I love this book. Japanese Soul Cooking, Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura, and More from The Streets and Kitchens OF Tokyo and Beyond by Tadashi Ono & Harris Salat became one of my favorite books almost the moment I opened it. It has many of my favorite Japanese dishes from my childhood, consumed in NYC and in Japan. As a I kid I loved to go out to Japanese restaurants, not for sushi but for gyoza and udon. As a child, Mom and I would share platters of fried dumplings with their crispy bottoms and luscious tender tops filled with pork and vegetables snuggled alongside tiny plates of vinegary soy dipping sauce. I always ordered negimaki, thin strips of beef wrapped around sweet, tender green onions and brushed with sweet dark sauce. Then she would have sushi and I would have nabeyaki udon. Udon are the other Japanese noodles, almost forgotten in the midst of the current ramen craze. They are thick and chewy, usually swimming in a clear, flavorful broth served with vegetables, sliced fish cake, some tempura, and an egg. They are totally different from ramen and equally delicious. I didn't develop a taste for sushi until I became a teenager but udon was always there for me.
Udon, tempura, and gyoza are all in this book along with curry rice, another childhood favorite. Curry was one of the only dishes my mother would make and it was always delicious. She usually made it with chicken or shrimp, shrimp was my favorite version of the dish. Aunt Marie would track down giant jumbo shrimp and Mom would simmer them in the sweet and spicy curry. It was filled with root vegetables, potatoes, carrots, onions, and daikon, cut into large chunks that were soft and sweet. They almost seemed to dissolve against my tongue as I chewed them, leaving behind the fragrant spice of Japanese curry. The shrimp were tender and flaked apart between my teeth, redolent with spice and their own natural savory flavor. Curry was always served with fresh steamed rice and the leftovers never lasted for more than a day or two.
Soba noodles were a summertime offering. These buckwheat noodles were served chilled, with a few ice cubes beneath them to keep them cool. Sprinkled with flakes of roasted nori and an equally cold, soy dipping sauce they were earthy and sweet. A perfect dish to fill you up without weighing you down in the heat of the summer. I never tried warm soba until many years later at Honmura-An where I discovered that hot soba was just as delicious and savory as the cold version. Japanese Soul Cooking has a whole chapter on soba, with recipes to suit whatever the weather.
Tonkatsu is a fried pork cutlet served with a thick sweet sauce, sort of a cross between Wocestershire sauce and BBQ sauce. The cutlets are thin and coated with panko, so that they fry up crisp and light. My favorite way to eat them, in restaurant that knows what it's doing, is as katsudon. Katsudon is a rice bowl filled with lightly sweetened, seasoned rice, with vegetables-usually onions and cabbage, and sliced tonkatsu with an egg beaten and fried into it or simply served alongside the meat. The book contains a recipe for classic tonkatsu with a few variations and for katsudon with several other interesting rice bowls.
Japanese Soul Cooking is more than just recipes. It is full of stories and information. It is a cookbook to be read and enjoyed. It is a book to stir your hunger and bring you into the kitchen.
January 29, 2006
January 29, 2005