I was supposed to have this review finished about 3 months ago, but to be honest, I have been stumped like never before. I had my preconceived notions when I volunteered to review a â€œJapanese cookbookâ€. I like most people, I thought sushi, tempura, teriyaki and the like. The book that arrived on my porch was nothing like, â€œthe likeâ€. I have been cooking for many years and have a collection of more cookbooks than I will ever use, but I have never felt so intimidated by a book in my life. Is that a bad thing? Not really. Intimidation is something that pushes many to excel or try things they never would have done otherwise. For me, it was the latter. I soon found myself in San Francisco, in Japantown, in a grocery store. There I was walking the aisles looking for ingredients I had never heard of. The price stickers may have said, â€œBuy 1, get 1 freeâ€ but I would have never known. The thing about this was, this book had me trying something new. That is something no other book in my collection can claim.
The book opens with a chapter on the Washoku philosophy. The philosophy behind the cooking consists of five principles, each having five topics color (red, yellow, green, black, white), tastes (salty, sour, sweet, bitter, spicy), five preparation styles to minimize salt, sugar and oil, the five senses, 5 outlooks on how to eat. Each recipe is constructed with this philosophy in mind.
After the introduction we get into the opening chapter, â€œThe Washoku Pantryâ€. Who knew there are hundreds (possibly thousands) of different types of miso? How about the four most common types of Kombu (kelp)? Or that the Japanese love pickled items, which they call tsukemono? This chapter consists of 50 pages of commonly used ingredients in the Japanese kitchen. After the pantry chapter you move through an index that looks as familiar as any cookbook. Topics include stocks, sauces, condiments, soups, rice, noodles, vegetables, fish, meat, poultry, tofu, eggs and dessert. Within each chapter you have side notes called â€œKitchen Harmonyâ€, which gives you a little more information about ingredients, techniques, Japanese culture, etc. In these side notes you can also find references back to the five principles of Washoku.
I found this book to not only be an excellent cookbook, but a great guide into something we do not do too often, cook outside of our comfort zone. I can say with reasonable certainty I probably would not have decided to cook Miso-Marinated Broiled Fish or Carrots & Konnyaku Tossed in Creamy Tofu Sauce on a whim. If I had to find any fault with the book, it would be that some of the ingredients may be difficult to find. There is a â€œResourcesâ€ section in the back of the book for mail ordering that does provide some help. I recommend this book to anyone looking to learn something new, expand on something they may know a little about, or just the curious soul with the desire to learn Japanese cuisine outside of sushi, tempura and teriyaki.