We all love ramen, sushi and tempura, but most of Japan’s beloved dishes, known for their complex broths, unfamiliar ingredients, clear-cut techniques and intricate presentation, can be daunting to try making at home. With the guidance of the right author, however, they’re not impossible to master, or, at least, they’re worth attempting. These are some of the best cookbooks in English to help you enter the fascinating world of Japanese cuisine.
1. The Real Japanese Izakaya Cookbook: 120 Classic Bar Bites from Japan by Wataru Yokota
A subject for a Netflix series and a happy place for office workers, Japanese pubs (or izakaya) though often associated more with drinks, also serve a wide variety of food. In this coffee table book, you’ll find 120 authentic izakaya recipes ranging from classic appetizers like chilled tofu with toppings or steam-fried edamame, to more elaborate, grilled, simmered or deep-fried specialties, such as Japanese-style beef curry, soy and sake-steamed clams with butter or ramen with spicy ground pork dipping sauce.
2. Ultimate Bento: Healthy, Delicious and Affordable: 85 Mix-and-Match Bento Box Recipes by Marc Matsumoto and Maki Ogawa
A wholesome, well-balanced bento is healthy, helps you cut down on spending and, let’s face it, catches everyone’s looks during a lunch break. This practical, bento-shaped book includes plenty of ideas (85 to be exact) to upgrade your packed meals and make them livelier and healthier. Packed with seasonal specialties like summer roll bento and sakura-inspired spring bento recipes, the range of recipes in it is extensive enough for everyone in the family to look forward to their meal. It also includes a useful guide on packing, planning, utensils, shopping and food safety to ensure your bento checks all the boxes.
We have our very own bento tips and tricks as well.
3. Otaku Food!: Japanese Soul Food Inspired by Anime and Pop Culture by Danielle Baghernejad
If you’ve always fantasized about having a warm bowl of Naruto’s Ichiraku ramen after a long day or trying the sweet potatoes from Attack on Titan, this may be the book for you. Otaku Food!: Japanese Soul Food Inspired by Anime and Pop Culture is a love letter to all otaku foodies who first craved Japanese food after watching it in their favorite shows. This beginner-friendly book covers the basic staples (white rice, dashi stock), goes through the main ingredients in Japanese cuisine and details a few dozen recipes for bites featured in anime such as Naruto, The Disastrous Life of Saiki K., One Piece, Sailor Moon and more.
Also check out the eponymous blog for more recipes.
4. Gyoza: The Ultimate Dumpling Cookbook by Paradise Yamamoto
Be it fried, steamed, baked or grilled, arguably every country has its own dumpling. But there’s just something about gyoza, which, in spite of having any possible filling, are still very distinctive. The author of this book, the self-proclaimed ‘Gyoza King,’ Paradise Yamamoto, is a Japanese TV personality and musician who is as obsessed with gyoza as the rest of us. His humorous recipes will get you to experiment beyond the cabbage, leek and pork comfort zone. They are also easy to make, audacious and at times outrageous. This includes cheeseburger gyoza, curry potstickers with quail eggs, takoyaki gyoza and even fried banana and mango dumplings, to name a few.
5. Everyday Harumi: Simple Japanese Food for Family and Friends by Harumi Kurihara
Dubbed “the Japanese Martha Stewart,” Harumi Kurihara is a cooking celebrity, writer and entrepreneur with over 30 years of experience. Her book, Everyday Harumi, uses Japanese ingredients that can be easily found both domestically and abroad. Kurihara shares some of her intimate and refined recipes for simple dishes like yakisoba, yakitori and karaage, as well as how to prepare dressings and even her signature barbecue sauce. This book is perfect for those who want to experience real Japanese comfort food at home, wherever they are.
6. Classic Home Cooking from Japan: A Step-by-step Beginner’s Guide to Japan’s Favorite Dishes: Sushi, Tonkatsu, Teriyaki, Tempura and More! by Asako Yoshida
Miso marinated mackerel, pork cutlets and chicken teriyaki are dishes even beginners can try their hand at. This book’s author, Asako Yoshida, knows it well: she runs her own culinary school in Tokyo and has made a career out of helping cooking enthusiasts demystify traditional meals. Classic Home Cooking from Japan is a thorough guide to start cooking Japanese: featuring step-by-step pictures for recipes of both classic dishes such as meat and potato hotpot or pork tonkatsu as well as original, out-of-the-box recipes like squid and avocado with miso dressing.
7. Kansha: Celebrating Japan’s Vegan and Vegetarian Traditions by Elizabeth Andoh
The premise of this book, eating with gratitude, is reflected in the basic principle of Japanese food culture: giving thanks for the meal before and after eating. This book contains over 100 vegan recipes, ranging from old Buddhist recipes to modern innovations. Throughout the book, special attention is placed on getting the most out of every ingredient in order to minimize waste and achieving a balanced meal to look after our health and the planet.