Seven steps to Japanese food heaven
THE cherry blossom has always had its petal-hunting pilgrims, but Japan is really having a moment right now and is becoming increasingly popular with travellers.
Back in the West, meanwhile, Japanese cuisine is arguably more prevalent than ever.
“I never dreamt of seeing takeaway sushi,” says cook and food writer Kimiko Barber, who has watched the slow diffusion of Japan into the cultural food stream.
Barber was born in Kobe and moved to England in the early 1970s as a 15-year-old.
Despite later being side-tracked for a while by an investment banking career, Barber has written a slew of cookbooks – she is now celebrating her latest, Japanese in 7.
A nifty manual for straightforward Japanese dishes, each recipe uses just seven ingredients or fewer, alongside a basic larder of Japanese ingredients. It means you can get in from a long day and cobble dinner together without much bother, and without relying on that takeout sushi.
The key, explains Barber, is that what gives any dish its “identity or nationality – its seasoning”. And there are roughly five “typical Japanese” seasoning ingredients: miso, soy sauce, sake, mirin and rice vinegar. Then just add fresh, everyday ingredients.
“To some extent, I blame the Japanese cuisine’s beautiful, artful presentations, which may be rather intimidating for the normal cook,” she says, “but it doesn’t have to be.
“Compared to Chinese or Indian food, British people really don’t have the colonial history with Japan, and so it really hasn’t penetrated into home kitchens.”
So while a traditional Japanese meal would ordinarily consist of rice, soup and a few tiny dishes, all served in small or bite-sized portions designed to be eaten with chopsticks, no one is going to tell you off for dispensing with the individual bowls and grabbing a fork.
“We’re all busy, and it shouldn’t be stressful,” says Barber. “Just take one recipe, one dish and serve it with potatoes if you want to!
“Don’t feel you have to come up with a complete menu or multiple dishes. Or start with salad with a Japanese dressing – that’s easy enough to do.”
Even making one miso soup as a starter is something to be proud of if you’ve never attempted it before. Why overwhelm yourself? Miso soup and dashi sachets are widely available for instance.
“There isn’t a set-in-stone definition of any cuisine, it’s very organic and should move on and be adjusted to reflect the time and the tastes of the people who arecooking and eating it,” she says.
Japanese in 7 by Kimiko Barber, photography by Emma Lee, is published by Kyle Books, priced £17.99. Available February 20.