The Food Column: Japan's tragedy inspired cookbook on cuisine from Tohoku region

March 8, 2012 8:31 am
  • "Kibo" by Elizabeth Andoh includes recipes for Tohuko favorites.
    "Kibo" by Elizabeth Andoh includes recipes for Tohuko favorites.
  • Rice Taffy Dumplings with Crushed Edamame from "Kibo" by Elizabeth Andoh.
    Rice Taffy Dumplings with Crushed Edamame from "Kibo" by Elizabeth Andoh.
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Elizabeth Andoh was standing in her Tokyo kitchen last March 11 when life in Japan changed forever.

She was preparing to teach a cooking class the following day. The class never happened.

Survivors would later say they thought last year's earthquake in Japan would never end. It lasted several panicky minutes and measured a whopping 9.0 on the Richter scale.

But that was only the beginning. As news reports filtered in, Ms. Andoh heard terrifying stories of the tsunami that engulfed her fellow citizens to the northeast -- and then of the nuclear meltdown.

And she felt useless.

How could a food writer help in the face of such calamity?

A month after the quake, she carried through with a previously scheduled trip to Boston.

"I had the opportunity to experience this disaster the way the rest of the world was experiencing it," said Ms. Andoh, who was born and raised in New York but has lived mainly in Japan since her university days in the 1960s. "People had a genuine concern and a real fear" for how this tragedy would affect the world. "They wanted to be involved in some way."

This spurred her to find a way to help -- and to form a community of helpers.

She turned to what she knew -- food.

A graduate of the Yanagihara School of Classical Japanese Cuisine, Ms. Andoh has written for Gourmet and The New York Times and penned five cookbooks aimed at exporting Japanese cuisine to the world.

Fortuitously, immediately before the earthquake, she'd submitted a proposal for a cookbook featuring Japanese regional cuisines.

She zoomed in on the Tohoku region, the coastal province most devastated by the quake. People were fleeing the region. One essay in the cookbook describes the "evacuation en masse" of an entire town from the Tohoku region to northern Tokyo.

Ms. Andoh recognized that with the evacuation could come a huge shift in culinary traditions.

"When there's a mass evacuation and people move away, strange things happen to the foods and people's memories of them."

She decided to write a cookbook that would capture Tohoku food before the disaster and then donate some of the proceeds to relief efforts. She involved a small army of volunteer recipe testers and guest writers. Ten Speed Press, her publisher, chose an e-book format so it could be released before the quake's first anniversary this Sunday.

The book, "Kibo," which translates as "Brimming with Hope," includes recipes for such Tohoku favorites as Miso-Seared Scallops, Pinched-Noodle Soup with Pork and Salmon Rice Topped with Red Caviar. We tested a dessert recipe, Rice Taffy Dumplings with Crushed Edamame (below).

For sugar syrup: Heat sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve. Continue to cook over medium heat, stirring, for 1 minute, or until the mixture becomes transparent and the bubbles become a bit foamy. Set aside.

Rebecca Sodergren:
First Published 2012-03-07 23:45:39

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