Some recommended reading + reviews if anyone is interested in Japanese food.
Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen
By Elizabeth Andoh
This book was only published in 2005, but is well on its way to becoming a classic. In fact, it is so comprehensive that reading it is like taking a graduate course in washoku (Japanese cuisine). It is chock-full of useful information, including an in-depth explanation of Japanese food philosophy, techniques, background and history. Elizabeth Andoh was born in the United States, where she is widely regarded as the leading authority on Japanese food. After marrying a Japanese man in the late 1960s and becoming part of a traditional Japanese family, she embarked on a lifelong quest to first understand Japanese food and culture, and then to introduce foreigners to it. Her newly released book featuring vegetarian cuisine, Kansha is reviewed below.
PROS: Full of essential information and advice, this book is a comprehensive guide to Japanese cuisine, full of delicious traditional recipes.
CONS: There are not very many photos of completed dishes.
Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions
By Elizabeth Andoh
I was lucky enough to have a sneak peak of some of the content and recipes of this new book by Elizabeth Andohbecause I was on her advisory council. But reading the finished product is quite a joy, as it covers not just Japanese cuisine, but culture. I especially like Andoh’s explanation of the concept and practice of Kansha: of appreciating the bounty of nature; of cherishing and respecting the hard work that goes into growing our food; of using every scrap of produce that we buy. Even meat lovers will appreciate the dishes featured here, as they highlight abundance instead of abstinence. It’s a timely subject with a much-needed focus.
PROS: A comprehensive look at the classic vegan and vegetarian traditions of Japan, with recipes that taste rich and wonderful.
CONS: I wish there were more photos. When I saw the photo of Pom Pom Sushi I thought, “So that’s what it’s supposed to look like!”
Kitcho: Japan’s Ultimate Dining Experience
By Kunio Takaoka
As much about art and tableware as it is about food, Kitcho: Japan’s Ultimate Dining Experience is a visual feast. It is an evocative and highly descriptive explanation of Kunio Tokuoka’s “Rimpa-style cuisine”; as explosively creative, sumptously gorgeous and poetic as Rimpa-style art. The book describes the experience of dining at Kitcho Arashiyama, which is widely regarded as Japan’s ultimate dining experience. If you believe (as we do), that Japanese cuisine is the best in the world, this would make Kitcho the ultimate dining experience in the world
PROS: As gorgeous as it is, the book also has thoughtful explanations of important Japanese concepts, such as mitate (seeing one thing as another) so its beauty is not just skin-deep.
CONS: There are no recipes, only descriptions. Only skilled cooks and professional chefs could attempt to recreate Takaoka’s dishes.
Kaiseki: The Exquisite Art of Kyoto’s Kikunoi Restaurant
by Yoshihiro Murata
I had an opportunity to interview Yoshihiro Murata while I was in Tokyo a few months ago, and then dined at his flagship kyo-kaiseki restaurant Kikunoi a week later. What a revelation! This book is an inspiration for the aspiring chef and may cause swooning for the home cook and hunger pangs in prospective diners. Full of gorgeous photographs by leading food photographer Masashi Kuma, this recommended book is a great introduction to the subtleties of kaiseki cuisine. You can even use it as a guidebook to the restaurant.
PROS: Drop-dead gorgeous and inspirational. A valuable addition to any cook’s library. The recipes are actually quite simple if you are familiar with Japanese cooking.
CONS: Some of the ingredients are not found outside of Kyoto, let alone Japan. But Murata has long-standing ties to suppliers in Kyoto, and not everyone can have fresh yuba delivered to their door.
Harumi’s Japanese Cooking
By Harumi Kurihara
Harumi – known only by her first name – is Japan’s answer to Martha Stewart. She is known for her bright and engaging personality and her innovative approach to contemporary Japanese cooking. This is her first book to be translated into English, and the recipes are easy, delicious and feature ingredients that can be found in your local market. The writing style is breezy, friendly and accessible, like Harumi herself. I can’t help but admire her, and can see why she’s so popular in Japan. She also has an extensive line of well-designed cookware and tableware.
PROS: With beautiful photographs and delicious recipes presented in an easy-to-follow format, this book most accurately reflects today’s Japanese home cooking.
CONS: It doesn’t cover many traditional dishes, nor give much history about Japanese food. It would be a wonderful companion book to Washoku by Elizabeth Andoh.