Love Japan: Recipes from Our Japan­ese Amer­i­can Kitchen 

  • Review
By – May 15, 2023

Mat­zoh ball soup is one of the most com­fort­ing and nour­ish­ing of Ashke­nazi foods — so much so that we affec­tion­ate­ly refer to it as Jew­ish peni­cillin. Laden with mem­o­ries and ladled with love, the soup, when denied, is tan­ta­mount to heresy in many families. 

Mat­zoh ball ramen — a fusion of Ashke­nazi and Japan­ese cui­sine, made famous at Sawako Okochi’s and Aaron Israel’s cozy and now decade-old Brook­lyn restau­rant, Shalom Japan — may be the pin­na­cle of Brook­lyn com­fort food.

An invi­ta­tion to the inner domes­tic life of two work­ing chefs, Love Japan includes recipes for the haimish Japan­ese dish­es that nour­ish Okochi’s and Israel’s fam­i­ly. It is impor­tant to note that haimish here is meant to evoke a sense of home, not Yid­dish. While there are a hand­ful of recipes that nod to Israel’s upbring­ing in a Jew­ish fam­i­ly on Long Island, the vast major­i­ty reflect tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese home cook­ing, con­jured through the mem­o­ries and imag­i­na­tion of a first-gen­er­a­tion Japan­ese Amer­i­can fam­i­ly. These recipes are prac­ti­cal, nour­ish­ing, and fre­quent­ly not kosher.

Cowrit­ten by James Beard – nom­i­nat­ed writer Gabriel­la Ger­shen­son, Love Japan makes Japan­ese cook­ing acces­si­ble to a novice in an Amer­i­can kitchen. It is incred­i­bly user-friend­ly, its tone sup­port­ive and relaxed. Every­thing can be cooked in a con­ven­tion­al Amer­i­can kitchen with a soup pot, heavy-bot­tomed skil­let, and oven; and while there are spe­cial­ty ingre­di­ents, you should be able to source most every­thing from your local or spe­cial­ty gro­cery store.

It is refresh­ing to encounter a book that makes cook­ing Japan­ese food so approach­able and wel­com­ing. The recipes are designed to help you make din­ner tonight. They are easy to fol­low and, in many cas­es, can be eas­i­ly put togeth­er in well under an hour, and include clear descrip­tions of how much time they should take. Just as broths and soups slow­ly devel­op fla­vor, so will your knowl­edge of Japan­ese cook­ing increase as you poke around this book. You’ll be reward­ed with pil­lowy sour­dough milk bread (rakken­ji shoku­pan), a vari­ety of noo­dle soups, and, for a win­ter feast with friends and fam­i­ly, your very own hotpot.

Avery Robin­son is a Jew­ish non­prof­it pro­fes­sion­al liv­ing in Brook­lyn. In his spare time, he free­lances as an edi­tor, culi­nary his­to­ri­an, cofounder of the cli­mate change non­prof­it Rye Revival, and man­ag­er of Black Roost­er Foods. His writ­ings have appeared in Mar­gin­a­lia Review of BooksJerusalem PostTablet­Mag, and The For­ward.

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