Reviewed by Angela Marie
Is it Christmas? It must be because The Japanese Larder by Luiz Hara is a gift. Long-awaited by this lover of (eating) Japanese food. Is there another cuisine that balances so exquisitely appearance and taste? You are delighted by your dish before tasting and take a (scant) moment to appreciate the presentation before savouring it. What if you could reproduce that at home?
Have I purchased Japanese ingredients and do they dwell in my pantry? Yes. Tamari, rice vinegar, ponzu, soy sauce, wasabi paste, nori sheets, short-grain rice, adzuki beans, udon and soba noodles. Have I used them to their potential? Definitely not. Probably the best used is my miso paste which makes a delicious and comforting cuppa. Online recipes can be lacking in process and information, as can recipe books. There may be an assumption of prior knowledge and greater intimacy.
I hope you can tell how excited I am about The Japanese Larder. Luiz Hara has produced, in my opinion, a cornerstone book. It could be a coffee table book, so well styled are the photographs. Food is carefully placed in situ on an array of diverse crockery, implements at hand, balancing modern, traditional and rustic elements and dishes. The art of the photographer. But The Japanese Larder is so much more. Of course, flick through and admire the full-page plates. Look twice to see if the elegant dish is a main or a dessert. Now to business.
To quote Luiz Hara:
“The Japanese Larder aims to demystify core Japanese ingredients and encourage cooks to experiment with them in their everyday cooking just as we did with so many other delicious and unfamiliar foods over recent decades.”
This book assumes nothing and treats us gently, explaining what each chapter will hold and the importance of each section. And within each chapter, not only will you learn about specific ingredients, you will learn something of Japanese history, culture and innovation. This book is highly inclusive and reveals the respect of the writer in catering for a diversity of eating preferences. Take for example, Chapter 1, Japanese Key Seasonings. In this chapter we learn of umami, the elusive fifth flavour and the role of dashi in imparting this. Dashi is Japanese stock. We are shown how to make fish-based dashi, meat-based dashi and, to my delight, vegetable-based dashi, each having multiple variants.
To summarise the chapters would spoil the magic and the surprise as you turn the pages, however I will say that also within the seven chapters you will learn about dried, fermented and preserved ingredients, spices, condiments and garnishes, and rice, noodles and tofu. You will be introduced to Japanese fruits and vegetables, teas and beverages, and sauces, marinades and garnishes. And you will discover, as I have, a new use for many familiar and readily-available foods. As the cover reminds us, The Japanese Larder is about “Bringing Japanese ingredients Into Your Everyday Cooking”.
I cannot call The Japanese Larder a recipe book. It is a recipe book, a manual and an information source, exactingly presenting the art and mechanics of Japanese cooking. A valuable addition is the use of photographs to identify key products. Yes, it has amazing recipes, and there are many of them. I cannot wait to make (and I’m feeling confident about this) daikon fries with garlic and soy sauce, Japanese three mushroom rice and hojicha ice cream with sweet white miso caramel sauce. Others will crave the slow-braised pork belly or the wasabi prawns, the crispy duck and glass noodle salad or the sirloin steak in miso, tobanjan chilli and garlic sauce.
I am appreciative of the encouragement to make staples such as tofu, soy milk and ramen noodles from scratch, knowing the difference truly fresh ingredients can make. What I was not aware of was the bonus; for example, making soy milk will create two additional ingredients, yuba to eat with a touch of ponzu sauce and okara to be used in many ways, perhaps for biscuits or bread. The soy milk will require only soybeans and water instead of the six to ten additives used when produced commercially. You have quality control.
It is no surprise that it has taken Luiz Hara two years to complete this project and he generously acknowledges the skill and dedication of the photographers, Simon Smith and Ricardo Hara and Ana Paula Hara. This is a thoughtful collection. The recipes are broken down into numerical steps that are easy to follow. Ingredient lists could be quickly photographed and supermarket ready. The two-page index allows for a quick scan yet is incredibly detailed. And Luiz has compiled a list of online Japanese grocery suppliers, including Australian-based companies. All this and the side stories. Oh wait! I’ve just seen Japanese kabocha pumpkin squares in sugar, cloves and cinnamon syrup!
Luiz Hara has the credentials that ensure respect in the food marketplace. He is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef who is an authority on Japanese food including the emerging Nikkei cuisine. Based in London, Luiz is also a travel writer, food blogger, supper club host and, most importantly for aspiring home cooks, a cookery teacher. The ability to teach is the all-important missing link. This has contributed significantly to the message and the methodology within The Japanese Larder. We are invited to connect with Luiz via social media on @TheLondonFoodie and explore more on luizhara.com.
The Japanese Larder (2018)
By Luiz Hara
ISBN 978 1 911127 62 8