It’s the winner of a Japan Festival Award ‘for outstanding achievements in furthering the understanding of Japanese culture in the United Kingdom’ in 2000. In the same year it was also short-listed for the World Cookbook Awards and the Guild of Food Writers’ Jeremy Round Award for Best First Cookery Book. The author, Shirley Booth, in 2006 was awarded the Japanese Agriculture Minister’s Award for Overseas Promotion of Japanese. There was no doubt that this book, Food of Japan, was going to be interesting.
Shirley has amazing credentials, being not only an award winner but, more importantly, having lived in Japan and taught Japanese cooking there. She seems to know just about everything there is to know about the subject but her addition of historic and personal narrative puts the food into context. It is that conversational but informative style that elevates this book to something more than just another ethnic cookbook.
Japanese food has become more and more popular over the last few years. Japanese restaurants proliferate and chilled counters in supermarkets groan under the weight of pre-packed sushi. The price is often prohibitive and the selection is small. So why don’t we just make Japanese food at home… and something other than sushi?
Well, we could and should but this is a relatively new food trend and we need a bit of coaxing. It’s true that the ingredients are not as readily available in the high street as, say, Indian or Chinese, but I know you have heard of the internet because you are reading this marvellously well-executed review. Just order ingredients online.
There are 200 or so recipes in this volume so there will be plenty to fire the imagination. My advice would be to look through the index and find a dish that you just like the sound of. Make up your mind that you’ll prepare your choice at the weekend and then go to the recipe. It’s unlikely that you’ll find a cooking technique that you have not encountered before and it’s probable that your dish will have familiar ingredients. No excuse not to have a go. Japanese food is famed for being healthy, flavourful and different. We should all be considering our diet and cooking foods that taste good and do us good.
You could start your culinary adventure with Gyoza. These are not strictly Japanese in origin but are popular Chinese dumplings adopted in the same way as Europeans have adopted kebabs. These are easy to make and a good way to disguise cabbage. Chicken Teriyaki is simple to prepare and tasty. I have used the Teriyaki sauce as a marinade for salmon so the recipe can be adapted for non-meat eaters.
One dish that will be popular with westerners will be Gyudon. It is, like so many here, simple with few ingredients but lots of flavour. It’s fried beef and onions with an added sauce of typical Japanese flavours: soy, mirin and ginger. Serve over a bowl of rice and you’ll have satisfied guests.
Food of Japan is a lovely book that is sure to become a classic. Shirley Booth presents what could be an intimidating subject in an accessible and witty fashion. This is a must for anyone who has an interest in Japanese food or culture.
Food of Japan
Author: Shirley Booth
Published by: Grub Street
Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018