Tokyo Cult Recipes | Book Review

It’s probably no secret to friends and readers that I have a strong interest in Japan; most especially when it comes to the food. Some might even (and do) call it an obsession.

In fact, Pete and I are heading back there in a few weeks for trip number three, and I’m really, really, really excited!

So when new cookery books on the cuisine are released, I’m always keen to take a look. This one has been out a few months and already has some excellent reviews.

Tokyo Cult Recipes cover

The title of Tokyo Cult Recipes threw me at first – to me it implied that the content would focus only on dishes that had achieved some kind of cult status; the coolest kids on the block, so to speak. In fact, author Maori Murota (who now lives in France) covers a wide range of everyday dishes covering both home-cooking and the kind of food more commonly eaten out, basing her recipes on memories of growing up in Tokyo and also her mother’s cooking.

Although there is certainly a lot of regionally specific cooking in Japan, the majority of these recipes will be familiar to anyone who has travelled in Japan, both to Tokyo and beyond.

The ‘Cult Recipes’ title identifies the book as part of a series; it’s third in the list after New York Cult Recipes and Venice Cult Recipes, also published by Murdoch Books.

Recipes are divided into six chapters, based on the type of meal a dish is most commonly associated with.

A traditional Japanese breakfast usually includes rice, miso soup, tsukemono (pickles), fish and eggs. The Asa Teishoku (breakfast) chapter starts with lessons on some of the cornerstones of the Japanese diet – rice, dashi (stock), miso – before sharing recipes for simple tsukemono, tamago yaki (the densely rolled omelette that is also often served at the end of a sushi meal), salted fish, fresh tofu with two different sauces, and for the brave amongst us, the preparation of natto – magnificently pungent fermented soy beans.

Lunch at home is usually dishes that are ‘simple to make and quick to eat’. The Ohiru (lunch) chapter includes donburi (different toppings over a bowl of rice) and noodle dishes. Recipes for zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles with a dipping sauce), curry udon (noodles in a curry soup), tempura don (a selection of tempura over on rice) and maguro avocado don (marinated tuna and avocado with rice) are straightforward but adventurous cooks may be drawn to the recipe for making soba noodles from scratch, with step-by-step photographs provided. Some dishes, such as ramen (with broths that can take hours to make) and yakisoba (fried noodles) may more commonly be eaten out, but of course they are made at home too. Modern Tokyo has embraced washoku (western cuisine); spaghetti napolitan the Japanese way is a well-loved example as is tonkatsu (panko-breaded and fried pork cutlets), here shared in popular sando (sandwich) form.

Oyakodon Chicken and Omelette on Rice - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7867 Oyakodon Chicken and Omelette on Rice - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7871
Oyakodon Chicken and Omelette on Rice - Kavey Eats © Kavita Favelle-7875

My favourite recipe in this chapter is oyako don (rice with chicken and omelette). Murota doesn’t mention that the Japanese name translates as parent-and-child – a reference to the use of both chicken and egg. Chicken and leeks are cooked with dashi, soy, mirin and eggs and transferred hot from the pan over bowls of rice. This recipe transported me straight to Japan on the first mouthful and is one we’ll certainly make again and again.

Bento boxes have become well known across the world; the simple box-packed lunch transformed almost into an art form by Japanese creativity and presentation. As Murota explains, a typical bento contains some protein, fresh or pickled vegetables and rice. bento are enjoyed by workers, children and travellers – indeed each major train station offers its own speciality ekiben (station bento) that are perfect to enjoy during the journey. Of course, the recipes in this chapter can be made for bento boxes or a regular meal at the table. Hourenso no goma-ae (spinach with sesame sauce), ebi no kousai-ae (prawns with coriander), tsukune (chicken meatballs, also popular on skewers, as yakitori), saba no tatsuga-age (deep-fried marinated mackerel), pickled cucumber and a variety of side vegetables and salads are followed by a selection of onigiri (rice balls, often with stuffing inside).

Oyatsu (snacks) are predominantly sweet, with both yougashi (Western-inspired cakes) and wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets) very popular. Wagashi shared in this chapter include another personal favourite, mitarashi dango (chewy balls made of rice flour served in a sweet salty soy sauce syrup), sweet potato cakes and dorayaki (pancakes filled with adzuki red bean paste). Yougashi infuse European cakes and desserts with Japanese flavours; matcha and white chocolate cake, purin (crème caramel), coffee roll cake, strawberry short cake and ice creams flavoured with black sesame, matcha or adzuki.

Izakaya are best described as Japanese pubs that serve a range of small dishes alongside drinks. Here, Murota shares some well known items such as edamame (fresh soy beans), agedashi tofu (deep fried cubes of tofu served in a thin sauce), a couple of chazuke dishes (rice with hot tea), kara-age (fried chicken), and some less well known ideas like asari no sakamushi (sake-steamed clams), furofuki daikon (simmered white radish), oden (a Japanese winter stew in which a selection of foods are simmered in a simple stock) and lotus root fritters.

The last chapter in the book is Uchishoku; home cooking. This includes a wide range of different dishes; a range of gyoza (dumplings) with different fillings, nibuta chashu (anise simmered pork) and stir fried pork, omuraisu (an omelette filled with rice and often served with either ketchup or another condiment over the top), roll kyabetsu (Japanese stuffed cabbage). This chapter also includes a wide range of simmered dishes such as sukiyaki (beef and other ingredients simmered in a slightly sweet stock), tonyu nabe (a soy milk hotpot) and the very homely nikujaga (simmered beef and potatoes), which we made recently – although our sauce didn’t reduce as much as expected, the flavours once again transported us to Japan. Sushi and sashimi plates are also included here.

The book is interspersed not only with beautiful photographs of the recipes, but also evocative images of Tokyo – people and places, specialist food producers and shop and restaurant owners. At the end of the first chapter is a photo-essay on Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji Market, home to the largest fish market in the world. The second chapter closes with an introduction to sampuru, the super-expensive plastic food replicas that are displayed by many restaurants – did you know that the term comes from the English word sample? The bento chapter gives us photos of a traditional senbei (rice cracker) shop, with images showing how they are made as well as displayed for sale. Within the snacks chapter you’ll find one photo-essay on confectionary plus another on crèpe stalls, a popular Tokyo street snack. The izakaya chapter showcases a lovely selection of traditional ceramics as well as some charming photographs of Tokyo izakaya; indeed several of the recipe images look to be taken in such establishments. The final recipe chapter takes us to Kappabashi Dori, a street famous for its many kitchenware shops.

This is appropriate, as the last section of the book is the Appendices, where Murota shares advice on utensils and ingredients, plus a final few recipes for sauces, dressings and pickling liquids.

Recipes from Tokyo Cult Recipes

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


If you decide to buy this book after reading our content, please consider clicking through our affiliate link, located within the post and in the footnote at the end.

Kavey Eats received a review copy from Murdoch Books. Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota is currently available on Amazon for £13.60 (RRP £20). Published by Murdoch Books, photography by Akiko Ida and Pierre Javelle. 

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44 Comments to "Tokyo Cult Recipes | Book Review"

  1. Lisa

    Oyako don is a perfect comfort food for me. It just feels so nourishing, and I’ll choose that over most things.

    The cake calls me, because of the white chocolate, but I know that the beef hot pot would actually win out.

  2. kellie@foodtoglow

    I have read this before breakfast and it has been torture! Even if I don’t win this I will most definitely buy it – I want pretty much everything (or everything I can adapt to be vegetarian/pescatarian). My fave Japanese dish is okonomyaki (or however you spell it) – something seemingly simple if done right is a thing of beauty and economical too. My want-to-try recipe from above is maguro avocado don – all of my favourites in one dish. I adore Japanese food and will often be much more adventurous in this cuisine than with any other. I draw the line at live sea urchin though. Just no.


    Kellie, I too draw the line at live food. I’m happy to eat it super fresh, but not still alive.

  3. kaveyeats

    You can always read the review for some ideas if you’d like to enter with a comment about a dish.

  4. kaveyeats

    How wonderful! You will certainly get the very best insight into Okinawa cuisine, it’s famous for being delicious and healthy at the same time, I think.

  5. Suelle

    If I won, I’d give the book to my daughter, who is almost as obsessed with Japan as you are, Kavey – she’s going off on a snow-walking trip in northern Japan at the beginning of March, then spending some time in Tokyo.

    I think the slow-simmered dishes are the ones I’d be most likely to try myself, perhaps the nikujaga.

  6. Janie

    Mmmmm! LOVE Japanese food too Kavey. I lived in Yokohama for a few months in my 20’s and have great memories of the food. As I was reading I was thinking – I have to buy this boook and then got all excited when I saw you were giving on away!
    Sashimi & sushi are by far my favorite Japanese food. Whenever I order Japanese food I am disappointed if I don’t fill up on masses of them!!
    And the recipe I would most like to make would be the gyozu as they run at a close second place for me & I’ve never made them.
    Janie x

  7. Denise Watson

    I’ve never tasted Japanese food before, so this is going to be an exciting new experience for me. I think the first thing I would try would be gyozo and then, who knows where I will go from there?

  8. Heather

    Favourite is definitely oyako don! When I visited Tokyo, we went to a restaurant where there was no English menu or English speakers, I pointed at someone else’s meal, which turned out to be oyako don, and it has been a favourite ever since!

  9. Clayton Chisholm

    Limited exposure to Japanese food sushi/sashimi probably my fave, from the book I’d most likely try the Uchishoku section with roll kyabetsu or nibuta chashu the most likely first meals.

  10. Urvashi

    Donburi. Every time. I used to go to a place called Tenya almost twice a week. So many different types served with miso soup and pickles. It’s funny. I lived there for so long but never managed to learn any cooking. So I would love this book. Sounds like it will bring a little Natsukashi

  11. Anna

    I have been to Japan three times and love the traditional breakfasts! That would definitely be the first thing I would make, but honestly it all sounds so good!

  12. Maxine G

    I love making Okonomiyaki, such tasty little pancakes! I’d love to see the tempura recipes, as I’ve tried to make tempura at home and it never tastes quite right …

  13. Agne

    My favourite has to be okonomiyaki as well, my partner makes very inventive versions of it 🙂

    Our of the recipes mentioned above, I would be most interested to try maguro avocado don.

  14. Caroline H

    I love the simple, vegetarian Japanese dishes best, so a miso broth with mixed mushrooms and tofu or a red pepper sushi. The agedashi tofu sounds right up my street.

  15. Gareth

    I’m a massive fan of pork belly ramen or pork rib ramen and i’d love to try and make my own bento box – ebi no kousai-ae (prawns with coriander), sounds amazing

  16. Jo Carroll

    The tamago yaki – rolled omlette – sounds interesting…I’d love to start off with something simple like that before moving gradually on to the more exotic dishes 🙂

  17. lynn savage

    I’d love to try the recipe for nibuta chashu, sounds interesting I’ve never had anise with pork before. My favourite Japanese food is the beautiful bento boxes, I used to make them for my kids lunch boxes, but now mostly for my own work lunch box.

  18. Jade

    Sushi is probably my favourite. The Matcha & White Chocolate Cake recipes sounds great.

  19. Victoria Prince

    My favourite Japanese food is tempura 🙂 and I’d most like to try the maguro avocado don recipe!

  20. Lisa Wilkinson

    I love Japanese food so much. My favourite are Gyoza Dumplings. I would like to try kara-age recipe.

  21. Ireena

    The matcha cake you’ve blogged about sounds great as I love those flavours, and I can imagine the white choc countering the astringency of the green tea. In terms of Japanese food in general- anything fried is great, so bring on the tempura! Would love to try okonomiyaki one day (ideally while actually in Japan!).


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