5.0 out of 5 stars I love this cookbook
Some of my favorite memories of Japan are from cooking in an izakaya. I apprenticed under the local master, learning traditional izakaya cooking and bringing some of my Northwest sensibilities to the menu. It was a fantastic experience, and I often wish I was there still, standing behind the charcoal grill, taking orders and cooking directly for the customer, reaching inside the tanks to pull out a live octopus and quickly dice it up and serve it raw and wriggling. Good times. There really is no restaurant I love more than an izakaya, and no matter how many trendy American restaurants like to put that on their website they never get it right.
There should be a hundred more cookbooks like “Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook”. This is the real stuff, what Japanese cooking really is, not intricately rolled sushi or fancy designs on square plates. Delicious, cheap food served up fresh and fast, with a menu changing by the hour depending on what ingredients are available, often hand written by the master and pasted on the walls.
Mark Robinson shares my love for izakayas, and has put together a brilliant cookbook and guide based on some fabulous establishments. Along with the recipes, there are short essays on izakaya culture, their history and what they mean to the Japanese people. It is a splendid ritual, the ordering of drinks and paired food, the requesting of today’s specialties, the casual atmosphere of an ongoing party where anyone can feel free to jump into conversation with anyone else.
I cooked at an izakaya in Osaka, whereas Robinson calls Tokyo his stomping grounds, so a lot of these recipes are unfamiliar to me, but they are all 100% authentic and delicious. There are some standard menu items, like the grilled whole surume squid and sweet miso-marinated fish, and some more exotic items like fried whole garlic with miso and “motsu” beef intestine stew. All the recipes are accompanied by beautiful photographs that will keep you reaching for this cookbook over and over again.
Because of its authenticity, these recipes are not going to be easy to someone without access to a good Japanese grocer. The “Asian” section at your local supermarket probably isn’t going to cut it, especially with the seafood and produce required. It is worth the effort to track down the ingredients rather than substituting, because that is where the real flavor comes in, but I have had to cut a few corners here and there.
Anyone who is interested in authentic Japanese cooking and doesn’t have a copy of “Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook” in their library isn’t cooking the whole spectrum. Aside from a plane ticket to Japan, this is as real as it gets.