Comments: We love any cookbook that includes a map. For us, most really good cookbooks are characterized as much by a sense of place and personality as by their recipes. A Cook's Journey to Japan has all three.
Sarah Marx Feldner obviously set out with the intention of making Japanese cooking accessible to Westerners, and to a great extent has succeeded. After college, she moved to Japan, and subsequently spent time traveling to various parts of the country, collecting recipes from everyday Japanese people, and their stories.
For all its simplicity or purity, Japanese cooking is not the easiest for Westerners. There are unfamiliar ingredients, a number of steps, and often one of more related recipes required to garnish or produce one dish – in that regard, it reminds us a bit of French cooking. But there's no point in contemplating Japanese cooking unless you're willing to make a commitment, and unless you have some access to a Japanese or Asian market or are a fearless online shopper.
The book features essential sections on ingredients, tools and utensils, and cooking techniques, before launching into the recipes, which are divided into chapters: basic recipes, snacks and salads, soups, rice and noodles, poultry and meat, seafood, vegetables and tofu, and desserts and drinks. Clearly, the recipes are meant to be authentic, varied, and as simple as possible. Although including dishes prepared for Feldner by innkeepers and professional chefs, these are primarily meant to represent the way the Japanese cook and eat at home.
There are also a dozen suggested menus for combining dishes, for a picnic, light lunch, appetizer party, vegan feast, sushi party, potluck dinner, etc. The author often offers recommended substitutions for ingredients that may be too difficult or troublesome to track down. We think it's a lovely introduction to Japanese cooking.