Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu

Phaidon is well known for their hefty country-specific cookery tomes which aim to showcase the breadth of recipes cooked in each country, a snapshot in time of the cuisine. Phaidon’s The Cookbook series includes America, China, France, Greece, Italy, India, Lebanon, Mexico, the Nordic region, Peru, Spain and Thailand, plus the most recent one on Japan. No doubt there are more in the pipeline.

For the Japan edition, Phaidon turned to Nancy Singleton Hachisu, a writer I originally followed via the blog she used to chronicle her experiences cooking in a rural Japanese kitchen in Saitama, where she lived after marrying her Japanese farmer husband. Her first books, Japanese Farm Food and Preserving the Japanese Way drew from those experiences.

Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu

In her latest book, Japan: The Cookbook, Hachisu shares over 400 recipes for traditional, authentic Japanese cooking – the kind made in homes across the country. Many recent titles about Japanese cuisine have focused on a particular dish or type of food, such as ramen, ‘soul food‘ or sushi. Japan: The Cookbook is far broader, covering dishes that are the staple of domestic cooking, but also found in family-run cafes, restaurants and izakayas across Japan.

It took Hachisu three years to pull the book together, an intensive effort to gather, test, and document recipes contributed by all manner of cooks. Indeed in her Introduction, she says she ‘feels less the author and more the conduit’ for sharing a moment in time of Japanese cooking. As well as  researching through classic Japanese cookery books from the preceding decades, Hachisu approached chefs from each region of Japan, and sought out local grandmothers to learn the traditional, long-cherished recipes of the home cook. In the end, she concentrated on contributions from two such ladies, Harumi Kawaguchi and Taeko Watanabe, and it’s probably fair to say that these women might almost be considered secondary authors, so essential was their contribution, though of course, it was Hachisu who took their demonstrated dishes and turned them into accurate, written recipes.

Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu Stir-Fried Japanese Leeks with Miso from Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu

Recipes are divided into fifteen chapters by type of dish – zensai (before the meal), aemono (dressed), namamono (raw), sunomono (vinegared), nimono (simmered), shirumono (soups), mushimono (steamed), itamemono (stir-fries), agemono (fried), yakimono (grilled), menrui (noodles), gohan (rice), tsukemono (pickles), nabemono (one-pots) and kanmi (sweets). There’s also a final chapter called shefu which shares recipes provided by specific chefs.

Also in her Introduction, Hachisu also talks about the main flavouring ingredients of Japanese cuisine, remembered via a handy mnemonic sa-shi-su-se-so that refers to sato (sugar or mirin), shio (salt), su (vinegar), se (the old form of the word shoyu for soy sauce), and so (miso). As well as these five, another core flavour ingredient is sesame, used in seed, oil and paste form.

After the Introduction is a History of Japanese food, giving fascinating background and context to the recipes that follow.

As I’ve found in many of the books in the series, there are recipes that can seem quite similar at first glance – for example, ‘greens and crysanthemum petals with sesame‘, ‘crispy green beans in sesame‘, ‘sesame-dressed greens and carrots‘, ‘green beans with smashed tofu and sesame‘ – but they are distinct recipes and showcase the versatility of a few core ingredients used in different ways.

I really appreciate that Hachisu has written the recipes to be true to their origins, even where that means including ingredients that are difficult to come by in other parts of the world. That said, I wish there were recommendations for acceptable substitutes for some of the hard-to-find items, either within individual recipes or in the ingredients glossary at the back.

Not all recipes have photographs, which makes sense in a book of so many recipes, but those that do are simply styled, just as they’d be served for a home-cooked meal.

What I particularly love is the way of eating that this book personifies – the use of plenty of vegetables, with fish and meat used to accent, rather than in the much higher volumes per meal we tend to use in European cuisines.

So far, we’ve enjoyed making a handful of recipes from the book, and look forward to making many more.

Recipes from Japan: The Cookbook

We have permission from the publisher to share these recipes with you from the book:

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Kavey Eats received a review copy of Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu from publisher Phaidon. Food photography by Jennifer May, additional image by Kenta Izumi.

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9 Comments to "Japan: The Cookbook by Nancy Singleton Hachisu"

  1. Emma

    Wow, this recipe book sounds like the perfect place to begin learning about Japanese food. We are really considering going to Japan for our honeymoon and what a better way to see what the country has to offer than cooking our way through this book! I look forward to seeing the recipes you recreate

  2. Becca

    I must say I’m very inexperienced with Japanese food – I’ve very rarely tried it. So this book sounds like it would be a good introduction!

  3. Louise

    What a beautiful cover… And the inside sounds pretty amazing too! I was recently at Hyper Japan in Olympia – unfortunately the food wasn’t very inspiring. This on the other hand sounds true to its origin and very very tasty

    X Louise

  4. Priya

    Wow, the book sounds incredible!
    Thank you for posting this. I never knew about these cookbooks published by Phaidon – I’d love to check out the one about India. I wonder if I’d be able to get hold of it in India, though.


    Amazon India have the book listed but currently vendors are via marketplace not Amazon direct. But they are selling new copies there. If not I’d tweet the publisher and ask about stockists in India.

  5. Caro

    Wow, what a great review of what sounds like an amazing book. I know very little about Japanese cuisine and it sounds like this book would be all I’d need to educate myself! Hachisu sounds such an interesting lady and her dedication in creating such a book is wonderful.


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