This book is the first that I am reviewing from the Best Books: Food and Cookbooks list. I will try to review these books as cookbooks, but also as books. Capice?
I just purchased this book with birthday money, then spent the week after between Anne of Green Gables (re-read) and this one. Yes, I do read cookbooks, like from front to back. I don’t read all the instructions until I get to the cooking part, but I do read things like front matter, notes, ingredients, explanations, etc.
A book like this one is good because of its clear direction and its consistent results, but is made great by its interesting facts and history, clear writings, fun anecdotes, and relevant notes. So when all’s said and done here, this is a great cookbook.
It has it all, including journalistic photos as well as photos that show you your end result. My only complaint, I suppose, is that Ono and Salat are not natural-born writers, from what I can tell, so yes, their writing could have been better. But as two chef/foodies, they have a grasp of how their recipes fit into the world, a friendly tone, and an interesting-enough style.
And boy are their recipes accessible and consistent! Anybody cooking from this book will need to make a trip to a specialty grocer, but not without first being told by Ono and Salat exactly what it is they are looking for. And once the cook has the ingredients in hand, they are almost guaranteed an authentic and tasty result, thanks to to the perfect directions and the simplicity of all the (somewhat slow) processes. This is supremely accessible ethnic food at its best.
One of the keys to any good cookbook (or any book, really) is how excited they make the reader. With the photos and the writing in Japanese Soul Cooking, it would be hard not to catch their infectious enthusiasm for the cuisine as a whole and the recipes individually.
Okay, so one other complaint: the book is broken down into individual recipes for recipe components, much like Mastering the Art of French Cooking (and other books). In other words, you don’t just flip to “Shoyu Ramen” and make shoyu ramen, You must first flip to “Shoyu Ramen,” then to “Soy Sauce Marinade,” then “Soy Sauce Eggs,” then “Ramen Soup and Chasu,” then back to “Shoyu Ramen.” I hate doing that, but I also acknowledge that it makes complete sense to produce the book this way, from the authors’ end. It remains a pain for the reader/cook.
I have made five random recipes from this book, at this time, and we were very pleased with all of them. That’s saying a lot. I highly recommend the Pork Gyoza and the Kitsune Udon, as well as the fascinating evolution of Japanese soul food.
“In Japan, the type of noodle used in ramen is serious business” (p8).
“Loud slurping is important” (p14).
“It seems that everybody in Japan absolutely loves curry” (44).
“And don’t forget, navy curry isn’t navy curry without salad on the side and a glass of milk” (p49).
“…in the land of raw food that is Japan, oysters are usually eaten cooked” (p78).
“In Japanese cuisine the producers do most of the work” (p95).
“Get it wrong, and you’re venturing into corn dog territory” (p109).
“Use toothpicks to spear these suckers and pop them into your mouth” (p137).
“Japanese have been slurping soba for hundreds of years” (p160).
“Try sauteing anything with soy sauce and butter–steaks, green beans, mushrooms, chicken breast, or, yes, pork loin–it’ll blow your mind” (p222).
“And what you eat as a kid, of course, is what you crave as an adult, and thus Napolitan happily entered the cuisine” (p225).