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Recommended Reading for the Japanese Vegetable Shopper

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As I sit down to type a blizzard swirls outside the window, the second in as many weeks for Tokyo, and I'm thinking about the greenhouses at the farm. (*We lost four small ones in total, which means some serious rebuilding this spring.) Yet, the vegetables inside are hearty ones that enjoy a good cold blast now and again. The snow and cold will certainly wither hakusai's (Chinese cabbage's) outer leaves and yellow the larger daikon leaves (both are planted outside), but those in the greenhouses will simply hunker down and wait for sunshine.

While we do the same, here's a bit of reading to pass the time. Or for planning that cold frame or hoop house planting even!

Oriental Vegetables: The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook by Joy Larkcom. (Kodansha, 1991; Frances Lincoln Limited, 2007)
First published by Kodansha in 1991, this book has stayed in print for good reason: it is indispensable. Larkcom's explanations and descriptions of how to grow, what the vegetable in question looks like, and tips on preparing it are wonderful. The product of her own travels and research, Larkcom includes wonderful sketches of the assorted vegetables along with their various names in Latin, Chinese, Cantonese, Japanese, and English. (In hindsight, I wish I had taken it along to China to help identify things in the markets. Maybe next time.) Given as a gift about four years ago by good friends, I keep it on my desk as a handy reference. I have not read it cover to cover, but have dipped in so often in so many places that it almost feels like I have.

A Guide to Food Buying in Japan by Carolyn R. Krouse (Tuttle Publishing, 1986)
While the photos may feel slightly dated, Krouse's book is a classic that every foreigner living in Japan should have. Krouse includes very clear, short descriptions of fruits and vegetables as well as meats, tofus, fish products including some fish, baking products, and a few cleaning items. Also included, and what makes this book even more vital, is the Japanese word written out as one normally finds it whether Kanji, Hiragana, or Katakana. (A pronunciation guide is also included.) Small and relatively comprehensive, Krouse will get folks off to a good start.

Oishinbo ala Carte by Tetsuya Kariya (Viz Media, 2009; Shogakukan, 1983-2008)
This seven-part manga series is a wonderful way to explore Japanese food. I've only read the vegetable volume, while my husband read the one on sake. We both came away intrigued, a little more knowledgeable, and eager to learn more. A good result for any book, I think. I can't say I found the inter-character action that wonderful, I did enjoy the stories told about the assorted vegetables.

Just Hungry by Makiko Itoh
Just Hungry is another go-to resource for ideas, inspiration, and information. Itoh may live in Europe, but she is never far from her Japanese roots. For those living out of Japan hoping to find ingredients and recipes, she is fantastic. For those living in Japan looking for ingredients and recipes, she is also fantastic. She also includes plenty of Japanese along with clear explanations and instructions. During the March, 2011 earthquake, she was a voice of radiation reason. I will always be grateful to her for that. Buy her book. Read her blog.

Anything by Elizabeth Andoh.
I first found Elizabeth Andoh at the Manchester Public Library. I'd checked out nearly every book they had on Japan in preparation for our upcoming move. One of her cookbooks was among the stack I brought home. I couldn't take my eyes off the pages. Andoh came to Japan forty years ago and has made herself at home in the kitchen and the culture. Her culinary program started in 1972 and has been going gloriously ever since. I have yet to join in, but it is a dream of mine to cook with her. Sign up for her newsletter. Attend a class and see how food and culture deliciously combine.

There are loads more I could list here (Yukari Sakamoto comes to mind!), but I'm going to pause here with these. Got a favorite book, website, or person? Let me know and I'll add them to the list. The more the merrier!


Leslie said…
Hi Joan, one of my all-time favorite books is a Japanese cookbook written for American home cooks by Shizuo Tsuji, who ran a famous cooking school in Osaka. "Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art" was written over 30 years ago, at a time when most Americans were not familiar with Japanese food. So, Tsuji-San was careful to go into great detail explaining the different vegetables, spices, cooking techniques, culture and folklore involved in Japanese cooking. The illustrations are also quite good; I was able to recognize a lot of herbs and vegetables when I later visited Japan. Highly recommended!

Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art on Goodreads
Oh! I would love to get my hands on this! Leslie, you are fantastic. It makes me think of a really terrific one I found at our local library here in Tokyo on pickle making. I'll have to scout it out and tell you the name. It's out of print, but the recipes and explanations were also terrific. Thanks!
Leslie said…
Yes, I would love to try making Japanese pickles. The way Tsuji-San describes it in his pickle chapter involves very large jars which I haven't found yet. Maybe I should just do a little-jar version as I do with kimchi (I chop the cabbage before pickling, rather than after).

You should be able to find his book easily, though; for the 25th anniversary, the publisher (a Japanese one) issued a new edition with forewords by American cooks like Ruth Reichl. So it should still be in print.

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