My Japanese cooking bible

Recently I’ve accepted the challenge of cooking Japanese meals at home.

I had been putting it off for quite some time but there was no escaping it anymore. While ‘just having moved to Japan’ is an excellent excuse to eat out a lot (read: every night), after two months it really was time to do some home cooking. And Western style home cooking is difficult because the ingredients are hard to find and when you do find them, they are quite expensive. So Japanese style cooking it is.

The first obstacle for home cooking in Japan is the supermarket. It’s an entire store filled with mostly unknown products. As if this assault on the senses isn’t enough, most of the product names and descriptions are in kanji (japanese characters). Try distinguishing sugar from salt while both are labeled with signs you can’t read. It makes me wish I had been a better kanji student before.

Fortunately I found a cooking book that’s been a lifesaver. It’s called ‘Recipes of Japanese Cooking’ and is written by Yuko Fujita. The special thing about this book is that it’s both in English and Japanese.

Cook book: Recipes of Japanese cooking by Yuko Fujita

Recipes of Japanese cooking by Yuko Fujita

Recipes for Japanese cooking katsu

The top half is in Japanese, the bottom half is in English

So if the recipe says to buy ‘cotton tofu’, I would normally be impossible for me to distinguish it from all the other kinds of tofu they have. Even if I knew how to say ‘cotton tofu’ in Japanese (momen-dofu), I would still not know how it’s written (木綿豆腐).

But with this book I just look on the top half of the page, see how it’s written in Japanese and compare the kanji with the product in the supermarket without even knowing how to pronounce it. It’s so convenient! I it weren’t for this book I would have to ask for help to find every single product. Or spend an hour every day looking up the translations and the subsequent kanji for the ingredients.

In addition to this great bilingual feature, the recipes in this book offer step by step detailed instructions and a lot of pictures. The book also covers basic information like the different kinds of miso, how to store rice and how to cook it (very basic knowledge that is often presumed to be innate), cooking techniques and information on seasonal ingredients.

You could probably find most of this information online. But I love having it all together in one convenient book. I recommend this book to anyone living an Japan and planning to do some home cooking.

The results so far:

homecooked oyakodon and miso soup

Oyakodon, marinated cucumber and miso soup with wakame and tofu

homecooked gyudon and pumpkin

Gyudon, simmered pumpkin and miso soup with wakame and tofu

I started with donburi (rice bowl dishes) because they seemed easier. For my third dish I tried something else:

homecooked niku dofu and eggplant

Niku dofu (meat and tofu), grilled eggplant, genmai (brown rice) and miso soup with turnip and fried tofu

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8 thoughts on “My Japanese cooking bible

  1. Heel handig, zo een kookboek en het ziet er ook heel mooi uit.
    Ben benieuwd naar je japanse kookkunst, Helena!
    Nog veel succes ermee!

    • I’ll do my best to fill all the orders I have gotten already 🙂 The biggest challenge will be finding good ingrediënts. Buy maybe you can give me some tips on that when I get back?

  2. Well done!!

    One thing that’s great about Japanese cookbooks is that (including when they are written in just Japanese for the Japanese and for different kinds of cuisines), most come with photos that actually show the instructions and how the dish is supposed to turn out at the end. I have only come across a few English-language cookbooks like these.

    Keep practicing!

  3. Wow, beautiful! Makes me hungry! 🙂 I can sure relate to the mysteries of the grocery store. Challenging, but also so interesting. That sugar vs. salt thing, been there! And rice, ah yes. Major lesson: some rice needs to be washed (rinsed) before cooking, and this really does matter. 😀 Looks like you’ve found a great recipe resource. You might try this link, too. http://mamaloli.com/tag/japanese/page/2/. I like all the tags on the right side. With fall coming up, satsumaimo (japanese sweet potato) will be a major ingredient, as well as persimmons. Recommendation: if someone makes cookie-like treats with satsumaimo chunks in them, do taste these! And if you can get the recipe for them…well, self-interest, there. I want to make them, but can’t find a recipe anywhere. 😉 There is also a satsumaimo recipe with mashed sweet potato, sugar, and I think egg. The batter is baked in small dishes, and comes out a bit like a dense purin (oh, how I miss Japanese purin…). And just think, by the end of your time in Japan, Jusco will have become a good friend. 🙂

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