Book Review – Dashi and Umami

Dashi and Umami

Dashi and Umami

This book includes the contributions of many star chefs, including Takashi Tamura (of Tsukiji Tamura), Eiichi Takahashi (Hyotei), Kunio Tokuoka (Kyoto Kitcho) and Yoshihiro Murata (Kikunoi). Photos of their kaiseki cuisine make this a handsome coffee table book, and students of Japanese cuisine will be impressed with the depth of information on umami-rich ingredients like kombu, katsuobushi, niboshi, and shiitake, all of which are essential in making dashi. Even water around the world is ranked from soft to hard—a hot topic for kaiseki chefs who have traveled the globe.

Umami has been covered in many other books, and not always well, but this work captures the essence and explains it without missing any details. The tutorials on dashi may change the way you make this staple at home. The end of the book includes simple home recipes that are easy to incorporate into your repertoire.


Various contributors (Cross Media, 2009, 162pp, ¥4,120)

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine:

Book Review – Japanese Hot Pots

Japanese Hot Pots

Japanese Hot Pots

Finally—a book on nabe in English. Chef Tadashi Ono of Matsuri restaurant in New York and journalist-blogger Harris Salat of the Japanese Food Report have teamed up for the definitive guide to Japan’s quintessential comfort food.

The first chapter deconstructs the basic parts of a good nabe: broth and dashi; foundational ingredients like Napa cabbage,daikon, Japanese mushrooms and tofu; seasonings such as miso; and yakumi (condiments) like ponzu and yuzu kosho. There are helpful suggestions on how to incorporate shime, the rice or noodles added to the hotpot as the traditional end of the meal.

Recipes include classics like mizutaki (chicken and vegetables), yudofu (tofu) and the sumo wrestler’s staple,chanko nabe. Readers in Japan who want to try the book’s regional dishes are fortunate to have access to esoteric ingredients like ishiri fish sauce from the Noto peninsula or the grilled rice “logs” of Akita (kiritampo).Japanese Hot Pots is so easy to follow that you may soon find nabe becoming a regular part of your repertoire. And vegetarians, don’t despair—there are plenty of meatless recipes to keep you well fed through the winter.


By Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat
Ten Speed Press, 2009, 150pp, ¥2,406

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine:


Book Review – Takashi’s Noodles

Takashi's Noodles

Takashi's Noodles

Takahashi Yagihashi has been a chef and restaurateur in the American Midwest for two decades. In 2000, he was named one of America’s Ten Best New Chefs by the prestigious Food & Wine magazine, and in addition to his namesake restaurant in Chicago, he’s been collaborating with Macy’s department store on a nationwide chain of noodle shops.

This book is packed with recipes for common noodles like ramen, soba, udon and somen, as well as pasta and other Asian varieties. There are also popular appetizers often found at izakaya, like gyoza, yakitori, braised pork belly (which can also be used in ramen dishes) and shumai.

Yagihashi has covered all the noodle bases, including a thorough collection of ramen dishes: chilled, tantan-men, miso and even tsukemen (noodles served separate from the broth). There are cold somen dipping sauces like shiso-umeyuzu and tomato, plus dishes like curry udon and hearty duck Namban soba that will keep you warm throughout the winter. The pasta recipes include that Japanese standby, spaghetti with spicymentaiko; another, based on onsen tamago (soft-boiled egg), is Yagihashi’s twist on classic carbonara.


By Takashi Yagihashi with Harris Salat
Ten Speed Press, 2009, 168pp, ¥2,401

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine:

Book Review – The One-Straw Revolution

The One-Straw Revolution

The One-Straw Revolution

First published in English 30 years ago, this little green tome by Masanobu Fukuoka has been reissued by The New York Review of Books as part of its Classics series. And the timing couldn’t be better—as issues of sustainability, agribusinesses and the use of chemical fertilizers have come to the fore, the book is more relevant than ever.

Fukuoka (1913-2008) was a farmer who employed radical methods to grow his crops, like cultivating rice in dry fields and not weeding by tillage. (The title comes from his innovative system of spreading straw in gardens.) This compact work puts forth his opinions and chronicles the success he enjoyed with these and other practices. There are also interesting and informative mandala-like diagrams showing seasonal Japanese produce and seafood.

Anyone who supports the Slow Food movement, enjoys working in a garden, or is concerned with sustainability will treasure The One-Straw Revolution—and most likely share it with many friends. Fukuoka’s book beautifully conveys his belief in eating healthful, natural food, and in doing so reminds us that an egg should taste like an egg.


By Masanobu Fukuoka
The New York Review of Books, 2009, 184pp, ¥1,535

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine:


Book Review – Everyday Harumi

Everyday Harumi

Everyday Harumi

This new work by the doyenne of Japanese cookbook authors will be welcomed by everyone who loves washokuEveryday Harumi is filled with easy-to-cook, home-style recipes that cover a wide range of meat, seafood and vegetable dishes.

The book opens with an entire chapter on cupboard essentials for making Japanese cuisine, in particular sauces that you will go back to often: ponzumen-tsuyu, and vinegar with mirin.

Among the basic recipes are chicken karaageshoga-yaki(ginger pork) and classic vegetable dishes like tofu salad with sesame dressing. Kurihara has also adapted a few recipes so that they’re easier to prepare with ingredients found in the Western kitchen—watercress, celery and cauliflower. There’s even an udon dish with a ground-meat miso sauce that could be mistaken for pasta bolognese.

Even if you’re a collector of Japanese cookbooks, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the new recipes to be discovered in Everyday Harumi. Bonus: the food is presented in lovely Japanese pottery and other traditional vessels.


By Harumi Kurihara
Conran Octopus, 2009, 192pp, ¥3,098

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine:

Book Review – The Niigata Sake Book

The Niigata Sake Book

The Niigata Sake Book

There’s relatively little information on sake printed in English, so whenever a new work on nihonshu comes out, it’s worth carefully perusing. The Niigata Sake Book does not disappoint, especially for readers wanting to know more about the technical side of sake. It’s based on a work called The Niigata Sake Expert Textbook and, according to translator Mike Masuyama, is “the first sake book written in Japanese to be translated into English.” With its cool temperatures, rich water sources and highly esteemed rice, Niigata is an ideal location for making top-quality sake. This book is geared towards those looking for more scientific and technical information, including details about the brewing process, how to read labels, and what the differences are between rice strains. It’s suitable even for the beginner, though, with an opening section that’s filled with color photos and simple tasting notes. Masuyama deftly guides readers through the nuances of sake, offering insightful tips on flavor profiles that will empower anyone to become knowledgeable. This book is destined to become a reference guide—not only for Niigata sake, but for sake in general.


By The Niigata Sake Brewers Association
The Japan Times, 2009, 86pp, ¥2,100

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine:

Book Review – Sushi



A professor of biophysics at the University of Southern Denmark, Ole G. Mouritsen has penned the most extensive and authoritative book—dare I say encyclopedia?—on sushi to date. This weighty tome is packed with more information than most readers will ever need. Yet that’s exactly where it shines. The author’s curiosity and passion about fish is evident throughout. Perhaps most notable is that, unlike other sushi books written by non-Japanese, the information about seafood is factually correct. Sushi will educate readers on all aspects of fish—texture, taste and how they are served. Packed with photos and illustrations (by the author’s son), this comprehensive guide also includes information on other dishes at the sushi counter, from the rice and vinegar used to make theshari to the green tea that ends the meal. With an extensive glossary and a rich bibliography, Sushi will find its way onto the bookshelves of chefs and foodies the world over. After consuming this work, readers themselves should be given a PhD in sushi.


By Ole G. Mouritsen
Springer, 2009, 330pp, ¥3,357

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine:


Book Review – A Cook’s Journey to Japan

A Cook's Journey to Japan

A Cook's Journey to Japan

Sarah Marx Feldner takes readers on a trip through Japan with homestyle recipes from around the country. Her cookbook opens up with an informative guide to Japanese kitchen utensils, ingredients and basic cooking techniques. Filled with step-by-step photos to help novices master essential skills, A Cook’s Journey to Japan will give readers the courage to try new recipes. Classic dishes include tori karaage (Japanese-style fried chicken), age-dashi dofu (deep-fried tofu), and tonjiru (pork miso soup). But it’s the nontraditional recipes that really catch the eye, like Japanese “cocktail peanuts” (nuts baked in a sweet miso coating), ginger-fried soybeans and daikon salad with a spicy karashi-mentaiko dressing. There is even a dessert chapter that will have you craving matcha ice cream with brown-sugar syrup or Kagoshima shiro-kuma (shaved ice with condensed milk and fruit). The food styling is extremely appealing, with most recipes having their own separate photo. A Cook’s Journey to Japan gathers some of the country’s best recipes, and will be a treat for anyone looking to expand their repertoire of Japanese cuisine.


By Sarah Marx Feldner
Tuttle Publishing, 2010, 160pp, ¥3,130

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine:

Book Review – Japanese Cocktails

Japanese Cocktails

Japanese Cocktails

Japanese Cocktails is filled to the brim with original concoctions with fun names like Oyaji, Salty Hachiko Dog, Bloody Mari-chan and Office Lady. And not only are the names creative, so are the recipes. With drinks based on sake, shochu, whisky and more, this thin book has a cocktail to please everyone, many of the recipes are easy even for the inexperienced mixologist. The Hinomaru is umeboshi in warm sake, while the Samurai Courage combines yuzu juice with hotdaiginjoJapanese Cocktails was written with the support of Suntory, so it includes some recipes based on the beverage giant’s lineup of whisky, Midori melon liqueur, and Kuromaru sweet-potato shochu. But in no way does this detract from the appeal. Author Yuri Kato, a “beverage alcohol consultant,” consistently offers offbeat and appealing drinks. Mixers include chestnut puree, aloe vera juice, steamed milk and even ice cream, while traditional Japanese ingredients range from citrus juices like kabosu and yuzu tomatcha powder and hojicha tea. Kato’s expertise shines in her explanations of shochu and Japanese whisky, in particular on how to properly prepare a mizuwari(diluting with water). If you enjoy mixing your own drinks, or even if you just want to get started, this fun book will be an excellent guide.


By Yuri Kato
Chronicle Books, 2010, 95pp, ¥1,396

This review first appeared in Metropolis magazine.

Chef Q&A with Ivan Orkin of Ivan Ramen

Ivan Ramen Plus

Ivan Ramen Plus

Ivan Orkin is the talented chef-owner of Ivan Ramen and the recently opened Ivan Ramen Plus. A Culinary Institute of America graduate who has worked with the best including Andre Soltner of Lutece and Bobby Flay. Ivan has been very busy with the opening of his second ramen shop as well as working on what will be the definitive book on ramen in English. His first book, in Japanese, tells the story of how his first shop came to be and is very interesting read. As a chef, he enjoys going out to eat in Tokyo and I always enjoy hearing about his favorite eats.

If you go to one of his restaurants, tell him that Yukari sent you! Ivan’s very down to earth and a great guy. Best of all, his ramen is amazing. The noodles are all made from scratch and the soups are clearly made by a top-class chef. Personally I always look forward to his gentei ramen, that are only on the menu for a short time. His creativity and palate is reflected in these dishes.

Cheese Mazemen

Cheese Mazemen

The Cheese Mazemen is the recommended dish at the Ivan Ramen Plus. Following is the description from his website.

“This the Ivan Ramen Plus take on cheese in ramen! Fish soup and shoyu base, (very little soup, just enough to facilitate slurping) with mozzarella, hokkaido white cheese, parmesan and edam cheeses. On top is Katsuo fish powder sprinkled with chive oil and pickled bean sprouts. It’s cheesy and gooey and great!”

Go hungry, better yet, go with a friend so you can order several dishes to share.

Ivan Ramen

Setagaya-ku, Minami Karasuyama 3-24-7


closest station is Rokakoen on the Keio line from Shinjuku station

Ivan Ramen Plus

Setagaya-ku, Kyodo 2-3-8, Tanbaya Building 1F


closest station is Kyodo on the Odakyu line from Shinjuku (in both English and Japanese)

Ivan Orkin

Ivan Orkin

Ivan in front of his first shop, Ivan Ramen, holding a bowl of instant Ivan Ramen.

1.     Tell us about your second shop, Ivan Ramen Plus, and why you opened it?

My second shop is bigger, brighter and in a more accessible location.  The shop is a continuation of what I started with the first shop.  This time I started with an all fish soup as well as a dish with tons of cheese and thick noodles (which has been a runaway hit.)  I’ve since added a more traditional meat soup in a soy and salt flavor, with toasted wheat noodles.  I even do a riff on a Italian meatball on rice with a dashi inflected tomato sauce!  I decided to open the shop because I thought it was time to expand.  More people have a chance to try my food and I have another opportunity to challenge myself and cook more.  It’s been tremendous fun.

2.     Is there a difference between the two shops?

The first shop is a little bit more traditional in a variety of ways.  The ramen is a little more classic in structure, the shop is a typical ten seat tiny Tokyo ramen shop and it’s located in a kind of funky off beat location.  The new shop is larger (well, 16 seats, larger by Tokyo standards) much more modern and offers food that pushes the envelope a little bit more.

3.     Any good ramen that you have eaten recently?

I had a great bowl of ramen the other day at a shop in Kanda called Kikanbo which means literally the club that an oni or devil carries.  It’s spicy miso with both chili pepper and Szechuan pepper corns both of which you can vary the level of heat.  They have a ramen shop and 100 yards away a tsukemen shop as well.  I also love 69-n- roll and one (69 is pronounce roku, like rock n- roll) a ramen shop in Machida pretty near the train station.  It’s a legendary shop specializing in light ramen with chickens solely from Akita Ken (a prefecture in northern Japan).  There’s no talking, reading or laughing allowed, so be prepared to concentrate on the ramen, but it’s worth it!

4.     Any restaurant recommendations other than ramen that you’ve had recently?

I always love Tateru Yoshino in Ginza a French restaurant run by a Japanese Chef with a restaurant in Paris.  Its always very good and lunch is steal at 4800 yen.  The space has soaring ceilings, four star food and service and a relaxing vibe.  I also love Florilege, a newish French place in Aoyama.  This is also a steal at 4200 yen for lunch and around 10,000 yen for dinner.  The chef uses molecular techniques as well as more traditional ones, and is known for fabulous offal dishes.  They only do one sitting for lunch and dinner and then concentrate on the diner, so try to get a reservation at least a week or two in advance.  Definitely worth the trip!

5.     Can you explain the volunteer work that you and other ramen chefs are doing for Tohoku.

I have been participating in various volunteer efforts to help and heal the people of Tohoku.  I have visited a refugee center and cooked ramen for people displaced from the Fukushima region and more recently did a benefit dinner along with 40 renowned chefs from all over Japan.  More than 300 attended paying 200-500 dollars each to sample the amazing creations offered by the amazing chefs participating.  We all concentrated on building our dishes around the ingredients from Tohoku.  I am also building a website that will sell “virtual” bowls of ramen, and the money from each bowl will go to serving an actual bowl of ramen to people all over the Tohoku region. There are people suffering terribly, from the obvious, people that lost their homes and family and are living in shelters, to the  less obvious, the elderly that are living in their houses but still have no heat or running water.  There is still so much to do and we’ve only just scratched the surface.  I will forward the information on the site once it is ready.  All of the collected money will go directly to feeding those in need.  It’s going to be exceptional!

6.     Has your business been affected since March 11th, rolling blackouts, etc.?

The first month was uncomfortable and scary, lots of aftershocks, fears of no electricity, everything was uncertain.  Things have since stabilized and business is essentially back, with the occasional inexplicable slow day.

7.     Your noodles are made from scratch. Any interesting noodles lately?

My new shio (salt) and shoyu (soy) ramen both use my toasted wheat noodle.  It’s a relatively thin noodle with a great toasted wheat aroma.  At both shops combined I am currently serving seven different types of noodles.  I’ve really become something of a noodle geek and never tire of experimenting.

8.     I have always been a fan of your gentei ramen. What is on the menu at the moment? What can we look for in the future?

I have several new dishes in the works.  One is a spicy miso cheese mazemen (a type of ramen with little soup and lots of stuff that you mix up furiously and slurp up) a cold chili sesame hiyashi chukka (cold Chinese style noodles) and a cold roasted tomato ramen.  I am working on new noodles for each dish.

9.     Do you want to mention your book?

Yes.  I’ve written a wonderful book all about ramen and what has made it the undeniable champion food of Japan.  Mixed in is how I took on the challenge of opening a ramen shop in Japan and all the experiences along the way.  Unfortunately I lost the publisher, which went out of business earlier this year.  I am currently searching for a new publisher and If anyone has any ideas….  In the meantime my book is excerpted in David Chang’s new magazine “Lucky Peach” which hits newsstands next week.  Have a look if you can!

10. Anything else you’d like to mention?

I plan on continuing my goal of offering the most delicious ramen I can make and offering it with a giant smile.  I hope everyone can make a trip to Ivan Ramen or Ivan Ramen Plus if they come to Tokyo.