Japanese Cooking Lessons
4th & King Street
San Francisco, CA 94158
Gochiso Kitchen is run by Kyoko in the SoMa (South of Market) area of San Francisco. I’d been looking for a Japanese cooking school that had either vegetarian classes or private lessons. I love Japanese food, cooking and culture, and I was hoping that by taking a class or two of real, Japanese cooking (albeit vegan), I could somehow magically bridge the gap in my mind between Japanese cooking and macrobiotic cooking. Which is weird since macrobiotics is originally from Japan.
In 2001 I spent six weeks in Japan, and while I had my own issues while there (i.e. I totally suck at the language), I loved the culture. I didn’t love the fact that vegetarian food was difficult to find, but then we can’t have everything, can we?
Before and after my time in Japan, I had been teaching myself vegetarian Japanese recipes from various books. I still have these books and cook from them, but they are no replacement for an actual teacher—a real live person from Japan demonstrating how to cook rice and miso soup; someone who happily answers your questions and shows you bottles of different soy sauce and sake along with packages of kombu seaweed or Japanese rice. I learned more about Japanese rice in the few hours I spent with Kyoko than I had the whole six weeks I was in Japan; and certainly more than I had learned from books.
So I figured that if I spent some time learning authentic Japanese cooking from a real Japanese cooking instructor, maybe I could better understand macrobiotic cooking. I know it sounds strange but I guess I’m trying to take the back door into macrobiotics. I’m coming at it by attempting to understand Japanese cooking first. And honestly, I think it’s working. My mind is alive with the sound of….the pressure cooker. It’s bubbling away.
Anyway…. On with the class!
Kyoko offers lessons for groups up to eight people, as well as private lessons. The groups are kept small so everybody can gain hands-on experience. I emailed with her for about a week inquiring about vegetarian classes and menu items. She was very prompt with her emails and patient with my questions. We put together a veggie menu, agreed on a date and time and off I went!
Let me tell you, I had an awesome time! Kyoko is very nice and informative. She showed me all the basic Japanese seasonings like the different kinds of soy sauce and shoyu, mirin, sake, and miso. She gave me a prepared handout with all this information and the recipes we made together. She showed me how to make a basic vegetarian dashi—which is a soup stock used for miso soup along with many other dishes. Traditionally, dashi has bonita flakes—dried, fermented and smokes tuna—but obviously, the vegetarian version does not have bonito! (This is why vegetarians need to be careful when ordering miso soup in restaurants.)
After our lesson in dashi soup stock, we started in on our first recipes: fried eggplant marinated with dashi stock; or eggplant agebitashi. This involved frying whole Japanese eggplant and then letting them marinate in soy sauce dashi.
Next Kyoko showed me how to make to pickles using koji: pickled Napa cabbage with ama sake and cucumber pickles. Koji is either rice, barley or soybeans that has been infected with a special kind of mold. It’s used to make many things in Japanese cooking, including mirin, nattō, miso, soy sauce, saké, as well as homemade pickles. While I’ve heard of koji before, I had never worked with it, so I found this lesson fascinating.
Next we started preparing the rice. Kyoko showed me the package of Japanese rice (see picture below) that she uses and we had a long discussion on rice in general. She uses the same short grain Japanese white rice for all her cooking and recipes, including sushi! This surprised me since here in the US we have a bazillion different kinds rices—including special sushi rice. But it made sense once you realized how ubiquitous short grain white is in Japan. It’s not just a food, it’s part of the Japanese culture. This discussion on rice was all very informative; and inspired me to maybe pare down my own rice cupboard once I’ve gone through all my various jars of rice (pink rice, black rice, medium grain brown rice, etc.). In truth, I use short grain brown rice for nearly all my recies; so everything Kyoko told me made sense about using one kind of rice.
The rice dish we made was fried tofu and ginger rice. After washing the rice and letting it soak, we thinly sliced some abura-age (fried tofu), some ginger and then cooked the rice in a large donabe.
A donabe is a clay pot used in Japanese cooking and it works like a pressure cooker—which is how I always cook my own rice—so it was fun to see how a donabe works as a rice cooker.
While the rice cooked, we made our miso soup. Using the shiitake-kombu dashi Kyoko had made the night before, we heated it on the stove and added three kinds of mushrooms. Once the mushrooms were cooked, we turned the heat off and added the miso. Then Kyoko plated up the food and I sat down to eat my amazing meal.
The miso soup was every bit as delicious (and easy to make) as it looked. The rice was steaming hot and redolent of ginger; it was sticky, but not too sticky. I loved it. The pickles were crunchy and delicious, and the eggplant—cut in half and served with some of the marinating liquid was melt-in-your-mouth delectable. I was actually surprised at how delicious the eggplant was! I’m not usually a huge eggplant fan, but I ate my entire bowl.
All-in-all, I had a great time and learned so much about Japanese cooking. Kyoko also gives sushi lessons, so I’m hoping to take a friend next time I go.
If you have a real interest in Japanese cooking, check out gochisokitchen.com. Kyoko is very friendly and helpful and if you go, I’m sure you'll come away with a whole new perspective and respect for real Japanese cooking.