When I was in Osaka a few years ago, I overheard a brief conversation that made me laugh out loud. "What do you want to eat for lunch?" one man asked. His friend replied, "Let's not eat Japanese - I'm having Japanese food tonight", as if Japanese cuisine was so limited that you could go through the entire repertoire in just one meal.
In her introduction to Tokyo - Cult Recipes, author Maori Murota relates a somewhat similar experience. "When I arrived in France, I noticed that Japanese food wasn't very well understood here. It was often confused with other Asian cuisines, or else it had a fairly limited image. People would ask me: 'So, do you eat sushi every day at home?' … 'I don't like tofu, it's bland.' … 'Miso soup has no flavour. It's just salty.' … So I started giving cooking classes. Not just for sushi and yakitori, but also for the everyday dishes eaten in Japan. What a pleasure to hear the responses: 'Japanese cooking is so simple! There are a lot of flavours I didn't know about. What looked complicated isn't that hard!' Yes, it is simple. You just need to learn a few basic techniques, and how to identify and use quality ingredients. Becoming a sushi master may not be within everyone's reach, but everyday Japanese cooking is not difficult to learn …
"In this book, I want to introduce you to the authentic dishes of the Tokyo I grew up in - the food cooked at home and the food served in restaurants. The recipes are drawn from my memory and the trip I made for this book, visiting my favourite neighbourhoods and going back to my family sources."
This book isn't going to teach you how to make an exquisite kaiseki meal - it's not something an ordinary Japanese person would prepare at home, anyway. The recipes are not too difficult, although, if you've never cooked Japanese food before, you'll need to make a trip to a shop that specialises in some of the ingredients and equipment called for in the book.
Murota starts with breakfast, and - naturally enough - the first recipe is for the staple starch, rice, cooked in a traditional earthenware pot. (She advises, "If you want to buy a rice cooker, choose a Japanese model if you can afford it, because Chinese rice cookers are generally designed to cook Chinese rice, which has lower levels of starch and water.") Her next recipe is for another staple - dashi (stock), or to be more specific, katsuobushi (dried bonito shavings) and kombu (kelp) dashi.
The recipes show the depth and breadth of home-style Japanese food: katsu sando (crumbed fried pork sandwich); onigiri (rice balls); tuna tartare; various types of bento boxes; spaghetti Napolitan (as with other yoshoku [Japanese version of Western food], this one might be puzzling to an Italian - it contains frankfurters and ketchup); rice with tea and simmered beef; white radish and scallop salad; gyoza; and soy milk hot pot.