Japanese cuisine is known for being beautiful, austere and complex. Its ingredients are often simple, but the flavours are indescribable. For outsiders, understanding how Japanese food is made can be impossible to divine. For those curious to discover, however, Nancy Singleton Hachisu has written Japan: The Cookbook, the result of 30 years spent living and working on a farm in rural Japan.
Singleton Hachisu’s 400-page tome is the product of three years of extensive research. She is a knowledgeable historian of Japanese cooking (indeed, the book starts with a short history of the tradition, beginning in the Neolithic era). Interestingly, she draws the recipes in Japan: The Cookbook from two principal sources: a Zen Buddhist nun and an octogenarian housewife. Their recipes stem from cooking traditions deeper than sushi or tonkatsu, focusing on fresh, largely vegetarian ingredients, unfettered by over-seasoning or complicated techniques. All are simple enough to prepare in your own home.
Donabe recipes featured in Japan: The Cookbook include mouthwatering classics, like the Yudofu recipe from Kyōto (cooked to perfection in a Kyōto-style donabe), or a traditional Hokkaido salmon nabe. But there are also more unusual recipes, such as the miso-simmered pork belly skewers with green pepper, daikon and pork soboro, and wild boar miso nabe.
For those wishing to understand not just how to make Japanese food, but why certain decisions are made, Japan: The Cookbook is an arresting insight into the philosophy of one of the world’s most rarified cuisines.