If you think you know ‘pretty much everything’ about Japanese food, and you aren’t actually a Japanese chef, you probably haven’t read Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese know about cooking by Michael Booth. You might be familiar with your sushi, don and okonomiyaki, but what about chanko nabe, nagashi somen, sogi giri or the secret to umami?
I was lucky enough to meet Michael Booth at HYPER JAPAN in July and chat to him about his book (interview to follow next week!), which is an essential read for fans of not only Japanese food but foodies in general. I have to admit, I’m exceedingly envious of Michael’s career – a food and travel writer who has previously worked at and written about French cordon bleu cuisine, he decides to embark on a tour of Japan (along with his wife, Lissen, and two young sons, Asger and Emil) after being inspired by the king of Japanese cuisine bibles, Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji.
What exactly makes Japanese cooking a simple art? Is it the ingredients, the method, the taste, or something else entirely? Once I’d finished Sushi and Beyond, I realised that Japanese cuisine is even more diverse than I thought (and that’s despite three trips to the country). Michael really did eat and learn about everything on his trip around Japan – Hokkaido, Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka and Okinawa. This book is not only a chronological story about where he went and what he ate, but also a tome of Japanese food industry knowledge and at-times-hilarious account about two little Western boys adjusting to a couple of months’ Japanese cuisine (no pizza?!)
If you want to learn not only about the different types of Japanese cuisine and preparation methods, but also how some of the most iconic Japanese food or accompaniments are made (such wasabi, bonito flakes, miso paste, and the mysterious umami taste), Sushi and Beyond is a must-read. Not only is it interesting but it is also very funny. At times, you can almost imagine yourself travelling around Japan and sampling these foods with this very interesting family.