Japanese Soul Cooking
When you think of Japanese food, staples from your local sushi bar might come to mind. But that’s just one itty-bitty fragment of Japan’s culinary traditions. Tadashi Ono, a chef and New York-based author, and Harris Salat, food writer and owner of Ganso in Brooklyn, have set out to give Japanese comfort food its fifteen minutes of fame with their new cookbook Japanese Soul Cooking. From ramen and tempura to curry and gyoza, this is the type of Japanese grandma food we’re craving. Below, Ono and Salat talk about the surprising origins of these Japanese dishes, what makes for the perfect ramen, and Japanese pantry essentials.
AndrewZimmern.com: You’ve written a few Japanese cookbooks together. How did your partnership originally come about?
Harris Salat: We met almost a decade ago when I was writing articles about Japanese cuisine. Tadashi, with his deep background in both Asian and Western cooking, has helped me bridge the two food cultures and understand Japanese cooking ever since.
AZ.com: What makes for perfect ramen?
TO & HS: Harmony between soup and flavoring base. Ramen has to be steaming hot with perfect execution of the chashu. Tadashi says, it’s all about the balance of the combination of the different ingredients.
AZ.com: How many regional styles of ramen did you come across while researching this book?
TO & HS: There are three major styles of ramen: Tokyo Shoyu (soy sauce), Sapporo Miso and Hakata Tonkotsu, with countless variations on those major styles.
AZ.com: There is a whole chapter dedicated to curry in Japanese Soul Cooking. How have the Japanese adapted the curry flavors that originated in India?
TO & HS: The interesting thing about curry is that it is considered in Japan a European import – curry powder from England made its appearance in Japan in the late 19th century. Japanese cook a thicker sweet/savory curry that marries perfectly with the main staple, rice.
AZ.com: Tempura is a very iconic Japanese food. Where does this style of deep frying come from?
TO & HS: Tempura is a technique that was originally adapted from Portuguese cooking in the 16th century.
AZ.com: What ingredients should every cook have in the pantry in order to prepare authentic Japanese food? Essential equipment?
TO & HS: Soy sauce, miso, sake, mirin, all-natural dashi powder (these days) are the basics. Essential equipment: chopsticks and a razor-sharp knife.
AZ.com: What recipes from Japanese Soul Cooking do you find the most irresistible?
TO & HS: Oyaku don, retro curry, gyoza and okonomiyaki.
AZ.com: What’s in your fridge?
TO & HS: Nothing — we work in restaurants and don’t have time to cook at home! Seriously, our refrigerators are always stocked with vegetables, poultry and meat and Japanese seasonings, we try to cook at home as much as possible.
Get the recipe for Retro Curry from Japanese Soul Cooking.
Tadashi Ono is a Japanese chef and author. He recently launched the izakaya-style MaisonO restaurant in New York City. He has been featured in the New York Times, Gourmet, and Food & Wine. Harris Salat’s stories about food and culture have appeared in the New York Times, Saveur, and Gourmet. In 2012, Salat opened the Japanese comfort food restaurant Ganso in Brooklyn. Ono and Salat are also the authors of Japanese Hot Pots and The Japanese Grill.