Home > Books/Magazines, Food & Drink, Reviews > Book Review: Tokyo Stories: A Japanese Cookbook

Book Review: Tokyo Stories: A Japanese Cookbook

Tokyo Stories is a journey through the boulevards and backstreets of Tokyo via recipes both iconic and unexpected!

Tokyo Stories coverThough having published other books (his humorous biographical essays ‘Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Dairies’, his own Brixton restaurant cookbook ‘Nanban: Japanese Soul Food’, and other cookbooks of classic and modern Japanese recipes; ‘Vegan JapanEasy’ and ‘JapanEasy’) Tim Anderson first began to impact on the public consciousness in the UK with his appearance on, and winning of, ‘Masterchef’ in 2011. Since then he has gone on to work as a freelance chef, food writer and consultant and is a regular contributor on Jamie Oliver’s Food Tube, the Kitchen Cabinet on Radio 4, and has appeared on various TV programmes such as Ch4’s ‘Sunday Brunch’.

Tim Anderson

Tim Anderson

He also opened ‘Nanban’ (lit. southern barbarian, a term which was used historically to describe foreign visitors to Japan) his Afro-Caribbean/Japanese fusion restaurant in Brixton and, as this reviewer can attest to, has run the occasional very enjoyable and user-friendly basic Japanese cookery class.

Tokyo Stories

Having very recently been in Tokyo in the main to see and review the KabukiKaomise (start of the Kabuki season) performances but in part to visit and review a few local eateries that had, by word of ear, been recommended (‘Menya Shichisai’ in Hatchabori, ‘Mensho Tokyo’ in Bunkyo, ‘Mugi to Olive’ in Ginza, ‘Hantei’ in Nezu, and ‘Momonjiya’ in Sumida) it would be interesting to compare notes on local eateries with Tim’s recommendations. This would be as well as furthering the knowledge previously gained about Japanese ingredients and recipes on Tim’s cooking class.

Nezu for kushiage

(left) Menya Shichisai in Hatchabori for ramen and (right) Hantei in Nezu for kushiage © T. Skingle

Surprisingly (and to be honest a tad disappointingly) there were no recommendations about where in Tokyo to get the best ramen or soba noodle dishes, kushiage (deep fried skewers of meat and veg), or any other Japanese dishes. Instead it is what it says on the tin, so to speak… …a cookbook pure and simple. Garnished with plenty of great photos by Nassima Rothacker, and garish Japanese style graphics (which are like marmite – you either luv ‘em or you hate ‘em) it’s a very attractive and eye catching book, always a plus when trying to attract a browsing, potential, customer. And with the growing abundance of this style of book about both traditional and innovative Japanese recipes Tim is doing well to keep his head above water, especially when in competition with English language cookbooks by native Japanese food writers. This may be helped here in the UK by the growing interest in Japan and Tim’s popularity with Japanese food buffs amongst the general public who are aware of Tim’s ‘Masterchef’ win, have been to his restaurant, seen him on TV, read any of his other books, or heard him on the radio.

Tokyo Stories 1

Tokyo Stories © Nassima Rothacker

So without further ado on to the contents of the book. It’s broken down, unusually, using the various floor levels of a typical Japanese building. Different, but this usage is explained in Tim’s entertaining and amusing foreword. The floor levels in Japan being somewhat differently named to those in the UK makes this rather more interesting than it sounds. To those with experience of Japanese buildings and especially department stores it isn’t confusing at all. For readers without this knowledge it makes the exploration of the book just that little bit more curious and innovative and imparts a sense of just how different yet logical Tim’s entertaining approach to a Japanese style categorisation can be.

Tokyo Stories

Tokyo Stories © Nassima Rothacker

Chatty in style and not so overly wide-ranging that it becomes inaccessible the £26/$35 investment in this book is rewarded by an abundance of varied recipes the reader can attempt quite easily. This and the easy to understand listings of Japanese ingredients will, while not attempting to make the reader an expert, provide enough knowledge to make preparation and cooking fun rather than the slog which many may associate with Japanese dishes produced by professional chefs who have undergone years of unrelentingly hard apprenticeships.

Tokyo Stories

Tokyo Stories © Nassima Rothacker

There’s a great section on how to keep rice soft when stored in the fridge but, unfortunately, no mention in the ingredients section of two favourite and potentially indispensable Japanese condiments; negi (freeze dried spring onions) and wasabi furikake (an intense umami mix provided by a combination of nori seaweed, sesame, salt, wasabi, roasted mocha, matcha green tea and bonito flakes). Still you can’t cover everything in one single book and the basic range of ingredients which are covered are definitely more than enough to create some memorable Japanese dishes. Though the book won’t make the reader a master chef it will help to make the beginner a competent one perhaps even that envisaged à la Tokyo ‘Midnight Diner’ style.

Tokyo Stories

Tokyo Stories © Nassima Rothacker

Each chapter starts with a concise description of the theme of the section, the first being particularly interesting covering station kiosks, conbini (convenience stores) and vending machines which, while they might be looked down upon by Westerners, are indispensable sources of food and refreshment for the Japanese and, incidentally, fascination for foreign visitors. A point to note from this reviewer is that some vending machines dispense some very strange items which on the odd occasion may not sit well with Western sensibilities. A good point is made by Tim about the limited cooking facilities in many apato (apartments) and even some homes which are often limited to a couple of electric cooking rings and a microwave which tends to underpin the reliance of many Japanese on station kiosks, conbini and vending machines. There is also a chapter on recipes adapted from abroad and if there is one thing the Japanese have a long history of and are experts in doing that is adapting foreign ‘things’ and making them ostensibly Japanese.

With a bit of willingness to try and some preparation and application none of the recipes in this book are beyond the capabilities of even the least skilled cook with a ‘yen’ to experiment. Any worry about shopping for authentic ingredients should be dispelled. Japanese ingredients are pretty much readily available even in our own department stores though more specialised ingredients can be found in Japanese stores in the UK of which there are a fair few. And if delving into this fun cookbook makes the reader curious enough to want to visit Japan, experience Japanese food and drink, and explore the underbelly of Japanese food, especially in Tokyo, renowned as a world leader for its cuisine, then all the better.

Tokyo Stories: A Japanese Cookbook by Tim Anderson (Hardie Grant, £26)

Photography © Nassima Rothacker

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Hardie Grant (UK); Hardback edition (7 Mar. 2019)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: ISBN 978-1784882297

Available at Hardie Grant Publishing – £26.00 (Hardback and ebook) and Amazon

ABOUT THE ANDRÉ SIMON FOOD & DRINK BOOK AWARDS

Founded in 1978, the André Simon Food & Drink Book Awards are the only awards in the UK to exclusively recognise the achievements of food and drink writers and are the longest continuous running awards of their kind. The first two awards were given to Elizabeth David and Rosemary Hume for their outstanding contribution in the fields of food and cooking. Other winners include Michel Roux, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Nigel Slater, Rick Stein, Hugh Johnson and Oz Clarke.  andresimon.co.uk/

Reviewer’s Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

Related Posts:

Book Review: ‘The Meaning of Rice: And Other Tales from the Belly of Japan’ by Michael Booth

Japanese Whisky Tasting At Tsuru Restaurant London

“Matcha Delight” – A Unique And Tasty Way To Enjoy Japanese Green Tea!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: