Home Cooking

I have a Japanese cookbook, well actually several, and I’m studying Japanese home cooking. But I don’t have a way to gauge how “authentic” the food I cook is. There are restaurants, but most of the Japanese restaurants in my area are run by people from Korea—first or second generation who know Korean food very well. Japanese food is similar, but not quite the same, so I wonder how authentic these restaurants are.

Anyway, restaurant food is never the same as home-cooking. I’m thinking of restaurants which serve “American food” that doesn’t much resemble my cooking. But what is American home cooking? People immigrated to the United States from all over the world. They adapted their recipes from home as best they could, often quite different from the originals. Does that mean their food is “inauthentic?”

I have a cookbook published by a Buddhist temple in Honolulu in 1973. The recipes were contributed by home cooks and illustrate a definite straying from their Japanese origins. I see a liberal use of “ajinomoto gourmet powder” (monosodium glutamate), dashinomoto (dashi powder), salads using iceberg lettuce (titled as Chinese salads), some use of Jello (which I remember was popular all over the U.S. at the time), lots of tsukemono which resemble many of the recipes I use except for the msg, quite a few “American” recipes (Chicken Creole, Hamburger Corn Vegetables-this one is just odd, Chicken Divan, several casseroles using cream-of-crap soup, chop suey (!!), lots of spareribs, “Quickie” was popular in recipe names, cookies cakes and other desserts. Yet many of the recipes in that book look like some of the recipes I’ve made from my book—the recipes in the temple book are simpler but skip over some of the finer points (like parboiling vegetables so they retain color). Are those recipes “inauthentic?”

Several of my Japanese commenters have mentioned that they have no time to cook and rely on prepared ready-to-eat foods: frozen, or take out. Many Americans feel a lack of time as well. And if they cook, then they take shortcuts.

And what about Hawaiian Spam Musubi? It’s authentic Hawaiian!

I’ve thought about whether it’s really possible to learn about another culture, another place, especially when something as basic as food, especially home-cooking, is difficult to pin down. A recipe guides the cook in preparing something very personal, and with home-cooking, the personal most likely involves love, and specific circumstances: how to substitute for ingredients that are unavailable, or do these ingredients please my child/husband/guest, and ???? Hmm…a recipe, like poetry, is more than a list of words.

Oy, you should hear the arguments in the UP about how a genuine pasty is made! Yoopers live in the U.S. and it’s where I grew up, but it is a different country there…
rutabagas or not? carrots? meat to onion ratio? yeast crust or pie crust (lard, margerine, Crisco, butter)? can you make pasties with chicken? or even (G-D forbid) vegetarian? Which one is the authentic pasty?
Oh, and how do you pronounce that: pasty = “past eee” or maybe “pass tea”
never “paste eee”

Yes, I need an editor!

So the reason I’m thinking about this (rather than contemplating what people do on Yom Kippur) is that a reader-friend alerted me that the [Greek] meatball soup I made on Rosh Hashanah was not the way it is in Greece. Yikes! following the recipe (even one that looked to be well researched), well. It leaves much latitude for the cook. To get it wrong.

Do not be afraid to make my recipe: it really tastes good, we enjoyed it. I’m sure my Japanese-cooking gets things mixed up… but the food is good and I’m learning new things all the time. All is well.

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Kishke: flour and onion sausage Break-Fast: Pasta in a Sour Bath

5 thoughts on “Home Cooking

  1. Hi Tess, I love this post! I also have many beloved cookbooks from the 60’s and 70’s that have defined my initiation as an American into Japanese cuisine when I was young. They were a sort of rite of passage. Looking back you might call them naive, but even having traveled to and lived in Japan, and with all of the truly authentic ingredients that are available to us now, I still remember and love our first Sukiyaki dinner.

    • The book in this post was given to me by a friend who lived in Hawaii back in the ’70s—she had a friend who belonged to the temple that published the book. When my friend heard that I was studying Japanese cooking (she thought I was crazy because she doesn’t like Japanese food at all), she dug this book out of storage.
      The recipes are recognizable, but include a lot of shortcuts and substitutions.

      My first Japanese cookbook is from 1986, by Karen Green: Japanese Cooking for the American Table. I don’t know anything about her, but the recipes still look very detailed and use authentic ingredients. There were only two stores selling foreign foods: one European, the other Asian. Needless to say, I didn’t actually cook very many recipes from that book. Couldn’t even find ingredients to make dashi!

      Here is a link to my Japanese cookbooks:

  2. Hi Tess,

    Maybe you’d like to check out my wife’s blog at http://japanesekitchen.wordpress.com/about/

    We’re trying to do a bit of experiment along very much the lines you describe here: would it be possible to equip somebody to cook a basic repertoire of Japanese home cooked dishes even if that person has never been to Japan? Well, we’re going to try to find out.

    Your blog is lovely. Keep at it.

    • Hey there and welcome caracaschronicles!

      Thank you for looking at my writing. The blog you and your wife (Kanako ) are writing is very charming, and looks to be very interesting.

      I have discovered that many Japanese home recipes are very delicious and do-able even for someone like me who has never been to Japan.

      And lots of the cooking techniques and ingredients are useful for cooking in general.

      I’ll be looking at your blog, for sure!

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