There are certain books that are useful (e.g. Chilton’s Total Care Care Manuals), certain books that are entertaining (e.g. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), certain books that are, at times, profound (Studs Terkel, in The Good War, interviewing Hans-Jürgen Massaquoi), and then there is the rare masterpiece that manages to be entertaining, informative, and profound.
One such masterpiece is the cookbook Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art. This is a book I owned, loved, lost and recently purchased again. I love it for its matter of fact descriptions of how the Japanese eat, how they cook, how they prepare food, and in certain very fundamental ways, how they think. The first chapter sets the tone, 20 pages on the Japanese meal, and it just develops from there. No detail is too small to be covered. Shizuo Tsuji, the author, even shows you how to use chopsticks. Further, the book is chock full of small details, such as:
Nigiri-zushi is representative of Tokyo food. The reasons for this might relate to the fact that Tokyo – or Edo as the city was known before 1868 – is situated on a bay that was once rich in seafood of all kinds. No doubt influenced by the bountiful catch of their wide, placid bay, the people of Edo always knew the taste of truly fresh fish and craved it.
There are very few pictures but plenty of diagrams, and I love the functional simplicity of the line drawings in this book. Simply put, this would have to be on my short list of books to be left with on a desert island.
The Book “Quick & Easy Tsukemono: Japanese Pickling Recipes“, was a choice I made in part because I wasn’t 100% sure that the previous book was the one I lost. I wanted to fill out my bookshelf on this subject and this book isn’t a bad addition. Tsukemono is central to the Japanese meal. As Ikuko Hisamatsu says in the preface:
For most of the Japanese nothing can replace enjoying plain, hot rice with tsukemono and dinner is not complete without it as the final course.
There are lots of pictures, visual step by step instructions on how to make various Japanese pickles, and if you’re at all acquainted with the topic, then you know that pickles aren’t just made with vinegar in Japan. I liked the book, whose focus is getting the reader to be able to make pickles.. utilitarian, in other words.
The final choice isn’t so much a cookbook as a history of food in Korea, and was an attempt to find something covering Korean cuisine that was as good as Shizuo Tsuji’s text. Nonetheless, “Korean Cuisine: An Illustrated History” by Michael J. Pettid also does have 23 pages of Korean recipes at the end. I like this book, though at times reading it feels a little overwhelming. I tend to think though, with the explosion of Korean food throughout Gwinnett County and the Buford Highway region of town, it was time to learn something.