Japanese Women Don’t Get Old or Fat – A delightful introduction to fresh, delicious Japanese cuisine

The Japanese have one of the lowest obesity rates (3%) and longest life expectancies in the world. Much of this is attributed to their daily exercise for all ages and mainly the Japanese diet, which is heavy on fish, fresh vegetables, fruit, rice, soy, noodles, and tea. Tokyo author Naomi Moriyama blends in her earliest memories of comfort food in her mother’s Tokyo kitchen and visiting relatives in the Japanese countryside, where food was simple, in season, and always delicious, and contrasts it to the huge portions of fatty, greasy American food that caused her to gain 25 pounds as an exchange student.

Moriyama-san gently introduces the reader to Japanese cuisine and culture through her petite mother Chizuko and the marvels of her tiny Tokyo kitchen, no bigger than a walk-in closet. She describes each of the common staples such as dashi (fish stock), bonito (fish flakes), seaweed, noodles (buckwheat soba and white udon, egg ramen), cooking oils and wine (canola, rice bran, sesame, sake, mirin), miso (fermented soybean paste frequently served for breakfast), and more in simple detail, easily accessible by the novice or connoisseur alike. Many grocery stores now carry Japanese foods in their international sections; at the very least, you should be able to find soy sauce, seaweed, ramen, and Japanese short grain rice and noodles. Oriental markets and Japanese markets offer the widest selection of sauces (curry), spices (gomaiso, bonito, brown sauces), and sweets (bean paste, Japanese chocolate).

One of Moriyama-san’s greatest inclusions is how to turn your kitchen into a Japanese one, with detailed lists of uniquely Japanese items. However, Moriyama advises using much of what you already have, and buying a few staples (electric rice cooker, wok) and dishes to round out your collection. She describes Japanese tableware beautifully, since in Japan, like France, presentation is everything. More and more stores (Crate and Barrel, Williams Sonoma, World Market) are carrying Japanese ceramics and lacquerware, and with a few elegant pieces (rice bowls, soup bowls, small dishes for sides and condiments, noodle bowls, dipping sauce cups and a soy sauce cruet) and of course, chopsticks, you, too, can savour food as the Japanese do, serving portions on small, elegant dishes which causes you to eat less while enjoying food more.

Of course, there are many recipes that make use of seasonal produce paired with Japanese staples, such as Mom’s Carrot Tofu dish, Japanese Country Power Breakfast, Eggplant Sautéed with Miso, Smoked Salmon Rolls with Shiso and Kaiware, and Chicken and Egg over Rice.

This is more of a “lifestyle” book compared to a diet book. Weight loss is a pleasant side effect of curbing consumption of white flour (eating brown rice instead of muffins or pasta), red meat (fish is omnipresent), dairy, fats (oil is used sparingly, and butter and cream are absent), and sugars (sweets are usually fresh sliced fruit or sweetened bean paste confections), combined with walking and bicycling everywhere as the Japanese do.

Note: for those of you who are sensitive/allergic to soy, like myself, Japanese food is still doable; you just have to take precautions. Fermented soybean paste (miso) is used in many soups, broths, and noodle dishes, as is tofu. It is difficult to find non-soy vegetarian dishes in Japan, as almost all stocks contain fish flakes or soy.

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