There are lots of reasons to love this book. Japanese Farm Food written by Nancy Singleton Hachisu with photography by Kenji Miura is a gem. It's easy to read and engaging, describing life on Japanese farm full of anecdotes about family, friends and good food. It's a glimpse into a time and a space that most of us will never have access to on our own. My family is Japanese but I don't speak the language and I have spent relatively little time there over the years. My only real exposure to my family's culture while growing up in New York City was through the food. My mother often took me out to eat and had a small repertoire of Japanese dishes that she would prepare at home. I loved going to Japanese restaurants even though most of the people there didn't speak English. They were usually dimly lit, felt exotic and I loved the food. Nabeyaki udon was my very favorite dish in the whole world although I was happy to nibble at gyzoa, negimaki, chawan mushi, chilled spinach with bonito flakes, and various other small bites as I waited for the main event. Sushi restaurants were fun in a different way, more brightly lit and quieter, with platters of beautiful fish and the quick, graceful movements of the sushi chefs. Katsudon at an itzakaya style place was a special treat. I loved the crispy coating on the tender meat contrasting with the slightly sweet rice, the pickles and the egg. Now many of these dishes have merged into a Japanese-American style of eating. They no longer seem so exotic or as wonderful and special as they were when I was younger. But perhaps that is in their commercialization and in their preparation at a variety of fast casual and chain restaurants around the country. The focus is blurred and flavors are blunted by the lack of care in their preparation.
The food in this book is Japanese home cooking, soul food if you will. The dishes are relatively simple, full of flavor, embracing a variety of techniques. Yes, you will learn about new ingredients and new ways of preparing food. The real gift here is that the food is from the heart, as simple as tomatoes drizzled with soy sauce vinaigrette and sake steamed bass to slightly more elaborate dishes like sukiyaki and hanfdmade udon noodles. Overall the ingredient lists are short and the flavors are full. It's food that you will be happy to cook and eat with your family.
There's an essay in Japanese Farm Food about washing rice and fully experiencing the task. It's a small step that is often forgone, in fact many American cookbooks and recipes recommend against washing rice because they are coated with nutrients and additives that make it more nutritious. In Japan you wash your rice before cooking it, rinsing it several times by hand until the water runs clear. There's no discussion of skipping the step because it is considered essential. It's a difference in culture and mindset. It's that kind of perspective that dominates the book. Written by a transplanted American who makes no bones about the difficulty in transitioning and learning ins and outs of the Japanese food culture. The photographs tell stories, as all the best photography should, acting as a wondow into the world described by the author. This book is full of small stories and kitchen tips that will make you want to be in the kitchen. That desire to cook is the most important tool for anyone who is going to cook well, whether they are preparing a meal for one or one hundred. This book will get you there.