As huge fans of Japanese food, we’re excited to announce our newest expert — Kanako Noda of Kanako’s Kitchen! It’s easy to equate Japanese cuisine with just sushi, but Kanako is here to teach us how to appreciate the full spectrum of Japanese cuisine.
Food is more than just fuel for your body. Food is culture. Food locates you in space and time; it configures your here and now. Meals set the rhythm of the day; seasonal cooking sets the rhythm of the year. No special occasion is special without its feast foods. Food demands your attention. Food doesn’t have to be very elaborate, but even when it’s simple, food has to be thought about, fussed over, and always, always taken seriously.
Over the last few years, there’s been a boom in “B-Level Gourmet” cooking in Japan. This is a peculiar and very Japanese concept: basically, it’s fancy junk food. B-Level Gourmet is all about devoting extraordinary care and attention to ordinary dishes, doting on them until they’re perfect. Things like yakitori (grilled chicken) and okonomiyaki (cabbage “pancakes”) can be B-Level Gourmet, but the real growth area these days is in less well-known regional specialties like Morioka-style reimen (cold noodles) and Atsugi-style grilled pork entrails with miso sauce. Once confined to their local areas, the best B-Level gourmet food is now drawing people from hundreds of miles away.
My family’s roots are in Kyushu, Japan’s Southern island, so Kyushu cooking is tops for me. Unlike in Tokyo, with all those salty soy-sauce based dishes, Kyushu’s style tends to be mild and sweet. Even the soy sauce and the barley-based miso there is sweet! Much of the cooking is fish-based, and hearty rather than sophisticated. But I grew up in the suburbs of Kyoto, so I also love the very sophisticated high cuisine of the ancient capital: subtle and delicate tastes, simple and minimal presentation, elegant all around.
I’m an omnivore, really. As a college student in Osaka, I waitressed at an excellent Chinese restaurant and learned to appreciate fine Chinese food. Later, I lived in Bologna, Italy , and came to realize that a perfect lasagna can be a work of art! But I also love Indian and Lebanese cuisine, and cook a few dishes too. And, needless to say, spectacular French cooking always makes me happy.
My ideal final meal is very straightforward: white rice, miso soup, a tonkatsu pork cutlet and finely sliced cabbage. Whenever I go back to Japan, I always go to have lunch at a tonkatsu restaurant just before leaving. And, after the meal, a cup of fine gyokuro green tea. Without doubt, I would share the meal with my family.
Trattoria Tony on Via Righi in Bologna, Italy. Down-home trattoria. No pretensions at all. Lasagna to die for.
I’m too picky to ever go to a Japanese restaurant outside Japan, so here in Montreal we stick to French food. The tasting menu at La Chronique, in Montreal, is a tour de force: uncompromising French haute cuisine.
Le Petit Extra is also a wonderful choice for bistro-style French cooking: try the fish soup.
But the place I’ve been to most often in the last year is Restaurant Tous Les Jours. It’s a total dive, but they mind the details: those $4 bacon cheeseburgers are just about perfect.
Farther afield, I would chose Tang — a very refined Chinese nouvelle cuisine spot in the 16th arrondissment in Paris.
More than any given recipe, what mom taught me is a certain attitude towards cooking. For most of my childhood, she cooked virtually every single meal we ate at home from scratch. She taught me the importance of eating well every day, and the little kitchen tricks you need to know to prepare meals quickly, so you can have a life, too! But she also taught me to respect the skill of the restaurant chef, and to understand the limitations of home cooking: when you want a genuinely spectacular meal, you simply have to go to a top-flight restaurant. Philosophy aside, there’s one dish she can definitely make better than anyone in the world: the Nagasaki-style noodle soup called champon.
I grew up in the Kansai region (Osaka-Kyoto-Kobe). Udon is a religion in Kansai. Udon. Definitely udon.
Kanako Noda started helping her mom make dinner in Shiga, Japan, at the age of four. An artist based in Montréal by day, she evangelizes on the Japanese way of eating by night. "There's a fantastic, dazzling variety of Japanese dishes that Americans keep missing," she says, "because they can't see past the thick undergrowth of sushi bars everywhere." Kanako believes in real food made by real people using real ingredients, and is allergic to food gimmicks, straight-from-the-lab ingredients and diet fads of all kinds. Most of all, she's into introducing Westerners to Japanese common sense on what you should eat, when, how much, how and with whom. Her Japanese home cooking recipe blog is at KanakosKitchen.com.