A culinary step into Asia

I have always loved Japanese food ever since a friend introduced me to its delights more than a decade ago.
Once the new immigrant Asian population exploded here in the 1990s, both permanent residents and the student population, a large number of specialty food stores popped up in and around the city.  It became much easier to try your hand at rolling sushi rolls, of all types and tastes.  It didn’t take much to learn how to prepare the koshikari, add your favourite filling and roll up the nori.

Then a few years ago two things happened, a new Japanese eatery opened a five minute drive from home and a Japanese lunch bar opened up two minutes down the road from work.
Previous to that we would have to travel in to the centre of the city to find somewhere to eat an evening meal and to the nearest shopping centre to find a takeaway sushi lunchbar.

Our local Sake Bar became a regular haunt and first choice for a meal out, and introduced us to a whole new range of Japanese meals.  While the lunchbar brought the world of donburi to our lunchtimes, the sake bar expanded our range of favourites. No longer did we simply enjoy tempura, hoso-maki, futo-maki, hadaka-maki, nigiri-zushi and the occasional inari-zushi (one of my personal favourites).    We arrived in the world of the gyoza, takoyaki and okonomiyaki.  Not so good for the waistline as their sushi and sashimi cousins, but very yummy in moderation.

Due to the inability to just drop things and run off for an evening of yummy Japanese, at least until Master Oh is big enough to stay awake and enjoy the experience, I have been looking for a cookbook that might help me make something reminiscent of our favourite food.

This week I finally cracked it.  At our local library I picked up a wonderful book called Japanese Cooking at Home by Hideo Dekura.  So far we have made some very simple, plain meals – yaki-meshi and omu-raisu (otherwise known as fried rice and rice in omelette).  And the other day made our own gyoza.
Yesterday I learned just how easy it is to make banno-dashi, or as Hideo calls it “super dashi” which is a mix of kombu dashi and shiitake dashi.   Six dried shiitake mushrooms and a strip of kombu later and I have enough stock to last a couple of weeks.  I was slightly surprised by just how easy it is and just how authentic it tastes. No more dashi in a packet (with MSG as first ingredient) when for half an hour of effort you get a great tasting stock and no additives.

Last night’s dinner was okonomiyaki and yaki-soba.  Both got my thumbs up.  Mr O preferred the okonomiyaki, and wasn’t so keen on the yaki-soba.  In fairness I didn’t get soba noodles so we used somen, and that probably made a difference to the end result.
Today it will be agedashi tofu and something as yet undecided, but probably involving rice.  😉

I highly recommend the book Japanese Cooking at Home by Hideo Dekura, if you like Japanese food and would like to try making some simple dishes at home.  It isn’t haute cuisine, but it is a good base to begin from, and you can adapt many of the recipes to your taste and seasonal availability of vegetables.

Happy eating everyone.

For locals looking for good sources of Asian ingredients, if you live vaguely in central to south central Auckland, you can’t go past Tai Ping on Dominion Road (behind the Caltex station) and Hong Lee at Three Kings.  Tai Ping has some of the best priced veges I have come across and Hong Lee some of the best priced meat.  I don’t buy veges or meat in the supermarket anymore – they are usually not within cooey on price.  To give you an idea, it has been a long time since I purchased apples for more than $1.99 a kilo – often for $0.99, and chicken breast for more than $12 a kilo.  And both have a good range of most Asian cuisine extras – rice, spices, preserved veges and meats – from Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Thai traditions.

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2 thoughts on “A culinary step into Asia

  1. Gosh, that jogs a few memories. You introduced me to Japanese food in Auckland a long time ago. Some time later on one of our visits home you and Mr OWW took Simone and myself for a raw fish meal 😉

    I hadn’t had it for simply ages, then we tried Japanese again at a Sushi bar in Perth when passing through a few years ago. No more until last year in Florida, where it was drizzled American style with high-calorie sauce! Think I’m good for another few year now 😉

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  2. I recall that meal – teppanyaki in Parnell.
    That restaurant has gone now, and finding teppan as entertainment is a bit harder too. At the local place mentioned in the post you can sit at the bar and watch your hot food being made.
    The okonomiyaki and takoyaki are also drizzled with high cal, sweet sauces. As I say, they are the figure unfriendly version of Japanese food, but nice to indulge in every so often. And I have to admit that I am a complete sucker for Japanese mayo. You’ll have probably seen the bottle in Asian stores – it’s soft plastic and has the image of the kewpie doll on it. Very yummy.

    Do I take it that good Japanese food is thin on the ground around your way? Or just that it doesn’t hit the right culinary buttons for you?

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