Review: The Japanese Kitchen
By Kimiko Barber
2007: Kyle Books ISBN-13: 978-1904920663
This is not a typical cookery book; rather, it is a compendium of 100 foodstuffs commonly used in Japanese cuisine. It is not as comprehensive as it could be, but it is very nicely illustrated and is a decent little book to just browse through…
Content and Organization
Although not a cookery book, there are some 200 recipes included. The 100 foodstuffs are organized under 14 headings and each is accompanied by one, two or three recipes illustrating how the ingredient can be used. In addition to the general introduction at the front of the book, each ingredient entry covers a fair amount of information detailing with its production, history and culinary properties. Each is very well illustrated and there are also a lot of additional interesting photographs of a more general nature.
A limit of 100 foodstuffs clearly cannot do justice to this, or indeed any other cuisine and so the book is a little bit disappointing from that perspective alone. Under the heading of ‘Fish and Shellfish’, for example, there are only 15 separate entries and thus the surface of this interesting and important category barely gets scratched. Even if the author had skipped recipes for every different sort of fish, a few pages at least naming and illustrating all the exciting varieties would have improved this book no end.
The organization of the book is also a little haphazard and the foodstuffs and accompanying recipes not always well chosen. For some reason, the author decided to include entries for beef and pork, which, though obviously used in Japan, are hardly unique to the cuisine and seem to have been added just as a way to throw in a couple of extra recipes that are really not that interesting anyway. One would have thought that some other lesser-known foodstuffs might have been better employed in their stead. As for the other entries, the couple of recipes that are provided really don’t serve to illustrate all the possibilities for the ingredient in any meaningful way and, to be honest, seem to have been chosen rather randomly.
The illustrations are very nice, and there are indeed some interesting facts to be gleaned here and there but, in some regards, the book leaves the reader wanting a bit more substance.
Having given what I acknowledge is a bit of a harsh critique, I should say that, notwithstanding the limitations, I still like this little book and I am not sorry I bought it. It is not encyclopedic by any means, and only of marginal value as a reference, but it is still a pleasant visually appealing book to leaf through…