Japan's soul food in US

Cookbook author and consultant Elizabeth Andoh is bringing healthy Japanese home-cooking into American kitchens.

by: Reuters: Sophie Hardach | 01 Apr 2008

To cook the perfect Japanese omelet, you need home-made fish stock, a special frying pan, and a folding technique that is best practiced with a dozen eggs and plenty of time.

After cookbook author and consultant Elizabeth Andoh shows how to patiently manipulate wispy-thin layers of egg with a pair of chopsticks, it comes as a surprise to hear her describe Japanese cooking as quick and convenient.

But she is not alone.

Chefs and food writers are bringing healthy Japanese home-cooking into US and European kitchens, focusing on soup, vegetables and grilled fish rather than sushi and sashimi. They also argue that learning a few simple cooking and chopping techniques from the Japanese and applying them to Western food can transform the way people live, think and eat.

"You don't have to be Japanese and you don't have to live in Japan in order to benefit from knowing Japanese food culture," Andoh, an American who first came to Japan in the 1960s, said after a cooking class in her kitchen in suburban Tokyo. "What is specifically Japanese is a notion of balance."

Every Japanese meal is supposed to feature five colors – red, green, yellow, white and black – as well as five different ways of cooking food and five different tastes – salty, sour, sweet, bitter, spicy.

While this sounds as complex as producing the perfect omelet, Andoh says the idea can easily be applied to an ordinary Western lunch, such as soup and tuna sandwich. Sprinkle an aromatic green garnish over the soup, place a slice of tomato on the sandwich, and all of a sudden the meal will come together.

Andoh is also writing another book, exploring the culinary concept of "Kansha", or "appreciation", which she describes as a mindful awareness of nature's bounty and the efforts of those who harvest and prepare food.

Since this requires some forward planning, Andoh argues that Kansha cooking encourages a healthier more thoughtful approach.

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