Some chefs latch onto a particular cuisine, but few live and breathe it in the way Japanophile Tim Anderson does.
The winner of MasterChef in 2011 has studied Japanese food culture at university, lived in Tokyo, written two other books on its cuisine and opened Nanban, a Japanese restaurant and cocktail bar in Brixton.
Tokyo Stories takes the reader on a tour of the country’s food culture. We start in the depachika, the department store basement food hall, for a guide to basic ingredients, rising to subway kiosks selling hot soup in cans and crispy fried chicken. We travel on to local specialities, such as sushi and gyoza, to regional cuisine from Hokkaido and Okinawa, and then to international hybrids, such as pizza and pâtisserie with a Tokyo twist. Then it’s Tokyoites’ home-cooked food, including a Japanese breakfast and a bento box, and finally arrive at the rooftop bar for fine dining and cocktails.
Recipes range from the simple, such as filled rice balls, mizuna salads and speedy stir-fries, to guides to making your own dashi, tofu and udon. Needless to say, there are instructions on making perfect rice, or the ‘Japanese Carb Emperor’, including how to keep it soft in the fridge.
Anderson has a weakness for the offerings of the izakaya, a type of Japanese pub combined with a tapas bar; recipes more than capable of soaking up a beer include cheesy goya spring rolls, ‘flavour potato’ (skin-on fries with chicken consommé-flavoured powder to sprinkle over while hot), octopus balls, okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) and curry-stuffed doughnuts.
His other obsession is ramen, and variants include the classic flavourful broth and ‘Jiro-style’, an incredibly rich version made with pork spines, thigh bones and back fat that takes a day to prepare and involves stamping on the noodle dough with the feet. The result is an “almost psychedelic ramen experience, dizzyingly delicious and profoundly satisfying. You’ll also be rewarded with a tummy ache” – a reasonable sacrifice to make in order to eat, as he says, “some of the most interesting and delicious food on the planet”.
Tokyo Stories, by Tim Anderson (Hardie Grant, £26)