The perfect introduction or refresher on Japanese cuisine.
Japanese food in Australia used to be solely the purview of exotic travellers and cooks. Then sushi hit the big-time. For many years, that was all most of us knew of this cuisine. Thankfully, this is no longer the case, and Japanese food has come to the fore, both in its traditional and contemporary forms.
Aya Nishimura is well-placed to write an introductory book on this topic. Born in Japan of a family of chefs and restaurateurs, and trained at the famous Leith’s School of Food and Wine in London, Nishimura is a renowned food stylist and home economist.
Japanese Food Made Easy is a delightful and comprehensive work, which reflects Nishimura’s preference for simple food styling. It includes a fascinating food map of Japan, a list of commonly used ingredients, and a handy menu-planner.
The main recipes are divided into sections: Izakaya/Bar Food; Side Dishes; One Bowl; Main Meals; Condiments; and Desserts and Drinks. The final section, Basics, gives illustrated, step-by-step instructions for making such vital ingredients as dashi stock, steamed rice, and teriyaki sauce.
Recipes are very well laid-out, with ingredients listed in a sidebar, divided into “fresh” and “pantry”, thus making the shopping list much easier to work out! Instructions are simple and logical. Each features a full-page colour photo.
When choosing what to make, I decided against any of the sushi (although there are recipes aplenty). My Japan-travelling son makes that well enough. I wanted to try something different and broaden my appreciation for this delicate cuisine. As I am a curry-lover, I went straight for:
Japanese-Style Curry (page 116)
Yes indeed: the Japanese have their own version of curry! The Japan Times has this to say on the matter, should you still be sceptical.
“Nowadays, yōshoku is a distinct type of cooking that encompasses Western-style dishes that have been reinvented to suit Japanese tastes and ingredients. Japanese curry is no exception: Bearing only a passing resemblance to curried dishes from other regions such as India, it has been changed and adapted so much that it now stands on its own as something uniquely Japanese.”
Nishimura’s curry is easy to make, and utterly delicious. Much mellower and sweeter than Indian or south-Asian curries, it is full of flavour. I served mine with the boiled eggs recommended but substituted sliced cucumber for the pickles. Served with plain boiled rice, this dish went down a treat with offspring and myself and is now firmly a part of my repertoire. Chicken seems the best protein for this dish. I feel it is too mild for red meat, although it could also be made with vegetables/pulses or fish.
Next, I decided to tackle:
Tea-Braised Pork (page 138)
This gives instructions for making a beautiful pork roll, which is served cold, or sliced up over ramen noodles.
I found it easier to roll up the pork belly than I expected, and once that is done, the work is simple. This does however, take up hours of prep time, so make it well in advance of when you want it. Three hours of simmering, plus an overnight marinade mean this isn’t a Tuesday night quickie!
Superbly delicious, I now have very tasty pork to put into sandwiches and pop in my noodle soups, exactly as the Japanese home cook would use it him/herself. This is another one that will be made again and again in my household.
Other recipes I am keen to try include: Japanese-style Potato Salad (page 28), Karaage (page 42), Ramen, which uses the tea-braised pork (page 98), and Nashi Pear, Sake & Shiso Frozen Cocktail (page 200).
With over a hundred recipes and packed with interesting and useful information about Japan and its cuisine, this book is everything an introductory cookbook should be.
Certainly destined to become dog-eared and soy-stained in my kitchen!
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Distributed by:Murdoch Books
Released: April 2020