Japan: The Cookbook is the latest in release in Phaidon’s extensive cookery range. As with all Phaidon publications, this title delivers with the style and authority of any art book. With a hard cover resembling a bamboo sushi rolling mat, the book is weighty in every sense, containing 464 pages of information and imagery that took three years to create.
Californian author Nancy Singleton Hachisu has lived in Japan since 1988, and currently lives in a farmhouse with her Japanese husband. A leader in the slow food movement, Hachisu has been praised all over the world for her work advocating the disappearing artisanal traditions of Japanese cuisine.
Despite its size, Japan: The Cookbook is not an all-encompassing, regional exploration of Japanese food, rather it is an orderly presentation, divided by course, of over 400 traditional home-cook recipes. The 15 chapters cover soup, noodles, rice, pickles, one-pot meals, sweets, grilled food and more.
Authentic Japanese recipes are not easy to come by, especially and surprisingly for well-known dishes like ramen, soba, tempura, okonomiyaki and yakitori, but this book provides recipes for all of these favourites, and with variations.
There are detailed, easy-to-follow instructions on how to make a variety of dashi, and how to prepare seasoning liquids like kaeshi along with plenty of ways to make miso soup and prepare rice.
Japan: The Cookbook is as much an opportunity to learn about the food of Japan, as it is a cookbook. Along with an excellent introduction, Hachisu gives a brief overview of Japanese food history that provides an insight into how the food of Japan has evolved over the centuries
She also gives a lovely description of the culture and social mores of each course from the zensai (before the meal) to the kanmi (sweets) and closes the book by sharing a selection of recipes from celebrated Japanese chefs from all over the world.
You’ll find clear instructions on how to prepare and cook each recipe, and while Hachisu does use Japanese nomenclature, she does explain each word and provides references to where you’ll find the information within each individual recipe.
Despite efforts to keep the content relevant and accessible, many of the ingredients and recipes might be out of the remit of most home-cooks keen to hone their Japanese repertoire, but it gives the reader plenty of opportunity to expand their skills and their palate to accommodate the wide variety of textures and flavours inherent in Japanese cuisine.
Beautifully photographed in the distinctive simplicity of the Japanese aesthetic, this book will be a valuable asset to anyone who is interested in Japanese culture – food or otherwise - and for those who want a reliable, authority on Japanese home cooking.
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