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This is a slim little cookbook translated from the Japanese by Vertical, Inc., who are best known usually for being a manga publisher. I think Vertical are putting out several more of Kobayashi's cookbooks, and I have to say it's really nice to see a Japanese cookbook that is neither incredibly simplified nor incredibly esoteric. Many of the other ones I've run into either assume that you cannot, in the U.S., possibly get any real Japanese ingredients and so give you all sorts of ridiculous substitutions, or they assume that you already know things like the basic rules of presentation for a dish. This is a nice happy medium-- does have a glossary, does list substitutions, but will ask for sashimi-grade tuna or shiso or chrysanthemum greens without assuming total ignorance on the reader's part.

Donburi are rice bowls, things over rice. The author makes the point repeatedly that things over rice are different from things next to rice, because the rice catches the juices and is more likely to be eaten with the topping instead of separately afterwards. Donburi are frequently a one-dish meal. They're also meant to be quick; I don't think anything in this entire book would take more than half an hour to make.

There's a good variety of things to put over your rice here, from the various forms of cutlet to the various forms of sashimi (marinated and otherwise), sukiyaki, different kinds of curry, and the many different things you can do with egg (including that egg-coated cutlet one so often gets as katsu-don in restaurants). There are even a couple of things like a Japanese take on ratatouille and a stroganoff. And there are some side dishes, mostly soups, salads and very quick pickles (of the throw-vegetables-in-spiced-liquid-wait-twenty-minutes school). It was also quite helpful in getting me to think about donburi and the flexibility of things you can put over rice-- we had a noodles-in-sauce donburi for dinner tonight that was not remotely based on any of the recipes in this book but that would not have happened if I had not been reading it.

However, while I would recommend this cheerfully to people who haven't done much with Japanese food, I would not recommend it to people who haven't done much with cooking. The recipes do not specify a lot of the things that people who have been cooking for a while will take for granted but that might trip up novice cooks. It is assumed, for instance, that you know how to cook rice; every single dish is served over or with it, but you won't find any directions for it here. It is assumed that you know how to blanch spinach, how to soft-boil an egg, the difference between julienne and fine dice, that you can deal with getting a scallop ready for cooking either unassisted or by looking it up somewhere else. If this is not the case, this is not a good starter cookbook because honestly several of its recipes are basically in shorthand, not quite on the level of 'make a breaded pork cutlet in the standard manner and season as follows' but really pretty close to that. When an ingredient is really esoteric there will be more details on it, but most of them aren't. This shorthand quality is the reason the book can be so slim, but I am hoping it doesn't trip me up any when I try to work with it, especially in some of the egg dishes, where the author may know what he's talking about but I will have to use trial and error.

And he's a little too eager to tell me that every single one of his dishes is ridiculously delicious, he's kind of terrifyingly perky. And this is not a good book for vegetarians unless you are good at substituting because he is one of those people who puts shrimp in everything. Everything. Like, even curried eggplant.

Still, good intermediate Japanese cookbooks are so rare that I can already tell I'm going to treasure this one, and use it, and try to get hold of his books on other kinds of food. And I think it will teach me to handle a couple of ingredients I haven't worked with previously, such as burdock. So I'm really very happy with it.


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March 2017

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