What I’ve Learned So Far About Cooking in Japan

I can’t believe how long it’s been since I’ve posted! As you can probably surmise from the title of the post, my husband and I moved from Denver, Colorado to Tokyo, Japan last summer and the transition to a new job/country/way of life has been all-consuming.

To jump back into the fray, however, I thought I would first post the many lessons I’ve learned in cooking/dining during our first six months here. The food in Tokyo is AMAZING to say the least. I have discovered so many new techniques, veggies, and creative substitutions.

  1. Dark miso is an excellent replacement for beef broth; light miso for chicken broth.
  2. Fresh artichokes are a rare and wonderful treasure. (Sigh.)
  3. A ¥30000 convection oven from Ito Yokado can change everything.
  4. When eating locally and seasonally is the norm, you can’t imagine cooking any other way. We have had some of the most flavorful vegetables and fruits here that almost explode with taste.
  5. Slightly firm tofu, the type I like to use, is called “momen tofu” or “cotton tofu.” (I had to learn to recognize these symbols in order to buy the correct type in the grocery store: 木綿豆腐). The more delicate type is called “silk.”
  6. Miso soup with tofu and a sprinkling of scallions with a cup of green tea make an excellent breakfast.
  7. Sharp cheddar cheese can be difficult to find, but in the process, I have discovered mimolette from France and it is delightful!
  8. Chopsticks are beautiful cooking utensils. Whisking grits with two chopsticks as soon as they hit the water releases the starches, resulting in creamier grits (and won’t scratch your enamel-lined pots in the process.)
  9. Speaking of which, there are NO GRITS in Japan (except perhaps at the Smokehouse…they did have BBQ and fried green tomatoes, after all.) Gourmet grits are the one thing for which I’ve asked for my birthday from my mother. (Anson Mills…thank you! And you’re welcome.)
  10. Tiny kitchens and one cook are no excuse to not be able to provide a gourmet meal to 10 people. Some of the best restaurants I’ve been to so far operated within these constraints and the results were legendary.
  11. The Japanese are really into French cuisine. My knowledge of French cooking techniques has actually improved since moving here, especially since the “kitchens” are often on the other side of the counter so you can watch & take notes.
  12. A carton decorated with silly cartoon characters can sometimes actually contain an decent sake.
  13. And on that note…my Peruvian chicken recipe was vastly improved by adding a half-cup of said cartoon sake to the usual soy sauce and lime juice.
cookbook Sean Brock’s Heritage cookbook and The Miso Book have been wonderful inspirations since moving here. My favorite quotes of Brock’s:
“The ingredients that thrive in your part of the world are the ingredients that you should seek out and make the focus of your cuisine. The rest will fall into place.” (p. 19)
“Be proud of your roots, be proud of your home, be proud of your family and its culture. That’s your inspiration.” (p. 22)
More soon…I’m still learning…
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