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Have you ever wondered what makes Japanese cuisine so popular? Aside from the fact the food tastes incredible, the cuisine is highly distinctive, packed with flavour and has an immaculate presentation, there’s a lot of hard work and precision behind some of our favourite Japanese foods. The detailed art of the ingredients, the preparation, and the techniques.  So, when there’s what sometimes feels like an avalanche of information on Japanese cooking online, if you’re a true Japanese food fan, how do you dig into the knowledge of Japanese cooking to soak up a more authentic perspective?

Unveiling the Rich Tapestry of Japanese Food

The Culinary Encyclopaedia of Japan by Keita Wojciechowski provides you with the opportunity to spend some time away from screens and is a much more comprehensive approach to learning more about Japanese food. In order to master something, you need to know more than just the fundamentals. Within the pages of this book, you’ll find all the information to approach Japanese cooking. With a well-rounded knowledge that’ll give you the tools needed to really understand the cuisine.

Okay, we’re not all chefs, so not by definition, the Japanese culinary encyclopedia is essentially a book that provides an overview of information on ingredients and techniques. There are so many cookbooks and recipe books out there, and let’s be clear: this is not that. The book does not contain any recipes or pictures. However, what it lacks in terms of actionable guidance, it makes up for in-depth context about the history. It covers linguistics, regional areas, and how religion, changing seasons, famines, war and more have influenced the cuisine. 

A Culinary Journey Through Japan

The award-winning book is significant due to its unique appeal. The popularity, high demand, and frequent rehashing of this cuisine. It may cause some elements to be misrepresented. In the section in which the author explores ‘What is Japanese Culture?’, the way the cuisine has already evolved is touched upon. Here, Wojciechowski mentions how, over time, techniques have been invented, imported, adapted, and refined, for example,

Rice Culture was introduced during the Yayoi period, replacing the hunter-gatherer culture of the Jômon Japanese, who were slowly but surely forced further North, leading eventually to becoming part of the Ainu people in Hokkaidô. Books like this bridge the gap between trendy depictions of Japanese food and offer a more nuanced look at one of the world’s most popular cuisines.

A Deep Dive Beyond Recipes

The Japanese culinary encyclopedia goes on to list 700 plants, 130 algae, 110 fungi, 1300 fish & seafoods, 30 insects, 50 birds and 60 mammals and other foods, drinks & seasonings over 550 pages. The book kicks off with a ‘How to use this book’ section, which goes through the ordering, marking and formatting layouts. People who popularize, seek, and rehash this cuisine may misrepresent some elements. The period of history it was introduced and production techniques. The clearly defined different sections and indexes (in Ainu, Chinese and Latin!) mean you can easily find information about different foods quickly.

To give you a flavour of the book, one of the highlights for me was reading about the origins of tea in Japan. The book states that it was introduced in two waves – the first encounter was known in 805 when a Buddhist monk, Saichô, founder of the esoteric Tendai school, returned from studies in Tang China and brought Tea Tree Seeds with him. The second – when Monk Eisai (also known as Yôsai), founder of the first Zen temple in Japan, is said to be responsible for the reintroduction of Tea. 

Thus, the Shôgun and the Warrior social class groups embraced Tea as a luxury product which involved blind tastings. The section goes on to say, ‘Zen influenced Tea drinking started in the 15th century…This changed the focus of Chinese influence on Tea to new Japanese aesthetics, which then strongly influenced other parts of Japanese Culinary life’.

About the Author

It took Wojciechowski three years of research to complete the book, and his commitment to the level of in-depth ingredient coverage makes for an impressive read. Despite this, the book is easy to read and has clear writing mixed with some academic language. His background – a half-Japanese Chef, who trained and worked in London, France and Germany. For over 20 years in anything from small family-run Japanese restaurants to sushi bars in international hotels. It means he is more than qualified to write accurately on the subject. He ties it all together with a simple book design. Elevated with an eye-catching and beautiful illustration of a basket containing different foods centred on the cover. You can check out other Japanese authors here.

Buy a Copy of Culinary Encyclopedia of Japan Vol. 1

Go beyond the plate and discover the fascinating stories behind rare famine foods, local specialties, and even unique Ainu and Ryûkyû ingredients. Learn traditional cooking methods and gain a deeper understanding of Japanese cuisine’s building blocks.

While recipes and pictures are not included, this comprehensive encyclopedia serves as an invaluable resource for food enthusiasts, culinary professionals, and anyone with a passion for Japanese culture.

Invest in your culinary knowledge and broaden your horizons – order your copy of Culinary Encyclopedia of Japan Vol. 1 on Amazon today!

Available in hardcover (US$55, €55, £50) and paperback (US$45, €45, £40).

Final Words

Food has a remarkable ability to bring people together. Moreover invite friends or family to join you on your culinary exploration. Hosting themed dinner nights where you showcase the flavors of a particular region. It creates a shared experience and allows everyone to enjoy the diversity of global cuisines through this Japanese culinary encyclopedia.