Hello Japan! February: Japanese Cooking

Hello Japan!Hello Japan! is a monthly mini-challenge focusing on Japanese literature and culture. It is organized by Tanabata of In Spring it is the Dawn.  Each month there will be a new task which relates to some aspect of life in Japan. This month’s task is to make something Japanese.

Last month, I’d bought some sushi, which I had never eaten before. So this month I was keen to try a different Japanese meal. But although I did eat a “Japanese meal” I still failed miserably at the task.

Wagamama Cookbook by Hugo ArnoldI decided to get a Japanese cook book from the library. They had one. Yes, one. They had a few others in the catalogue that they could get for me from other branches but hey, one book is enough. The book was Wagamama Cookbook by Hugo Arnold.

It’s a cook book with recipes from the Wagamama restaurants, a Japanese fast-food style restaurant that can be found in several bigger cities around the world.

This sounded great. The book has a good selection of all kinds of Japanese foods. At first sight. Totally missing are classics like sushi and tempura. The book has lots of stir-fry recipes and marinated meat recipes.

While I enjoy stir-fries, I don’t consider them typically Japanese. Maybe because of the addition of certain ingredients it would taste different from the stir-fries I normally make (with a chinese-style sauce) but I didn’t find this interesting enough. As far as the many meat recipes in the book are concerned: I don’t eat meat.

I do eat tofu, and there were a few recipes I could have made. But: every recipe asked for some ingredients that I could not find at my supermarket or the more exotically stocked organic supermarket. For instance, I needed shichimi (7-herbs) for one recipe and since this seemed to be the distinctive Japanese ingredient of the dish, Tahu Katsu (fried tofu in breadcrumbs and herbs), I didn’t feel I could substitute that with something else.

Another recipe that looked interesting was Yasai Chilli Men (stir fried vegetables with tofu and soba noodles – yes, I was getting desperate so stir fry was an option again) which at first sight looked like something I would be able to make until I read the final ingredient: chilli sauce. Not just any chilli sauce, but the one from page 27 with 13 different ingredients. Right!

Yakitori sauce Quorn PiecesIn the Frying Pan

Desperate for a “recipe” I used a packet of yakitori sauce I already had, and fried some white rice from the day before with some Quorn pieces and some frozen peas, for lunch. How about that for my improvised Japanese meal? No, you’re right, it’s pretty bad going.

Anyway, the yakitori sauce was new for me too, and it seemed to taste mainly of soy sauce with something sweet. According to the Wagamama cook book, which has a recipe for yakitori sauce, it contains sake, soy sauce, mirin (oh, I love that, see my sushi encounter) and some sugar.

My plans to make something typically Japanese failed but I can recommend the Wagamama book to people who are interested in Japanese food, can get their hands on the ingredients and are willing to look beyond the standard sushi and tempura.

Weekend Cooking

Weekend Cooking

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36 Responses to Hello Japan! February: Japanese Cooking

  1. Chinoiseries says:

    I think your dish is just perfect for any weekday dinner :) And yes, I believe the yakitori sauce in the stir-fry makes it Japanese (just like the Chinese stir-fry sauces give dishes a Chinese dimension).
    It depends on whether you have well-stocked Asian food stores in your area… I remember living in Utrecht and searching in vain for ingredients I needed (but apparently there is a huge one behind the Jaarbeurs building?).
    Now that I have spent a few years in The Hague & Rotterdam, both cities with a big Asian population, I have found it easier to get hold of elusive ingredients. Still, some Japanese things are not easy to find. I go around trying to find shiso leaf for example… then my mom tells me she found potted shiso at a garden store o.O
    I think I’ll go and see if my library also carries the Wagamama cookbook, seems quite interesting :)

    • Leeswammes says:

      I guess you’re right: the sauce makes it Japanese. But I was hoping to make something more exotic than that.

      I my town I’m happy there is an organic supermarket as they have a lot of things the standard supermarket don’t have. But for any other items, I need to go to Utrecht.

  2. tanabata says:

    I’m so glad you posted this. And it’s not a failure, that sounds so negative. The important thing is that you tried. The challenge is simply about exposing yourself to Japanese things, which you’ve done. :)

    We used to eat at Wagamama every now and then when we lived in London. I have to tell you though that it’s not entirely authentic Japanese. They definitely use some Japanese ingredients but it’s kind of Asian(Japanese/Chinese/Thai)/Western fusion. The first time we went H was so disappointed, but after that he knew not to expect traditional Japanese food. LOL.

  3. I have the wagamama book and have made a few nice things from it, but I agree that making Japanese food requires some ingrediants you can’t normally get from the supermarket. I used to buy things from: http://www.japanesefoodshop.co.uk/ (not sure if they deliver to you, but I’m sure there will be an equivalent that does) but have recently discovered a Japanese supermarket in London. It is well worth getting hold of the right things as they make the dishes come alive. Good luck!

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks, Jackie. I guess since I don’t know Japanese food at all, I don’t really know where to start. If I do find a bottle or sachet of shichimi, for instance, what if I don’t like the taste at all? It would help if I had some prepared food first, before I make my own. A restaurant! I know there are a few around near where I live so I should do that.

  4. Dorte H says:

    Oh, you changed your blog?

    It looks ever so cool and professional, like opening an expensive book.

  5. Nadine Nys says:

    I do love the new theme for your blog… Are you really going to change it?

    • Leeswammes says:

      Well, Nadine, my beautiful picture (flowers) at the top is gone, and people with certain browsers, Firefox, Safari, don’t see the date of the post on the left-hand side. So, it’s not perfect. But it is really beautiful.

  6. Beth F says:

    I love the new look!!

    Anyway, how frustrating not be able to get the ingredients you wanted. I love Japanese food, but I don’t often make it. I think you did a great job with what you had on hand. And it’s doubly frustrating to have had only one book to look through for a recipe.

  7. liannouwen says:

    To bad your cooking attempt failed. Hope you still had fun trying though! And I love the new layout of your blog!

  8. Cindy says:

    We have a copycat Wagamama, I think I’ll stick to their takeaways :)

    • Leeswammes says:

      I would love to try their food. I think they may be in Amsterdam…. and hurray for internet, I checked and there are two! One of them in the center. I must try them sometime!

  9. well, it was an adventure, which is good in itself!

  10. Esme says:

    I give you credit for your attempt. I must say I am not the biggest fan of Japanese food-although I do like sushi.

  11. I’m not sure I’d use a Wagamama cookbook for Japanese cooking. We do have a Wagamama here and go to it fairly frequently but I don’t consider it “properly” Japanese.

    The funny thing is that this that this week I cooked Japanese food – on Thursday for some guests, and then on Saturday with some changes. I used a recipe book – The taste of Japan (or somesuch) and the internet.

    The main course was: Sake simmered salmon (easy and the ingredients were pretty straightforward), Bean salad with a miso dressing (you had to have miso paste for this), a stewed Shitake mushroom dish (forgotten its name) and Japanese rice. These came from the cookbook. The dessert came from the Internet and was Matcha Jelly. Desserts are tricky but I think this is pretty authentic. At least it used real matcha!

    All this said, I do find locating Japanese recipes that suit western kitchens trickier than many other national cuisines, and I’m not quite sure why that is.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Wow, that sounds fantastic, whisperinggums. You are obviously well into Japanese cooking. To be fair, I concentrated too much on the Wagamama book and didn’t look around for other recipes.

      • Ah, yes, but you did give it a try AND I have been to Japan twice, and am going again in a couple of months. I have some incentive and a little knowledge. It’s still pretty “foreign” though.

  12. Uniflame says:

    This is interesting :) I totally love Yakitori sauce :) I think it is a good attempt :)

  13. Hi Judith,
    Just dropping by to say that I like the new look of your blog and that I am pleasantly surprised that you are a vegetarian too.
    Oh, and that I am going to a birthday party next Saturday where sushi is going to be served.

  14. Young1 says:

    There are many wagamamas around where i live and i have yet to visit but have heard so many good things – i think it is time for a visit!
    :D

  15. LindyLouMac says:

    I have the Wagamama’s cookbook since being introduced to the restaurant some years ago in Manchester by one of our daughters and loving it.. When we were in the UK at Christmas we went to the one in Salisbury, not such a large city! Getting the ingredients is not easy in Italy but my husband is great at adapting recipes.

    • Leeswammes says:

      LindyLou, I don’t know enough about Japanese food to adapt the recipes. I don’t know what certain dishes should taste like so I can’t really replace ingredients. :-)

  16. Marie says:

    I know nothing about Japanese food. Other than tofu (that’s Japanese, right?) and some sushi, I don’t think I’ve eaten any. At least, nothing that authentic.

    As for recipes, I usually stay away from ones that call for speciality ingredients that are not readily available. I have experimented in the past and discovered that I didn’t like the ingredient I spent days looking for. It was disappointing.

    As others have said, at least you tried.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Marie, tofu is als called “beancurd”, it’s not a dish, it’s an ingredient made from soy beans. They also use it in China and Thailand, etc. so it’s not typically Japanese I think.

      Yes, that’s what I worry about too, going out to find an ingredient, pay nice money for it, and find out that I don’t like it. Lots of trouble for no reason. That’s why I should learn a bit more about Japanese food before I start making it myself.

  17. Lucybird says:

    I got my boyfriend the Wagamama cookbook for Christmas. We are still learning but have cooked a couple of things from it quite successfully. Luckily the ingredients are easy for us because there is a Chinese/Japanese supermarket in China town, the only problem is that most of the labels aren’t in English.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Nice that you are cooking from the Wagamama book Lucy. Maybe you already knew the restaurant? I have never been to one.

      It’s handy that you can buy all the ingredients, but it would help if you could read what they are. :-)

      • Lucybird says:

        YEs we’ve been to the one in Birmingham lots of times. It’s my boyfriend’s favourite place

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