An Introduction to Japanese Cooking and Cuisine with Amy Kimoto-Kahn
Preserving Japanese Tradition Through Food
From 1957-1962, my mother attended the University of Southern California to be a dental hygienist. During that time, 17 years after WWII when sadly post-war racism was still very prevalent, she was excluded from joining a campus sorority because of her ethnicity. She was however allowed to join a dental sorority. After college, she, some of her sorority sisters, and other Japanese-American friends formed a group called "The Dames"— they were the Martha Stewarts of their time.
They would host fabulous dinners, bring together plates of delicious Japanese and American food, and eventually wrote a collaborative cookbook that is now sold at the Japanese-American museum in Los Angeles. The Dames' children carried on their traditions of hosting, cooking, and decorating — which is where it all started for me. I used to make mud-pies decorated with flowers in the backyard and pretend I had my own cooking show from the age of 5. I'd angle my dishes up for the fake mirror above me to show to my audience (this is how cooking shows were done then), and I would pretend that Ponch from the show "Chips" was my sous chef because I had a huge crush on him.
My mother taught me how you "eat with your eyes" first and that beauty is symmetry. In our culture, food presentation is just as important as food quality. I learned to make dishes that were not only delectable, but equally colorful and pleasing to the eye. The finishing touch was always going out into nature and garnishing the plate with a sprig of Heavenly Bamboo or delicately placing gardenias from our garden. Balancing color, texture and taste made all the difference. I believe that the food I prepare now embodies the richness of my heritage, pays homage to my mom and her generation's struggle with adversity, and honors my ancestry. I hope this inspires you to learn more about Japanese culture through our cuisine.
I am Yonsei, a fourth-generation Japanese-American. It would be easy to think my Japanese roots are diluted — I do not speak Japanese fluently and I am much louder and more opinionated than the stereotype of a Japanese woman. But for me, "the Japanese Way" is something that transcends time and distance from the homeland.
Start Your Japanese Journey
From heart-warming Ishikari Nabe (salmon hot pot) and the freshest seafood on Japan's northernmost island, Hokkaido, to it's opposite end, Kyushu island in the Fukuoka Prefecture, where the holy grail of ramen — Tonkotsu (pork bone soup) or Hakata Ramen — originated, Japan's cuisine is beautifully varied by it's landscape, climate, and seasons.
Travel north to Hiroshima and Osaka and try the most mouthwatering and savory okonomiyaki (a pancake made with thinly sliced cabbage, flour, and eggs mixed with seafood or meat) drizzled with a special sauce, Japanese mayo, and delicate dancing katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) and aonori (dried seaweed).
West of Osaka is Honshu Island, where a prefecture called Hyogo in the Kansai Region's capital, Kobe, produces Wagyu A5 Kobe Beef — it's unbelievably tender, well marbled, melts-in-your mouth, and should not to be confused with American Wagyu. And not far from Tokyo in the varied climate of the Shizuoka Prefecture, surrounded by mountains, land, and sea, you can sip on Isojiman sake, one of the most highly coveted sakes in the world, brewed in a factory established almost 200 years ago.
Western culture is familiar with traditional Japanese dishes like sushi, ramen, tempura, teriyaki, sukiyaki, and hibachi, but the diversity of food originating from many of these smaller prefectures is what makes Japanese food so colorful and interesting. If you are given the opportunity, seek out this variety in Japanese cuisine to learn more about its origins and the vast geography of Japan that allows it to offer so much more.
Check out our complete collection of Japanese Recipes.
Amy Kimoto-Kahn is a wife and mom of three who lives in Boulder, Colorado. She is a student of her families' long history of cooking and continues to share her favorite recipes on her blog, easy peasy japanesey. She also works part-time as a personal chef, and when she isn't cooking, she runs her own marketing firm, Fat Duck Consulting, that she founded in 2008. You can find her sharing new food experiences and foodie travels on her instagram, @e.p.j She is the best-selling cookbook author of Simply Ramen (Race Point, 2016) and Simply Hot Pots (Race Point, 2019).