Japanese Cookbooks

Andy over at Tripe Soup asked me if I could recommend any Japanese cookbooks so I thought I’d post it rather than hide the answer away in the comments section.

Japan has a vigorous publishing industry which pumps out a huge stream of cookbooks and magazines and it’s a pity more don’t make it over here in a translated form (has an idea, decides all too hard). Even so we’re not starved for Japanese cookbooks here either. I use three English cookbooks and each of them has its uses and represent three things you should look for in a Japanese cookbook. Firstly, I think Japanese food has been fetishised by food pornographers and these book are best kept on the coffee table or under the mattress. For normal use I’d recommend unpretentious and tasty as a guide.

There’s no must have book but I have three books which illustrate what to look for.

The Pleasures of Japanese Cooking by Heihachi Tanaka. This is from 1963 and found in a second hand bookstore. Very much a core of Japanese classics apart from a few replacement ingredients, it’s just as much an anthropological work as a cookbook. It represents a walk through the fundamentals and the “A Chat about Japanese Food” is extensive and informative.

The Joy of Japanese Cooking by Kuwako Takahashi. Marginally more Westernised. The Okonomiyaki, for example would be as recognisable as Chicketti to an Italian, but it does cover a wide range to different dishes; the pictures are instructive; it has hints on decorative cutting; and it has good dinner party plans, especially for the communal nabe and sukiyaki. Very much an all round reference.

The Many EcstasiesThe Food of Japan Bitsier in the sense that it is a book of Japanese recipes than Japanese cooking. More innovative that the other two, it is a good source of fresh ideas. You could use this to make an entree or have several dishes in a row. Japanese food doesn’t lend itself well to entree-main-dessert. This one also has a few chapters on culture and ingredients.

The task is to work out whether you want to learn Japanese cooking or cherry pick but I’d recommend mastering the basics of Japanese cooking as there aren’t that many. Japanese chefs are masters of specialisation rather than diversity. Most sauces are a combination of mirin, dashi, shoyu, and sake. The main cooking techniques are broiling, simmering, and deep frying. I’d also recommend developing a love for tofu, plain boiled rice, and miso soup.

The pleasure of Japanese food doesn’t come from complexity or extravagant ingredients but simplicity, freshness, locality, the seasons and the celebration of life with food and drink.


A few dishes from the archives:

Red Emperor Nabe with a 3 Fish Ceviche


Pork Belly and Potato Reduction

Crayfish Sashimi etc. in January 2004

Salmon Marinated in Miso with Chilli Garlic Soy Spinach.

Izakaya food in October 2003


  1. Reid’s avatar

    Hey Anthony,

    Thanks for the tips. I really haven’t purchased any Japanese cookbooks…ever. I guess I learned how to cook Japanese food from my grandmother years ago, but I have thought about looking for some the next time I’m in Japan. I would need to find someone in English as I don’t think that I’m able to read a lick of Japanese anymore. My grandmother also taught me how to cook some Okinawan dishes as her father was Okinawan. I feel full now…gochisosama! =P

  2. Robert’s avatar

    Nice post, Anthony. Hope you’re feeling better.

  3. Andy’s avatar

    Thanks for the post Anthony
    I will have a look for the books you mentioned, the only book on Japanese cookery I found in my local library was a Womans Weekly one. Which appears to be a well designed introduction to some of the basics in japanese cookery. I am looking for basic simple dishes that I can adapt for one person. Tonight I made Soba in broth which supposedly was devised in the 17th century as a quick nutritious meal for labourers. I enjoyed the texture and taste of the buckwheat noodles and I liked the shichimi togarashi spice mix that goes with this dish. This book also has a recipe for okonomi-yaki which I see that you have posted a recipe for, I will try your suggestion of adding chopped pork and squid instead of octopus.

  4. Santos’s avatar


    hope you are feeling better as well. hm. someone once told me a decent juicer helps….

    whenever i come across a japanese cookbook in my used book forages, the only ones i find are written by westerners, which never seems like a good sign. love the illustrated cooking magazines, though; i often try to stumble my way through them.

  5. Anthony’s avatar

    Don’t worry I haven’t purchased any Croat-Slovenian cookbooks either – I feel going to any other authority traitorous. Your mention of Okinawan food reminded me of one favourite recipe, Goya Champon. Okinawans have quite the diaspora, they were amongst the first non-indigenous to effectively settle our North-west with the pearl diving industry in Broome.

    Thanks, the nice weather yesterday had me writing it out on the front lawn in the sun. On the mend just a stubby nobe, but the quiz night wounds are yet to heal – reality TV questions! robbed! I tell you robbed!

    You’re welcome, it’s smoething I enjoy writing about. Women’s Weekly book’s workaday approach is usually pretty reliable. Good choice on the soba noodles. They’re nice hot in a soup or cold in a dipping sauce. Good with bit of tempura or I loved it with sticky rice cake (mochi of Tampopo vacuum cleaner rescue scene fame). The best simple single dishes are the rice bowl ones with beef, egg, chicken etc. extra easy with a rice cooker. I used to just love hot rice with a tin of tuna, some wasabi and a raw egg mixed in. Enjoy the okonomiyaki.

    Bah don’t you hate it when you’re feeling unwell and some self-righteous busybody tells you to get a juicer.
    Yeah I think western writers tend to get a bit too “inspired” by japanese cooking rather than “immersed” – so we get token fusion. Still, if anyone wanted to do the six or so years apprenticeship to be a sushi chef, I’d listen to them.
    Japanese food mags are pretty good for stumbling through, nice step by step piccies to save me from running back and forth to the dictionary. Orange Page is my fave.

  6. stodge201’s avatar

    …celebration of life with food and drink.

    Emphasis on the drink.


  7. Anthony’s avatar

    Oi! Andoru- ohisashiburi bikkurishimashita.

    Ermm yes the drink, I’m pleading bad influences.

  8. husky9’s avatar

    Hi anthony, how have u been?
    a quick question…any idea know where i can get takoyaki frying pan or pan…me wanna try making takoyaki at home…also is there any jap market u recommend in sydney?

  9. Anthony’s avatar

    Hi Husky
    Not to bad though I just took a bit of my finger off with a mandoline. Ah well hazards of the trade.

    Amyway takoyaki. You’re in luck, I bought one a month ago but it wasn’t for takoyaki it was for cooking snails. It has the same deep takoyaki sized holes though. So… if you can find a good French cookware shop you can use the cast iron thing for takoyaki. Only cost me $12 but if you have any trouble finding one I’ll do more research.

  10. Anonymous’s avatar

    Are you also going to put the takoyaki in shells and serve them up with garlic butter? Now *that’s* East meets West!

  11. Anthony’s avatar

    Anthony- not my sharper minded capital lettered cheeky other is it?
    With a similar chewiness, a snail at the heart of the sphere of batter that is takoyaki could be just the ticket for Japanese francophiles. Released in time for the annual Beaujolais Nouveau frenzy, you could be on to something very big – if it’s the next Belgi Waffles, I’m in on the ground floor.

  12. Anonymous’s avatar

    OK, little ‘a’ namesake, katatsumuriyaki it is. You’ve got the snail pan, so you’ll have to come up with the recipe and test it. You could serve it with that slimy grated potato-ey thing (whose name I forget, but it really sorts the hardcore Jap-cuisinophiles from their fairweather brethren).
    I’ll drink the wine for for moral support.

  13. Anthony’s avatar

    Aha! That would be yamaimo – no flavour and the consistency of phlegm. Might stick to the bonito shavings but the experiment’s intriguing me.
    You don’t think you’re going to get all that wine to yourself do you?

  14. AnthonyJ’s avatar

    Hey, I do seem to have a blogger account. Forgot all about it.
    Yamaimo it is. Several years ago a Japanese anthropologist and I took a bunch of guys out to a Japanese restaurant in Makassar, Indonesia. The brave Bugis and Makassarese were spooked by sashimi, and the only one who tried any yamaimo vomited it back up into his bowl (it had not noticeably changed). They all ended up eating nasi goreng.
    I am going to drink all the wine myself, and there’s NOTHING you can do to stop me! The Nullarbor protects me.

  15. AnthonyJ’s avatar

    Stupid blogger made it look like I’m you. I’m going to have to take drastic measures and add a J.

  16. Anthony’s avatar

    maybe you are me, don’t think adding a j on there will change it.

    BTW one day we’ll work out how to get over there and all your restaurants will be surf/turf ‘n chocolate fondue and your beers named after native animals.

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