A taste of the culture

16:00, Dec 23 2013
Japan Cooking 1
An American student smells kombu seaweed, which is used to make dashi Japanese stock in such dishes as miso soup.
Japan Cooking 1
These traditional Japanese delicacies made for the New Year’s holiday are popular at Japanese cooking classes.
Japan Cooking 1
Students attending a cooking class at Mari Nameshida’s home in Tokyo make Japanese-style gyoza dumplings. Although gyoza are originally from China, they are now a popular home dish in Japan.
Japan Cooking
Students in a cooking class make Kanto-style ozoni, or mochi soup, under the guidance of Mari Nameshida, left front, at her home in Tokyo.
Japan Cooking
n Australian student makes the osechi New Year’s dish kohaku namasu, or red and white marinated daikon and carrots.

Cooking classes in traditional Japanese cuisine - known as washoku and recently named to UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list - are gaining popularity among both tourists and foreigners living in Japan.

At a recent class in Chuo Ward, Tokyo, students learn to make casual Japanese home cuisine with seasonal ingredients.

Mari Nameshida started the class in 2011, hoping to teach people how to cook and also expose them to Japanese culture through traditional dishes.

A lesson takes about three hours. Instruction is in English and most participants are foreigners.

During a lesson just before New Year's Day, Nameshida taught students to cook osechi traditional Japanese New Year's food and explained the traditions behind the dishes.

"We cook several dishes for osechi before New Year's Day," she said. "Each small dish invokes good luck in the new year.

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"For example, kurikinton, or sweet potato with chestnuts, looks like gold, so people eat it and hope for good fortune in business and money matters for a year."

Adeline Lamond, 48, a tourist from Sydney, joined the class with her son, having learned about the class on the Internet.

"I cook Japanese food such as udon, miso soup and sashimi about once a week. But I use my own methods, and I wanted to learn cooking Japanese food from Japanese people," Lamond said. "I like Japanese food because it has flavour, simplicity and elegance. It's very easy to cook and healthy," she added.

Another participant was Jake Coleman, 31, from San Francisco. "I'm going back home to Ohio for the Christmas holidays, and I'll make imomochi [potato cake] I learned [how to make] here today for my family," he said.

Nameshida gives four or five lessons a week and about 100 to 150 people join the class every month.

Her classes often rank among the best-rated activities in the Kanto area on TripAdvisor, one of the world's largest travel websites.

- The Washington Post/The Yomiuri Shimbun