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Home Cooking: Oyako Donburi

Home Cooking: Oyako Donburi

Chris Lehrer |

In 1975, Don Maloney, an American expatriate businessman who’d been writing a series of short columns for the English-language Japan Times, published a collection entitled Japan: It’s Not All Raw Fish. In these little vignettes, Maloney conveys a lot of the difficulties and oddities of a big fat white guy living in Japan — the sort of guy who, at least as he describes himself, not only never managed to learn Japanese, but also never quite got used to people driving on the left side of the road. In his best stories, Maloney comes off the loser: just when it seems that at last his irritation with the Japanese is justified, he discovers that he is much more confused than he’d thought and very much in the wrong. It’s a very funny, if dated, little book, and worth a read.

Since I am myself a big fat white guy who doesn’t speak Japanese and currently lives in Kyoto, I thought it would be appropriate to borrow from his title for my own column. But I also mean something else. For Maloney, the point, I think, is that the omnipresent raw fish is hardly the only weird thing about Japan, nor by any stretch the weirdest. For me, there is the much more salient point that Japanese food isn’t all raw fish.

The point of this column is to talk about ordinary food, mostly but not exclusively Japanese, that you can make at home without a lot of trouble. What is it, how do you cook it, what tools do you use, what can you substitute, how do you play with it — these are the questions I want to try to answer. My blog, One Delicious Year, is wider-ranging, and also a little more experimental at times. Some of the food I’m cooking and talking about there is not readily translated to the ordinary home cook in America: the ingredients aren’t available, the dishes are insanely complicated or take all day, etc. Sometimes I review restaurants here in Kyoto, and what use is that except as food porn, really?

Not All Raw Fish is intended to be practical, for folks who actually want to put a meal on the table, and maybe are also a bit interested in Japanese cooking. I want to keep it simple, straightforward, and as un-fussy as possible.

But I’m not Rachael Ray, either, okay? For one thing, I’m not perky.

In any event, let’s start with something everyone in Japan loves: oyako donburi.