Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Taste of Washoku

After my trip to Japan last year, it finally dawned on me that Japanese food didn't exist merely for people that were too cowardly to eat sushi at Japanese restaurants. I thought that Japanese cuisine was limited to chicken teriyaki, the dish that my friends who are afraid of "raw stuff" would order whenever we'd go to the sushi bar. Visiting Japan smacked some sense into me, obviously, and I became very interested in Japanese food, particularly home-style cooking. One of the first cookbooks I picked up after my trip was Elizabeth Andoh's Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen. Soon after, I snagged a few of her back catalogue as well, which are fantastic as well (but not quite as beautiful).

Washoku means "the harmony of food" and is a culinary philosophy that balances flavors, colors and nutrition for delicious and visually appealing meals.

Andoh's cookbooks have changed the way I cook. She is clear and incredibly thorough, explaining things as simple as how to make rice properly. Many of the dishes I made from her cookbook were ones I had never tried before, and it's been gratifying to come to Japan and recognize food I try here as something I had already had at home made from one of her recipes.

So I was incredibly excited to join not one, but two, of Elizabeth's food tours and one of her cooking classes that focused on the Japanese preparation of fish.

One of my favorite parts of Washoku was when Elizabeth writes about matching "food to vessel." She talks of her cupboards crammed with Japanese pottery, all waiting to be matched to the perfect meal. As nerdy as this makes me, it was thrilling to actually have a look in one of her cupboards and get to pick out the dishes for the meal that we assembled in class. It's a lot harder than it looks!

A few days after I took the cooking course I went to a historic ryokan in Tsumago and was stuffed with a many, many course meal that involved fish cooked about six different ways. I can proudly say that I could probably cook at least five of them now. Thank you, Elizabeth!

If you're interested in Japanese cooking, I'd very highly recommend Washoku. For more Elizabeth Andoh, you can visit her page, A Taste of Culture.

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