Japanese Cooking 101: Final thoughts, or what was the point?
I'm still getting reactions to the recently completed Japanese Cooking 101 course (if you missed it, here's the complete list of lessons.) While the reactions have been overwhelming positive, I've gotten a couple of negative comments too.
One I wanted to address in particular is the accusation, if you will, that the lessons do not represent that way most people cook in Japan anymore. One person even opined that I was not a 'real Japanese' because I didn't cook like 'the Japanese people I know in Tokyo' or something like that.
Well you know what, that person is right one one thing: Many (not all!) people in Japan don't take the time to make their own dashi from scratch, or grow their own shiso or other herbs. Some rely on prewashed rice called musenmai (無洗米) so they don't have to bother with rinsing rice either. A lot of recipes on various Japanese cooking sites call for the use of mentsuyu (めんつゆ), bottled noodle sauce concentrate, a readymade combination of soy sauce, mirin, sugar, and dashi. It saves time having to pull out each individual ingredient and adding it one by one, for sure. There are just as many convenience foods and ready-made foods in Japan as there are anywhere else - not to mention tons of restaurants, fast food places, and the like. You can easily avoid having to cook, ever. And sadly, a lot of people are like that. Japan is after all one of those so-called developed countries where such a thing is possible.
I have plenty of quick and easy recipes on JustHungry, and many more on JustBento - although I do try to stick as much as possible to real ingredients. (Some of my Japanese recipes call for the use of dashi stock granules, especially when they're used as an underlying flavor rather than the main flavor. They're too convenient, plus I've heard from many readers that they're easier to get a hold of than bonito flakes and konbu seaweed.)
The whole point of the Japanese Cooking 101 course was to show how things are done for the best possible results, using traditional methods.
Most of the readers of my sites do not live in Japan. I'm not writing for a Japanese audience obviously, since I'm writing in English. I'm not even writing for an audience of English speaking residents of Japan - although I know there are some who've been following along for years (hi guys!). (My column in The Japan Times on the other hand is aimed at English speakers in Japan, so has a rather different focus.) Unless you live in a city with proper Japanese groceries, it can be very hard to get a hold of the right ingredients. Things like mentsuyu are often too expensive to rely on all the time.
Let's face it, most Japanese ingredients are expensive outside of Japan, if you can even get a hold of them. If you're going to try to make proper tasting Japanese food under those circumstances, I would much rather you spend your precious money on basic, fundamental, real ingredients rather than manufactured convenience products. If you have access to a Japanese grocery store you can get things like mentsuyu, or the Japanese equivalents of Hamburger Helper and the like. But they're expensive - too expensive for everday use. On the other hand, although soy sauce, mirin, sake, konbu seaweed and bonito flakes to make dashi, plain old miso and so on are not cheap either, they're a much better investment of your money if you want to create many authentic tasting dishes.
The point is, I want to be able to teach a little bit about how to cook Japanese food the proper way, through my sites, my book and my other writings. Cooking from scratch is, in my opinion, a fundamental skill, and I'm fighting the battle to keep that skill alive. Even if that notion is laughably old fashioned for some people.