Oriental delights made plain

Japanese Food Made Easy

by Fiona Uyema

(Mercier Press, €24.99)

One of the most startling changes in Irish eating habits in recent years has been the advent of a wide love of Thai food, stimulated by so many Irish people taking their holidays in that country. 

In Dublin noodle bars now flourish. Indeed in Lower Baggot Street three of them were so successful with the lunchtime trade that they drove a burger restaurant out of business: an extraordinary thing. 

Of course elements of novel tastes, novels items and healthy eating come into all of this. But the latest craze of the last year or so seem to have been a sudden rash of Japanese inspired restaurants, largely offering sushi and sashimi, which take Oriental food a stage further, even if cold rice is not to all Irish tastes. 

For those enchanted by the Orient, this book by Irish woman Fiona Uyema, who is married to a Japanese man, will come as a gift to many. (Strictly speaking, in Japanese custom her name should Uyema Fiona but western custom has imposed itself on Japanese names for a long time.) 

She rightly notes though that food is an intrinsic part of a national lifestyle. The preparation and presentation of food is part and parcel of the Japanese aesthetic of life. Their sense of style – especially when informed by centuries of tradition – is very imposing. To eat Japanese food is to become Japanese is some way.

But what most foreigners want is not a new lifestyle. What they want is a taste of the new and the exotic, and by arranging the dishes in a European order, Fiona Uyema aids this. However there are compromises made. Some recipes are more westernised than others, such as edamame hummus and shichimi lamb kofta kebabs in which the Middle East is involved. 

Like all cook books today, this one is slightly over designed. But the recipes are clear and practical, and explanations about the cultural background of the ingredients are fascinating. I am going to have to look for an outlet where I can have chicken gyoza (a sort of dumpling with dipping sauce) while looking forward to saba shiyaki (pictured, grilled salted mackerel) for supper at home. 

But then again as there is a section devoted to items for the bento or Japanese lunch box, perhaps I can give up the shop-bought sushi and bring my midday meal from home, like a proper Japanese office worker.