Amy Kaneko is a Bay Area resident now, but she spent time living in Japan and earlier this year she published her first book, Let’s Cook Japanese Food! Her book details some of her favorite recipes for home-style Japanese cooking.

How is Japanese home cooking different from what’s served in Japanese restaurants?
Here we get a lot of sushi, teriyaki, and tempura, the three stations of the Japanese food triangle, as per American tastes. But there are so many really fantastic things to eat–using really familiar cooking techniques, just with a little tweak–that are part of contemporary Japanese food and what people eat every day at home and in restaurants, take out, etc. in Japan, that I think Westerners would just love, things like croquettes, gratins, rice bowls, stir frys. They are not all super esoteric ingredients or completely devoid of fat and flavor, either. A meal of Japanese style fried chicken, a rice ball, spinach with sesame dressing, even potato salad is very Japanese and not what Westerners might expect people are eating in Japan.

You mentioned in your book that your husband brings certain ingredients back from Japan. What ingredients do you miss most now that you are living in the US?
1/2 fat mayonnaise! That is #1. In fact, I am panicking a little because my secret Thanksgiving dish (which I bring to any Thanksgiving event to which I am invited) is the kabocha (pumpkin) croquette in the book, and I need the mayo to make it. So I will need to suck it up and pay like $5 to get a small bottle to make the croquette for Thanksgiving this year, since we recently ran out. The other thing is packaged beef curry in vacuum bags. In Japantown you can buy vegetable curry but it is not a good brand. In Japan you can get fantastic prepared beef curry in a boil in bag thing, and it is extremely good. Don’t tell the dogs at customs. And sansho, a kind of peppery spice but apparently it is illegal in the U.S. It is essential for eel dishes.
(note: Sansho is available in the US, I recently found it at Super Mira)

Where do you recommend shopping for Japanese ingredients in the Bay Area?
I am lucky that I live on the Peninsula and have two great markets nearby: Suruki in san Mateo on 4th St. and Nijiya (a chain, but good) on El Camino near 92 in San Mateo. There’s also one in the city. Super Mira on Sutter in the city is also good. And 99 Ranch (all over) has a lot of the ingredients. Try the Japanese brand organic eggs at Suruki. They are unbelievable, with a golden yolk and great flavor. We eat them raw mixed into natto. Yum.

What is “yoshoku” cuisine?
Yoshoku is literally Western and basically refers to all the Westernized and borrowed dishes in Japanese cuisine, like curry rice, hayashi rice, gratins, doria, and so on. It is SO popular in Japan. Omu raisu (omelettes stuffed with rice), and wafu spaghetti are other examples. Japanese have take western cuisines and adapted them to their own tastes. Croquettes are from Netherlands, tempura is from Portugal, etc. Yoshoku is incredibly popular in Japan, and I have a lot of yoshoku (and chugoku (Chinese) ryori (cuisine) in the book.

What are the main ingredients cooks need to create authentic tasting Japanese food at home?
Soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), sake, sugar, and dashi (bonito fish stock). these are the core Japanese flavorings. And although dashi doesn’t taste all that fishy and is fairly easy to find, I substituted chicken broth in a lot of my recipes and the taste was still OK. And rice! Very easy to get short/medium grain rice here. Cooking it, not so easy, unless you have a rice cooker or are patient.

What’s your favorite dish in the book?
There are two, toriniku no kara age (fried chicken) and toriniku no amasu an (chicken meatballs with sweet sour sauce) But I am influenced a lot by what I can serve quickly to my two little girls that I am assured they will eat, and these are no-fail. To be honest, I eat every recipe in this book, so it is very personal–it is edited very specifically to my and my family’s tastes!

Come back next week for a review of Amy Kaneko’s book, Let’s Cook Japanese Food!

Meet Amy Kaneko 21 November,2007Amy Sherman

  • I finished reading Amy Kaneko’s “Let’s Cook Japanese Food!” literally about 5 minutes ago. As soon as I closed the book, I went straight to my computer and google-searched her name in hopes of finding contact info so that I can tell her just how happy she’s made me!

    I am a JET Program alumna and spent a year in Japan in Ehime Prefecture on the island of Shikoku. While one year is nothing compared to many JET participants, it was my very first time living outside of my hometown and so Ehime (and specifically Uchiko town) is a second home for me. I have been back in the states for almost a year now and have been having “Japanese-food withdrawals” stemming from my lack of cooking ability which prevents me from mimicking my favorite food staples I became addicted to while abroad.

    There are plenty of Japanese food cook books to be found in local stores here, but all were geared toward fine dining and exotic-looking cuisine. None held recipes for my favorite snacks or homemade dinners. After much trial-and-error, I was able to put together a grand total of three recipes that wowed my friends, but were still far cries from the real thing.

    Then, this afternoon on a trip to the local bookstore, I just happened to glance at the title of “Let’s Cook Japanese Food!” and new AT ONCE that this was the cook book I had been looking for: you see, in Japan, many advertisements and encouragements are phrased in the form of “~deshou!” = “Let’s ~!”. To know this, the author of the book must have spent some time in Japan themselves and had been exposed to modern Japanese pop-culture. I quickly flipped to the back sleeve of the book and read the bio of Ms. Kaneko – I was right! This women wasn’t trying to market yet another book on fine dining and the history of Japanese cuisine or how to roll your own sushi. She had made a book on exactly what I needed: real, delicious, home cooked Japanese food both traditional and Western-inspired.

    At first, I thought I’d bookmark all the recipes for foods I had eaten personally while in Japan. As I started to bookmark each and every one, however, I realized I would have to stick with just my favorites, as she has included nearly all the culinary staples of a modern Japanese household! When I reached the page for Onigiri I’ll admit I even teared up: the memory of my 10 year old students teaching me to unwrap our Onigiri snacks bought at the local Konbini came flooding back.

    I still haven’t found direct contact information for Ms. Kaneko so as to send her a thank you letter, so I hope she might – on an off-chance – read this post. I want her to know that she has done an OUTSTANDING job in both selecting her recipes and in explaining the basics behind preparation and food substitution. I’m sure my boyfriend (who is a traditional Western-style cook) will be thankful too once I can actually put together a collection of recipes I can whip up on my own.

    Honto, domo arigato Kaneko-san!! Watashi wa, ganbarimasu desu yo! 😀

  • Katie Hartsell

    I just got Amy’s book yesterday, and cooked dinner tonight from it. It was FABULOUS! We did the panfried ginger pork, along with green beans with sesame sauce from a different book. The pork was totally amazing! Let’s Cook Japanese Food is exactly the book I’ve been looking for!


Amy Sherman

Amy Sherman began blogging in 2003, because all her
friends and family were constantly asking her where
and what to eat. Three months after it launched,
Forbes chose her blog, Cooking with Amy, as one of the
top five best food blogs, praising her writing as
“smart, cozy and witty”. Since then her blog has been
featured and recipes reprinted in many newspapers and
magazines in the U.S. and the world.

In addition to regularly updating her blog, Amy is a
guest contributor to the blog, and
Contributing Editor of Glam Dish. She also writes
restaurant reviews for SF Station.

Her focus on Bay Area Bites is primarily cookbook
reviews along with some interviews and current events.

Amy is a recipe developer and freelance food writer.
She is author of WinePassport: Portugal and wrote the new introduction to the classic cookbook, Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book, published by the University of Nebraska Press. She recently completed 45 recipes for a Williams-Sonoma cookbook and wrote her first piece for VIA magazine.

She is currently serving on the board of the San Francisco Professional Food Society and is a member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Amy lives in San Francisco with her husband, tech journalist Lee Sherman.

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