Meet Amy Kaneko

Amy Kaneko is a Bay Area resident now, but she spent time living in Japan and earlier this year she published her first book, Let's Cook Japanese Food! Her book details some of her favorite recipes for home-style Japanese cooking.

How is Japanese home cooking different from what's served in Japanese restaurants?
Here we get a lot of sushi, teriyaki, and tempura, the three stations of the Japanese food triangle, as per American tastes. But there are so many really fantastic things to eat--using really familiar cooking techniques, just with a little tweak--that are part of contemporary Japanese food and what people eat every day at home and in restaurants, take out, etc. in Japan, that I think Westerners would just love, things like croquettes, gratins, rice bowls, stir frys. They are not all super esoteric ingredients or completely devoid of fat and flavor, either. A meal of Japanese style fried chicken, a rice ball, spinach with sesame dressing, even potato salad is very Japanese and not what Westerners might expect people are eating in Japan.

You mentioned in your book that your husband brings certain ingredients back from Japan. What ingredients do you miss most now that you are living in the US?
1/2 fat mayonnaise! That is #1. In fact, I am panicking a little because my secret Thanksgiving dish (which I bring to any Thanksgiving event to which I am invited) is the kabocha (pumpkin) croquette in the book, and I need the mayo to make it. So I will need to suck it up and pay like $5 to get a small bottle to make the croquette for Thanksgiving this year, since we recently ran out. The other thing is packaged beef curry in vacuum bags. In Japantown you can buy vegetable curry but it is not a good brand. In Japan you can get fantastic prepared beef curry in a boil in bag thing, and it is extremely good. Don't tell the dogs at customs. And sansho, a kind of peppery spice but apparently it is illegal in the U.S. It is essential for eel dishes.
(note: Sansho is available in the US, I recently found it at Super Mira)

Where do you recommend shopping for Japanese ingredients in the Bay Area?
I am lucky that I live on the Peninsula and have two great markets nearby: Suruki in san Mateo on 4th St. and Nijiya (a chain, but good) on El Camino near 92 in San Mateo. There's also one in the city. Super Mira on Sutter in the city is also good. And 99 Ranch (all over) has a lot of the ingredients. Try the Japanese brand organic eggs at Suruki. They are unbelievable, with a golden yolk and great flavor. We eat them raw mixed into natto. Yum.

What is "yoshoku" cuisine?
Yoshoku is literally Western and basically refers to all the Westernized and borrowed dishes in Japanese cuisine, like curry rice, hayashi rice, gratins, doria, and so on. It is SO popular in Japan. Omu raisu (omelettes stuffed with rice), and wafu spaghetti are other examples. Japanese have take western cuisines and adapted them to their own tastes. Croquettes are from Netherlands, tempura is from Portugal, etc. Yoshoku is incredibly popular in Japan, and I have a lot of yoshoku (and chugoku (Chinese) ryori (cuisine) in the book.


What are the main ingredients cooks need to create authentic tasting Japanese food at home?
Soy sauce, mirin (sweet rice wine), sake, sugar, and dashi (bonito fish stock). these are the core Japanese flavorings. And although dashi doesn't taste all that fishy and is fairly easy to find, I substituted chicken broth in a lot of my recipes and the taste was still OK. And rice! Very easy to get short/medium grain rice here. Cooking it, not so easy, unless you have a rice cooker or are patient.

What's your favorite dish in the book?
There are two, toriniku no kara age (fried chicken) and toriniku no amasu an (chicken meatballs with sweet sour sauce) But I am influenced a lot by what I can serve quickly to my two little girls that I am assured they will eat, and these are no-fail. To be honest, I eat every recipe in this book, so it is very personal--it is edited very specifically to my and my family's tastes!

Come back next week for a review of Amy Kaneko's book, Let's Cook Japanese Food!