Book Review: Japanese Soul Cooking
Of all the things I enjoy getting in the post, I love books the most. Food will come and go, but something I’ve inherited from generations before me is that books are forever. A few weeks ago, Japanese Soul Cooking landed on my desk, the first Japanese-specific cookbook I’ve got on the shelf. It also gave me a fine excuse to visit Asia Market in Dublin midweek and stock up on ingredients.
Published by Jacqui Small, and penned by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, the focus on the book is on Japanese comfort food – your soba dishes, ramen, tempura, gyoza (one of my all time favourites) and the likes. Tadashi Ono is a Japanese chef and author based in New York city while Harris Salat runs Japanese comfort food restaurant, Ganso, in Brooklyn.
At 240-plus pages, there’s ‘eating and drinking’ in this book, no pun intended. While a lot of the recipes are strictly text based, Todd Coleman’s photos bring both the key recipes, step by step tutorials and origin stories to life.
Under the cover, there’s a whole world of things going on. Chapters are broken down nice into Ramen, Gyoza, Curry, Tonkatsu, Furai & Korokke, Kara-age, Tempura, Okonomiyaki (where I started), Donburi, Soba, Udon, Itame & Chahan and Yoshoku. There’s also a handy directory listing of Tokyo comfort food restaurants in the back if you’re planning a trip.
Who are the recipes aimed at
On reading through the booy, these recipes are suitable to anyone setting out to explore Japanese cuisine. That said, they’re not the quickest of recipes to run through and there is reading needed. The steps for all dishes are pretty comprehensive (i.e., no detail is spared) so you won’t really be able to put a foot wrong if you’re following things to the letter.
The Recipe Test
You get a new book, you’ve got to cook at least one dish out of it so this weekend I went for the Osaka-style Okonomiyaki which you’ll find on p131 of the book, though it needed a wee variation on it to remove the meat for the vegetarian in my life. Essentially, it’s a cabbage pancake – you make your pancake batter, add loads of roughly chopped cabbage (about 450g), top up with some spices, spoon onto the pan to make a cake and fry away.
Swapping pork belly for tomatoes, we wound up with dinner for Saturday and lunch for Sunday with this recipe yielding enough for three meals at a really low cost.
The result, when topped with a drizzle of spicy mayo, is hugely filling and flavour-packed savoury pancake, almost like a Spanish omelette in style only.
There’s a whole heap of other tasty recipes, curries, noodles dishes and plenty more to get the tastebuds tempted.
Are the ingredients obscure?
Like any foreign cuisine based cookbook, you’re not going to be able to find all of the ingredients in your local Centra or Spar. Case in point, I took a trip to the Asia Market in Dublin to pick up certain ingredients, while I know there’s one or two health food shops around me locally that would stock others. Substitues are suggested in some of the recipes while others that require particular sauces or liquid mixes come with separate recipes to make them up as well for batch cooking.
I’m confident that I’d be able to get anything I needed in shops within relative driving distance of me to the point that I’ve accepted a challenge by Mrs. Any Given Food for a Japanese week at the start of April. Which basically translates as her getting off the hook for any cooking, but hey.