preparing Japanese food, Debra Samuels discusses both the visual and taste aspects that are key to Japanese cuisine. Employing a few basic techniques, Samuels shows how it is simple to prepare many different dishes.

Most Japanese ingredients are now readily available in many supermarkets around the world. Thus, Japanese cooking has become easier than ever before.

This book is a collection of recipes; however, it is also a gorgeous coffee-table book.

Among the recipes in this book are hand-rolled sushi, miso soup, lobster rolls with Wasabi Mayonnaise and Fried Pork Cutlets.

For the harried mother , or father, there is a helpful chapter on obento lunch boxes.

An excellent guide for anyone interested in Japanese home cooking.

C. Ogawa

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