F&W’s editor, Dana Cowin, sets out to understand Japanese food traditions—but is soon impressed by how modern and trendsetting the cuisine really is.

Japanese Food

At the counter of Boulettes Larder in San Francisco, I reached into my wallet and pulled out a charge card to buy plastic bags of shunsetsu yukidoke tou (spring snow sugar), wasanbon (hand-ground powdered sugar) and namasatoh (raw cane sugar), each $18. I could barely resist the amabito no moshio (kiln-roasted salt). I had no idea what to do with these things. I just had to have them, even at that extraordinary price.

Before this, I’d been collecting Japanese food experiences the way I used to collect 1950s pottery, randomly and ecstatically. I’d visited four ramen shops, seven sushi restaurants and one place specializing in takoyaki (octopus balls). But this new set of ingredients, with its tantalizing foreignness and hint of trendiness, propelled me to learn in a more methodical way.

Back in New York City, I developed a self-education plan that I hoped would culminate in a better understanding of the authentic foods that are coming to America from Japan. The curriculum would cover tofu, robata, yakitori, soba and kaiseki, with lessons from experts along the way. In the end, I hoped to be a better informed eater and cook.

Study of Japanese Food

Understanding Tofu
Understanding Robata
Understanding Yakitori
Understanding Kaiseki
March 26: Shoyu Ramen
Homemade ramen should be your Sunday project. This version has a pork-and-chicken-based broth that gets extra depth of flavor from kombu (seaweed) and shoyu (Japanese soy sauce).