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Secrets of My Mother's Tokyo Kitchen (Book Review)


Although it's not a knitting or fiber-related book, I wanted to share this book review with you. The title of the book was a bit off-putting to me; it's the subtitle that caught my eye, so that's what I'm using for this blog entry's title. Chizuko (the author's mother) is the most engaging thing about this book. The author's promise to reveal Tokyo "homestyle" cooking was fulfilled. "Homestyle" japanese cooking was what I was exposed to in my Japanese mother's suburban Oklahoma kitchen. Most people don't realize that homestyle Japanese food doesn't involve raw fish, sushi rolls or a hibachi grill (restaurant food) -- or even "fish heads" as some disparaging remarks have suggested.

A typical Japanese meal at home features steamed rice ("sticky rice") at nearly every meal, including breakfast. When I was a guest in my Aunt Kazuko's home many years ago, she fixed a traditional Japanese breakfast for me every morning -- I was served miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, green tea and a salad. Even though several options were offered and presented, I chose to eat a Japanese breakfast every day. Ask any Japanese daughter or son what their mother fixed them for breakfast and it was probably similar. There's seasonal variety, of course -- but there is always rice.

Whenever I used to mention steamed white rice to an American, they'd invariably mention butter and/or sugar as ingredients in THEIR favorite rice dish. I've never violated a bowl of Japanese steamed rice (gohan) in that way and probably never will, so I'm sure to them that my eating rice and seaweed (nori) sounded odd. Now that I'm older and I know better, I can embrace the way I enjoy something and not try to convince anybody else otherwise. For another thorough treatment of authentic Japanese cooking, please read Harumi's Japanese Cooking and Harumi's Japanese Homestyle Cooking (although the links take you to Amazon, I've been purchasing most of my books through Powell's).

After reading these wonderful books and cookbooks, I'm so glad I paid attention and asked my mom questions while she was cooking. Although she no longer cooks, she loves a well-prepared Japanese dish and can instantly detect when something is wrong or unbalanced. My sisters and I used to think she was a bit of a diva, but after reading these books, I realize that she was expecting umami ("deliciousness") -- her palate was prepared for that -- and instead, she was disappointed because things didn't taste the way she was expecting.

She also tried to describe to me the taste of a fresh vegetable or fruit, for instance -- how RIGHT it was when it was fresh and how WRONG it could be if it wasn't fresh, or in season. It wasn't enough to just like a vegetable or fruit but to have the expectation of how it SHOULD taste. Believe me, she wasn't that spiritual about it back then, but looking back now, I realize that it's really difficult to describe to a child whether something tastes the way it should.

Here's another review of the book. I was glad to read that somebody else was a bit taken aback by the title.


A wonderful review! I want to read the book now and find out more! Glad you didn't let the title deter further reading. Love the personal touch you added about your Mom's cooking. Thank you for sharing!!

You've definitely piqued me interest!

Oh, how nice it would be to expect deliciousness from what we eat, instead of mere edibility! Great review!

I love the title of this book! The first time my husband put milk and sugar and cinnamon on his rice, I was horrified! But I roll with it now - not that I'd ever eat that concoction.

Isn't the title a joke from that book "French Women Don't Get Fat?" That is what I thought of and it made me giggle then.

I have always wanted to try what I would call "real" Japanese food.

My favorite when we were growing up was the raw egg mixed with fresh hot gohan (steamed white rice and had to be the right temp.) or a fried egg on top of warm steamed rice with japanese seasoning and seaweed! Yum! Bruce still gives me a funny look when I eat it for breakfast!

very interesting...thanks for the review!

I know the rice and side vegetable dishes well. Koreans do it the same. I've added a bit of sesame oil for the kids, my oldest drowns his rice in soy sauce - but they are growing up with rice as a staple in their diet too!

Lately, I've been obsessed with learning the ways of Korean cooking. It's positively thrilling to make a dish that my "taste memory" remembers from the days of my own childhood!

Though I'm a sugar-and-butter-on-my-rice-raised-girl, I have to say that I'm still grateful at least twice a week that you introduced me to the rice cooker! Mine isn't fancy at all, but it's one of the few 'specialty kitchen gizmos' for which I'll always have room in my kitchen cabinets!

I totally agree with you! I eat rice with every meal too. It just feels wrong not to have rice. It's like Americans with their bread and mash potatoes...hmmm masshhed potatoooesss (drool)

I remember the rice breakfasts from my time spent in Tokyo.

From a health/nutritional perspective, carbs are meant to be consumed prior to 3pm, so the Japanese are spot on - again! :)

I am sooo wishlisting this--thanks Janet:)

Thanks for the review. This looks like a book my daughter would like.

I spent two weeks in Japan back in college, and have missed the food ever since. I loved the Japanese breakfast best of all, I think. And I felt so energized and healthy the whole time, which was kind of a shock. I may have to check out the book.

And I agree with the above commenter that the title is probably a joke on the French Women Don't Get Fat book, which was a pretty awful book, I thought.

I'm intrigued! I'd love to know more about Japanese food breakfast in particular as it is a challenge for me. Thanks for the book reviews.

I really enjoyed reading this post -- just goes to show that "good food" is good food/good quality.

I admit I still have to "get used" to "sticky rice" but when you have the right things to go with it, it certainly is delicious. I was "traumatized" by one of my brothers at a young age loving a huge plate full of rice with a unbelievable glob of butter on top and still can't bear to think of butter on rice to this day :)
But so many other cultures make good rice (totally unJapanese of course)-- Persian pilaf and more!
Maryjo (your birthday twin from Ravelry)