Books on Japan: Japanese Food and Drink
Japan Food Books
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.
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.
Luckily for us, the unique nature of this great market has been captured by Bestor, an anthropologist, in this fascinating book. Though it is an ethnographical study of Tsukiji as a trade and economic institution, at no point does the prose lose the layman. Bestor approaches his subject from a dazzling array of angles, with the focus shifting from the lives and routines of market families, to its colourful history, to more serious discussions on its significance in Japan's economic and cultural history as well as the influence it exerts on the world fishing industry.
What Bestor manages to do is to walk his reader through this complex world and bring it all gloriously to life. He starts out with his own boozy induction to the joys of sushi and first visit to the market. This helps the reader remain anchored when the greater cultural, historical, economic, culinary and social implications of the market come to be discussed. The stall banter, wheeling and dealing, market slang and nuggets of fish lore interspersed throughout help make this much more than just an academic treatise. The arrival of kaiten-zushi, the kombini and family restaurants, and what all that actually implies for us who live here, is also discussed.
Getting to understand Tsukiji helps to put so many more pieces of the Japanese jigsaw in place and sheds light on both past and present. No matter how familiar you may be either with Japan or her greatest market, this study, the result of a decade of research and observation, will prove rewarding. There is even a welcome guide to getting the most out of a visit to Tsukiji, which anyone will surely want to see after reading this. Indeed, most Tokyoites would learn a thing or two.
This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out
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. "
Orange Tarragon Cauliflower Simmered In Sake" or "Miso Apricot Glaze" for white fish give a fair idea of what to expect. This is not a Japanese cookbook, but rather an eclectic selection of dishes incorporating Japanese staples like soy, persimmons and shiso with the olive oil, butter and fresh herbs such as mint and coriander found in a Western kitchen.
Some dishes such as the "Boozy Japanese Potatoes" (parboiled then cooked in sake and rounded off with soy and butter) or the "Shiitake Ginger Pasta" manage a happy marriage of flavours. Others might seem a little too outlandish, but this depends on how experimental you like to be. What the book does do is give a much-needed reminder that there's a whole lot more you can do with any given ingredient if you leave straight and narrow conventions behind and try something new.
While the book has gorgeous photographs throughout and is very slick, one of its strengths is that, not being a professional chef, Gower's recipes are undaunting and he makes a good guide for those looking for a little more zest from familiar ingredients.
This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out magazine
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.
For Japanese food novices desiring a crash course in Japanese dining, perhaps Lonely Planet's World Food Japan would be a more accessible starting point. While both books contain useful vocabulary lists and phrases for ordering in Japanese restaurants, the Lonely Planet book is full of tantalizing full-color photographs and pithy commentary. On the other hand, What's What In Japanese Restaurants contains only a handful of black and white photos and dryer prose. However, its more in-depth lists of menu items will appeal to serious gourmets and ambitious language students seeking to understand everything on a Japanese restaurant menu.
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.
In Washoku, Andoh presents the philosophy and practice of traditional Japanese home cooking in a clear and concise manner. First, she introduces readers to the five principles, which form the foundation behind washoku. These five principles, which are further subdivided into groups of five, are comprised of the five colors (balance and variety of colors and food presentation), five tastes (balance of flavors), five ways (variety of cooking methods), five senses (importance of sight, sound, and touch in addition to taste), and five outlooks (rules concerning the partaking of food based on Buddhist teachings).
After the philosophical introduction, Andoh takes readers through a detailed and exhaustive overview of Japanese ingredients and cooking techniques and offers up more than 140 practical and gimmick-free recipes, which have been adapted to modern conveniences and American kitchens but yet still capture the essential spirit of balance and harmony in Japanese cuisine. Andoh incorporates the important concept of seasonality into some of her recipes by providing seasonal variations, which take into account the availability and freshness of ingredients. Andoh also demonstrates the frugality of the washoku kitchen by teaching ways to reuse and refashion leftover ingredients and sauces into new dishes.
While Leigh Bleisch's photographs of raw ingredients and some of the finished dishes beautifully capture the understated elegance of Japanese home cooking, the addition of more photographs of finished dishes and of the more complicated techniques would greatly benefit more visual learners and less experienced cooks, especially because presentation is such an important aspect of Japanese cuisine. Nevertheless, Andoh's straightforward explanations and rich commentary, which feature personal anecdotes and historical background, make Washoku a welcome addition to the collection of a serious home cook or Japanese food aficionado.
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.
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.
The Japanese Kitchen contains over 250 recipes as well as discussions about Japanese food etiquette, ingredients, and techniques in a paperback tome the thickness of a phonebook. While there are plenty of helpful black and white illustrations of Japanese ingredients and techniques, there are no photographs to accompany the recipes. However, this is more than compensated for by Shimbo's writing style, which at the same time informative with interesting cultural and historical background to various recipes and warm and personal as she shares anecdotes and memories of certain dishes.
Equally interesting are Shimbo's coverage of the basics from making sushi rice and nabe one-pot stews to more contemporary innovations such as "Soybean Hummus," "Abura-Age (fried tofu skin) Pizza," and "Japanese-Style Braised Spareribs" (Spareribs are not a traditional Japanese ingredient). Despite this branching out from purist notions of Japanese cuisine, Shimbo still gives the reader a solid foundation in traditional methods and techniques and manages to avoid the pitfalls and excesses of faddish fusion.
In addition to the admiration of Ming Tsai, Shimbo has also attracted the esteem of her colleagues in the culinary establishment. The book is a finalist in the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) Cookbook Awards. Chef and author, Mark Miller declares, "Hiroko Shimbo's The Japanese Kitchen is to Japanese cuisine what Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking is to French cuisine." Indeed, The Japanese Kitchen has something to offer to professional cooks and amateur enthusiasts alike as a definitive and encyclopedic oeuvre of Japanese gastronomy.
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.
Recipes are rendered in Japanese and English on adjoining pages. The black and white and full-color photographs are both informative and appetizing. Although sometimes the English translations come across as a bit dry and occasionally slightly awkward, the thorough explanations of methods and techniques as well as ample photographs more than make up for this shortcoming. Both Japanese/metric and US measurements are given in the recipes along with a helpful conversion table in the appendix.
Besides recipes, the book also does a survey of Japanese seasonal festivals and their respective food traditions, teaches the basics of the Japanese table manners, touches upon the complex and subtle aesthetics of presenting Japanese food, explores traditional Japanese ingredients and explains the form and function of utensils and tools unique to the Japanese kitchen. Recipes of Japanese Cooking will appeal to anybody interested in learning about the breadth of Japanese gastronomy and wishing to establish a solid foundation in traditional Japanese culinary techniques. The unique bilingual format also makes the book useful to both Japanese and English language teachers and learners.
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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.
Harumi's Japanese Cooking is her first English-language cookery book, and has been put out by the Conran Octopus publishing house in London. Japanese cuisine is booming in the UK and Conran Octopus are banking on Kurihara's straight-forward approach helping to demystify the preconceptions about the difficulty of preparing Japanese food held by many in the West.
Though the encyclopedic Tsuji's Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art remains the definitive English-language book on Japanese cuisine, Kurihara's book is very much in the vein of Delia Smith or Martha Stewart, and is an excellent choice for those in search of an easy entrance into the world of Japanese home cooking. Clear explanations of the basics are complemented by attractively-presented, easy-to-understand recipes (ramen and okonomiyaki are both featured), and there are chapters on such elementary subjects as rice, tofu and seafood.
This review was originally published in Kansai Time Out
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.
With wine pairing advice by J.K. Whelehan
Photographs by Tae Hamamura
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.
Machiko Chiba presents fifty-eight delectable and easy-to-follow recipes accompanied by two or three suggested wines and other wine advice for each recipe by J.K. Whelehan and mouthwatering color photographs by Tae Hamamura. Chiba's recipes are flavorful and yet readily accessible to even the novice home cook. Most of the recipes are simple enough for a weeknight dinner yet delicious and rich enough to serve at any dinner party. A short appendix explains basic preparation techniques ranging from how to cook rice to how to clean a whole squid. The repertoire of dishes reveals a contemporary and cosmopolitan Japanese cuisine that maintains the traditional spirit of simplicity and natural flavors while absorbing an array of Pan-Asian and Western influences. Standout recipes include the Shrimp Sautd With Lemongrass, Pan-Fried Salmon With Lemon, Soy Sauce, And Thyme, and the Beef With White Sesame and Mirin.
Sparkling wines and Germanic white wines have often been the tried-and-true default pairings for Japanese and other Asian cuisines. Whelehan expands on this theme and shows that Japanese flavors can be successfully paired with a both red and white wines, still and sparkling, from a variety of regions and price ranges. His wine advice is authoritative and informative enough for serious wine buffs and yet clear and simple enough for neophytes.
Those interested in expanding their collection of Japanese recipes designed for wine pairing should also check out The Breakaway Japanese Kitchen by Eric Gower.
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.
Nobu's recipes reflect the influence of his time in South America with the use of ingredients such as cilantro (fresh coriander) and chili peppers and in his interpretation of Peruvian classics such as tiradito (a kind of Peruvian seafood carpaccio) and ceviche. His time in Los Angeles and New York has also added further cosmopolitan influences to his cooking, but at the same time, he has succeeded in maintaining the simplicity and restraint of traditional Japanese cuisine. The recipes are peppered with background information about exotic ingredients and anecdotes about what inspired Nobu's culinary creations. There is also a section on sake-based cocktails and another that reveals the secrets behind Nobu's signature sauces.
Ingredients and preparations techniques are thoroughly and clearly explained. Nobu even explains how to eviscerate an eel and how to cut the beak off of a live octopus and how to de-slime and tenderize it; although very few readers would actually get the opportunity to try these techniques for themselves. Nobu uses many expensive and hard-to-find ingredients as well as difficult knife techniques in many dishes, making it difficult to try them out at home. However, Nobu classics like the New Style Sashimi (a carpaccio-like presentation that is partially cooked with hot oil) and Seafood Ceviche, Nobu Style are actually quite simple to make and readily accessible to the home cook.
Some may find all of the celebrity name-dropping in the book a bit excessive, while other may object to the liberal use of controversial ingredients such as foie gras, caviar and the nearly endangered Chilean sea bass. However, for anyone who has experienced Nobu's food firsthand, it is difficult to deny his gastronomic genius and Nobu: The Cookbook is an excellent guide for understanding the chef and his culinary vision.
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.
There are recipes for tofu, soups, salads, beans, vegetables, rice, and desserts. In addition The Enlightened Kitchen enlightens the reader about the physical and spiritual benefits to cooking and eating such a diet. The recipes follow the four seasons, the flow of nature.
The book, in addition to be being lovely to look at, is also easy to use. There are full-color photos, easy-to-follow instructions, and a treasure trove of information on the recipes. The Enlightened Kitchen takes you behind the scenes into temple kitchens.
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.
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.
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 tea houses 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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