I have to admit I’m a sucker for cooking classes. I’ve stuffed grapeleaves in Istanbul, made spring rolls in Hanoi and whipped up nasi lemak in Kuala Lumpur. Yet after living in Japan for almost four years, I still couldn’t cook your typical Japanese dishes. I’d tasted them but that wasn’t enough – it was time to remedy the situation.
Fortunately, there are several up and coming options for casual cooking classes in Japan’s major cities. I’m not talking about learning how to cook a kaiseki feast or world-class ramen, but the down home “comfort foods” of every Japanese kitchen. That’s what drew me to Haru Cooking Class in northern Kyoto. Owner and chef Taro Saeki offers the chance to cook a 3-4 course meal (vegetarian options available) in his typical Japanese home. Recipes are included, as is the meal at the end and dedicated foodies can even arrange a guided tour of Nishiki Market.
On the day of our class, Taro-san met us at the bus stop near his home in Kyoto and escorted us to his small but cozy townhouse. He once worked as a minshuku (guesthouse) manager in the suburbs north of Kyoto but when his daughter Haruko was born, he soon decided the 60 hour work weeks made for great money but terrible quality of life. Taking action, he quit his job and started advertising cooking classes, focusing on comfort food that could be easily prepared in his miniscule kitchen.
Our menu was simple – miso soup with dashi stock, carrot and burdock sesame kinpira (like stir fried veggies in sesame oil), chicken with mushrooms in a tasty sauce, and dashimaki tamago, an egg omelet with dashi stock. (Dashi stock is like a mild fish broth and is basically the chicken broth of Japan – it is the base from which all things are made.) Taro did a lot of the prep, which took away some of the hands-on feeling but I was too busy taking copious notes to care. We did have a chance to each try flipping the omelet in his special pan, a feat that required great dexterity of long cooking chopsticks, something I am still improving upon in my own kitchen!
In a very sweet gesture, Taro finished our class by preparing wonton mini pizzas on his camp stove while we chowed down on the main course. His three year old daugher, Haruko, sat nearby and I was pleased to practice my rapidly improving language skills. (Thanks to my Okinawan babysitter, I am approaching fluency in toddler Japanese.) The course was fun, the food was great, and I can’t help but applaud this man for taking the high road in life, figuring out that family and daily happiness was a much better tradeoff than the typical Japanese father’s workaholic existence. Kudos to you, Taro, and thanks for a tasty evening in Kyoto.
Learn more about Haru Cooking Class at this link.