13:50 - 23rd April 2013, by NEO Staff

World Food Japan

It's said that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Here at NEO, we have another saying - the way to understanding a nation is through its nosh. Hence the reason we're always snooping through recipe books.

Consider World Food Japan to be the gourmand's ultimate guide to Japan - it's full of interesting cultural titbits that centre around the preparation, symbolism and consumption of food and drink. For example, there's a description of an interesting summertime practice, nagashi-somen, that takes place north of Kyoto. Customers sit over a flowing mountain stream, whilst someone floats somen noodles in the water. Then, the guests have to pluck the noodles from the water with their chopsticks and enjoy - can you imagine that on the Thames?

One thing this book doesn't stint on is detail, and some might find the second chapter on staples a little dull, as it describes varieties of fish, vegetables and other ingredients in Japanese cooking in depth. Definitely worth knowing and keeping on you if you're off to Japan next week (and handily, it's pocket sized) but for the rest of us, it's best to skip to later delights - although a read up on rice, beans and miso is worth your time.

The section on drinks talks us through the tea ceremony and discusses alcoholic brews like sake and beer, as well as coffee and soft drinks. The chapter 'Home cooking traditions' contains a great write up of a typical Japanese meal, laid on by Sawai Tomoko for foreigner Steve Jenkins. The chapter on 'Foreign infusion' talks about ramen dishes and the surprising origin of curry rice. 'Celebrating' is definitely worth a look, as this is where the cultural calendar of the Japanese is explored through their special dishes.

For those who are buying this as a guide for a specific trip, the chapter on 'Regional Varieties' is the place to start, so you can check out what you have to look forward to. The section is handily divided into regions, with a list of specialities to check out and sometimes a map of a key city with labels so you don't miss a great culinary area. The 'Shopping and Markets' section will also be of interest to the traveller, with a description of what to expect in most food shops (including supermarkets and bakeries.). The 'Where to Eat' section is similarly useful, as it contains a list of the different kinds of eateries you will encounter, from fast food places to unagi-ya - eel selling street side stalls, as well as a list of ten tips to find the perfect noodle place.

The chapters are rounded up by a huge language guide, with pronunciation, phrases, a glossary and a dictionary all included.


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