Japanese Cooking – A Simple Art, by Shizuo Tsuji – review

Cookbook review Japanese Cooking – A Simple Art The world is shrinking and more of us than ever have taken advantage of travel opportunities. We move with ease around the globe and adopt and adapt culture, lifestyle and food.

Whilst all that is true we could be forgiven for overlooking the impact of Japan’s food on the West. America, in particular, has embraced Japan’s food. The USA has a close relationship with the country and sushi is common. Europe has not had quite that same exposure to Japanese cuisine although larger towns in Britain might sport a brace of Japanese restaurants. It might therefore come as a surprise to know that the Japanese food philosophy has made a great impression on Western eating habits.

Remember Nouvelle Cuisine? That’s French, isn’t it? Well, the name was French but the concept was Japanese. Young French chefs travelled to Japan in the 70s and 80s and were amazed at the simplicity and beauty of its dishes. They translated that to suit the restaurant-going populace of London and Paris… and Nouvelle Cuisine sunk like a very light, Zen and minimalist brick… but the germ of an idea was growing. Chefs now appreciate aesthetics, flavour combinations and freshness of ingredients in a different way.

This 25th anniversary edition of Japanese Cooking – A Simple Art has not been updated and massaged. It stands in its original form with only a new foreword by the celebrated restaurant critic and food writer, Ruth Reichl, and a new preface by Yoshiki Tsuji, son of the author. This book has not been revamped because what was true and valuable a quarter of a century ago remains so.

Shizuo Tsuji graduated with a degree in French literature from Wasada University in Tokyo and then worked as a newspaper reporter. In 1960 he established the Tsuji Culinary Institute in Osaka to train professional chefs. He studied with the greatest chefs in France and was recognised by the French government who awarded him Meilleur Ouvrier for outstanding promotion of French cuisine. He published over 30 books on gastronomy, music, essays and translations.

Japanese Cooking – A Simple Art is considered a masterwork of Japanese cuisine. Nigella Lawson has described it as “…quite the most illuminating text around on Japanese food.” It’s an encyclopaedia of Japanese food but it’s also an absorbing read. The line illustrations demystify what might sound like complex techniques, revealing those techniques to be surprisingly simple. There is not a wealth of expensive equipment to buy although an enthusiast might be driven to acquire some stunning tableware to add a touch of visual authenticity to a Japanese meal.

American home cooks, at least in larger cities, will have no problem in finding the more exotic of ingredients. There are fewer Japanese supermarkets in Europe although many Asian stores carry Japanese products. However there is a good selection of internet sites which offer food products to stock your Japanese store cupboard.

An example of an easy dish made with ingredients found in most large supermarkets is Ginger Pork Sauté (Butaniku Shoga-yaki). This is a delicious and quick dish of pork and shiitake mushrooms cooked with ginger, mirin, sake and soy sauce.

Vegetarians are well catered for in Japan. Bean Curd Dengaku (Tofu Dengaku) are small grilled lollies (popsicles) of tofu with toppings. You might be able to buy the traditional two-pronged forks from specialist shops but a couple of thin wooden kebab picks will work just as well. These are tasty and attractive morsels that will tempt even a Japanese food debutant. Substitute small fish and other seafood or vegetables such as aubergine (eggplant), mushrooms or peppers.

Japanese Cooking – A Simple Art is a classic. It’s considered outstanding by the wise and worthy of the international food industry. It explains the more complex of traditional dishes as well as the uber-simple ones. This is real Japanese cooking that will delight and intrigue both the eyes and the palate.

Asian cookbook review: Japanese Cooking – A Simple Art
Author: Shizuo Tsuji
Published by: Kodanashi International
Price: $45.00US
ISBN 978-4-7700-3049-8


Cookbook review by Chrissie Walker © 2018


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