You might be thinking, “another Japanese cookbook?” Yes, and I’m not sorry. Not to insult the two previous books, this book might be my favorite of the three. “Tokyo Up Late: Iconic Recipes from the city that never sleeps” is the second cookbook published from Brendan Liew, who has worked in top notch restaurants in Japan and Hong Kong. He is not a well-known chef in America, probably because he’s based in Melbourne, Australia.
What I immediately liked about “Tokyo Up Late” is that some of the recipes are not ones you typically see in an English-language Japanese cookbook. That’s not to say that the recipes are obscure. Many of the dishes invoked a lot of nostalgia for me. The recipe grouping is also a bit unusual. Rather than group recipes by a course or a common main ingredient, the recipes are grouped by the environment in which you would find them. The main chapters of the book are:
- Izakaya (Japanese bar food)
- Makanai (family meal at traditional Japanese restaurants)
- Fast food
- Konbini (Japanese convenience stores)
- Back home
There is so much that I want to make out of this book. Here are some highlights:
- Nikumaki (pan-fried vegetables wrapped in meat)
- Tonteki (soy-based grilled pork steak)
- Red wine honey soy tare
- Nasu nibitashi (dashi braised eggplant and shiitake)
- Hiyajiru (rice and toppings with chilled sesame soup)
- Okowa (steamed chestnut sticky rice)
- Anmitsu (mochi and red bean paste with black sugar syrup)
- Meron pan (melon bread)
- Katsutado pan (custard bread)
- Mont Blanc
- Ochazuke (tea over rice) (comes with general guidelines and three specific variations)
The konbini chapter might be my favorite overall, so I started with Liew’s recipe for nikuman, aka pork buns. The dough is made water, yeast, sugar, flour, milk, and lard (or oil). While the dough is rising, a filling is made from rehydrated shiitake, minced pork, unsmoked bacon (optional), onion, ginger, garlic, soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, shaoxing wine, chicken bouillon (optional), salt, and white pepper. When both dough and filling are ready, the dough is divided into 8 pieces, and each piece is rolled out into a circle, and filled with meat. The dough is pinched closed, and the buns are rested before steaming until cooked through.
I had a lot of trouble making nice looking pork buns. Just based on prior experience, I recommend flattening each disc of dough so that the middle is thicker than the edges, like you often see done for dumpling wrappers. When the bun is pinched closed, it helps to keep the seam from being too thick, and helps keep the bun be more uniform in shape. My dough turned out a little too sticky. I probably should have used less water. I can’t get bao flour (or at least I haven’t seen it in the Asian markets closest to me) so I just used all purpose flour from Trader Joe’s. My flour is unbleached so I knew up front that I wasn’t going to get the pretty white exterior that one normally associates with Asian steamed buns. Another factor in the appearance of steamed buns is the steamer set up (which, as far as I can tell, the book does not mention). I do not have a bamboo steamer which is ideal. I only have a metal steamer. The problem with metal steamers is condensation. When water drops onto the bun, it bubbles the texture. I tried to mitigate this by wrapping the lid with a clean tea towel, which definitely improved matters but didn’t solve it completely. You can swipe back and forth to see the difference between my first batch and my later batches. The first batch was too thin on top and tore easily, and too much water had condensed on the surface. My later batches don’t look as ugly.
I don’t remember what convenience store pork buns taste like in Japan (it’s been too long). Appearances aside, the filling was really flavorsome, so it was still worth making. If making buns seems too daunting, you can use the filling in some pre-made dumpling wrappers and cook in some soup.
The second recipe I made was much easier. The wafu pasta in the Back Home chapter might be more delicious than the buns (if you like mushrooms). First you make the mentsuyu which is a dipping sauce/soup base. Then you cook up the mushrooms in olive oil and butter, and finish with the pasta, mentsuyu, scallions, shiso, shredded nori, and lemon wedges. I went with nicer quality, locally made butter and locally made fresh pasta.
I forgot to pick up shiso or parsley but that was ok. The flavor is largely driven by the winning combination of butter, mushrooms, and mentsuyu.
I also love how sophisticated it looks just off the stove with the pop of color from the scallions, and the texture of the nori before they both wilt.
Luckily for you, Smith Street Books was gracious enough to let me share Liew’s pasta recipe.
Give the pasta recipe a try, and if you like it, I highly recommend picking up your own copy of Brendan Liew’s “Tokyo Up Late” from your favorite book distributor.
The only person who might not be suited for this book is someone who absolutely refuses to use a kitchen scale. US volumetric measurements are not provided. But I think, for most cooking enthusiasts, this is a non-issue.
Disclaimer – I kindly received a copy of this book from Ryland Peters & Small for this review. I’m not getting paid for this post. The views and opinions expressed are purely my own.