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Essay

Too many cooks?

By Rebecca Quin

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What am I having for dinner tonight? Is this a question that gets you excited? Or one that fills you with dread?

I've never been good at cooking. Ever since I can remember I've burnt the toast, over-boiled the egg and under-cooked the sausages (speaking metaphorically — though this also happens literally when I try to cook an English breakfast).

Having spent most of my time in Japan living in studio flats or share houses, I've never had a proper kitchen. One hob crammed next to a sink was as close to a culinary facility as it got. It was always a case of buying a ready meal at the convenience store, heating it up in the microwave, taking off the lid — et voila! A passable meal for one.

Now though, I live in a real house, with a real kitchen that has a large sink, not one but two gas hobs, a separate unit for chopping and preparation, and an oven. It's practically Le Cordon Bleu.

All of this equipment makes me feel like I ought to be cooking up a storm every evening. So I recently started taking cooking classes. The catch is, they focus mostly on Japanese cooking, which is a whole new world for me. I mean, I eat Japanese food regularly of course, but cooking it?!

In actual fact, learning how to cook Japanese food has made me appreciate eating it much more. We've studied umami, and the key ingredients at the base of most Japanese dishes: soy sauce, cooking sake, dashi and sugar. There are different techniques for preparing and chopping vegetables, and rules for which ingredient can be combined with which. It's interesting to discover a cooking culture that's so deeply interlinked with the country's history and language.

The approach is similar in the U.K. in that there are certain techniques to follow. But I feel that in British cooking (even though everybody thinks British food is bad) the range of ingredients and dishes is perhaps more diverse. The influences for what we think of as British food today range far and wide — everything from Indian to Italian counts as a U.K. dish. If I try to think of the key ingredients at the base of British food, I realise there aren't any. Or is it that there are too many to name?

In the U.K. we don't have this concept of umami. Cooking is kaleidoscopic. It's random. What is a British dish and what does it contain? I guess there's no one answer.

That's the joy of cooking and it's something I'm starting to appreciate. Our cooking teacher says that you should always add a pinch of yourself to a dish. So tonight it's kabocha a la U.K. fusion at its finest.

料理人が多過ぎる…?

せっかく立派なキッチンのある一軒家に住んだのだからもっと料理をしよう、と日本食の料理教室に通い始めた筆者。そこで日本とイギリスの料理文化の共通点や違いに気付いたという。

The Japan Times ST: November 25, 2016

The Japan Times ST 読者アンケート

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