This cookbook was abandoned into my arms; an old host teacher left it at my mother’s house, and I can’t believe how lucky I am that she’s decided I can now keep it forever. It is one of the only cook books I have ever read and used and re-read and re-used; it is well indexed and searchable. It has kanji and English directions and explanations, and breaks down all the processes involved in basic Japanese cooking. It even lets you find dishes by seasonality and cooking method and ingredient. I can’t give a much better review than to say that this book helped me learn to improvise okonomiyaki, tamagoyaki, nasu dengaku, sushi rice, yakisoba, udon and soba at a time when I had limited net access and even more limited funds. With Australian unbranded supermarket ingredients.
I’ve often despaired in Japanese cooking of lacking custom ingredients or needing to spend vast amounts of money to find the right condiments, but this book often mentions European equivalents that can be tweaked (e.g. as a Vegetarian I often replace okonomiyaki sauce with kelp stock, Worcester sauce, tomato paste and cornflour heated in a saucepan). Most importantly, it’s got an omelette rice recipe, and potato croquettes and dango; the things I used to get homesick for.
Out of curiosity, I looked around online to see how this cookbook of my heart was received and how much it might have cost me to replace if Mum had just dropped it in the charity bins. What I found was quite interesting. Please keep in mind I’m not linking to these to suggest anyone buy the book, just to highlight the prices for the sake of personal interest alone. At Amazon, for instance, there appear today to be three used copies starting from $98.66 – I’m assuming it’s US dollars? While at White Rabbit Press you can find it for $26.83US and quite new. abebooks also has it secondhand for about $24 US (with another fifteen for postage). I’m sure you’d find comparable mid-$20US prices around other affordable sites and search engines, maybe even less at the Book Depository.
I’ve never really liked Amazon books. Perhaps it’s because I have never owned a credit card, and rarely purchase anything online. Perhaps it’s because I’ve heard odd and frustrating and heartbreaking stories about their treatment of writers and publishers and consumers. But I’ve also heard that their used books are quite cheap and accessible, at the very least competitive with alternate secondhand sellers. So having a used book price that’s not quite four times as expensive as a new copy is a bit alarming to me. I hope it’s alarming to you, dear readers. I suppose the lesson is one that most of us bibliophiles learn early in life: look to more than one source for any book worth buying. Though it only has me asking questions: why hasn’t this ambitious seller noticed that the book is overpriced? Why are all good sources for this book elided from or avoiding using Amazon? Online bookselling politics is something baffling to me.
About halfway down this review page, there’s a review for the book that links to this Amazon page in Japanese, where the book is going for ¥1449 (less than $18 US) if you’re adventurous with shipping rates and cross-lingual customer service you can get it for quite cheap. The review itself is quite nice and informative (more than I have been, indeed). It was hard to find other reviews, but I am glad that I had a bit of a search; I have a love-hate affair with Japanese cuisine and the near constant presence of fish oil in sauces and broths, and browsing reviews of Japanese cookbooks has made me eager to start experimenting again.