I was a bit intimidated by his first book "Japanese Hot Pots", and less so by his second book "The Japanese Grill", but I did finally get a grip on both of them--and I enjoy using both those cookbooks. So, of course, this one drew my attention. The fact that I find this new "Soul Cooking" personable and approachable, may be because I have become comfortable with many Japanese terms and ingredients because I use his first two books frequently. But I really think it is because Tadashi Ono is a fun guy--and his personality comes shining through in this third book. I think he's finally come into his "own": His own way of teaching, writing and doing.
I think he's always been aware of how the Western world influenced Japanese cuisine and culture , from the mid 1800's when foreigners began arriving in Japan, to during and after World War II. But I also think he had to get real comfortable with his place in the scheme of things to write about it. You know, you can't really talk about "soul" and "comfort" until you have a firm handle on what surrounds it. Well, Tadashi has ID'd it beautifully in this book: The book itself is fun and somewhat of a history lesson; the recipes are do-able and they appeal to a "Western" taste, (after all, the dishes were influenced by Western tastes); you can find the ingredients (fairly easily, or with internet help), and the recipes are not complicated.
In many cases, you can take short-cuts and buy the condiments needed to pull the dish together, or you can take the advice of Tadashi and make your own with the recipes he has provided. I'm not saying that I will use all the chapters in this book, because I don't do much tempura or other fried foods--my kitchen exhaust system is just not set up for it. But there is some much more in this book that I highly recommend it, both as a great compilation of recipes and as a significant and fascinating history lesson, complete with great pictures.
Each chapter focuses on a different dish. You learn how it began (usually as a restaurant offering), then how it grew to become popular in home kitchens. Tadashi takes apart each dish (like tempura, ramen, curry, gyoza, etc.), explains how it came to be, then helps you create it from scratch. He provides all kinds of variations. If you follow through each chapter carefully, by the end of the chapter, you should have a firm handle on how to make it--that is how well Tadashi teaches. As you proceed through the chapters, you will also find recipes for the sauces and condiments necessary to complete the dish.
YOU CAN STOP READING HERE, as I think I've conveyed the fact that this book warrants a five-star rating, but I include more info below in case you are still undecided about the book:
To help you with some possibly unfamiliar terms: Most of us know ramen, curry, tempura, soba and udon, and I won't describe those chapters further. But let me try to describe some of the other chapters:
--Gyoza are dumplings and you will learn to make several varieties and to cook them by in an easy frying and steaming process. In this chapter you will also find a miso dipping sauce and rayu, a flavored chili oil. You will learn how to freeze them and use them in soup.
--The curry chapter is loaded with recipes and contains one called "Battleship Curry" that was served to servicemen on board ship.
--Tonkatsu is a deep-fried panko crusted cutlet or ground meat patty.
--Furai and Korokke: Furai is deep-fried panko seafood and veggies, and Korokke is a deep-fried "croquette" of chopped up meat, seafood or veggies. This chapter also contains all the sauces to go with these fried foods.
--Kara-age is a deep-fry technique imported from China. It differs from tempura in that the food is dredged in flour or potato starch, not the light batter of tempura.
--Okonomiyaki: Now we're talkin'! These are pancakes, and I'm really happy to have this chapter firmly in hand and under control and in my repertoire. These pancakes are both light-weight (in their "base" of flour/dashi/cabbage, etc.) and heavy-weight in all the toppings. They are accomplished on a griddle or in a heavy fry pan. (They are a lot of fun!) Yakisoba are included in this chapter. They have a base of ramen noodles.
--Donburi: Tadashi calls donburi the "ultimate dish for busy people". It is a one-bowl dish of almost any kind of ingredient heaped on a big bowl of rice and served with miso soup and pickles. A trip through this chapter will leave your mind churning with possibilities.
--Itame and Chahan: Itame means stir-fried or sauteed. Chahan is fried rice, Japanese-style.
--Yoshoku is Western-style cooking and the recipes in this chapter are Japanese takes on European and American dishes. You will find gratins, potato and macaroni salad, omelets, steak, hamburger, spaghetti and other pasta.
So, you can see there are plenty of chapters to spur your imagination. And it is truly interesting to see the Western influence. And one more tidbit of information: It may not matter to you, but it did to me: Joe Yonan, one of my favorite cookbook authors and the food and travel editor of Washington Post recommends this book on its back cover.