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Let me begin by saying that I'm the geek who loved Japanese food, and that it's mostly due to my love of anime. Ever since I watched Naruto chomp down on his bowl of ramen, I was entranced. I needed to eat like my favorite anime characters. Hell, I wanted to travel to Japan.
But, if you've ever been to a restaurant, it's pretty clear that it's easier said than done. The ingredients are difficult to find, the food has to be prepared just right, and the presentation tends to be insanely artistic.
There isn't a Japanophile alive who hasn't gone to a sushi bar, sighed, and wished that they could make authentic Japanese food at home. Sushi bars and Japanese steakhouses are just too expensive to enjoy on a regular basis—and being able to bring that flavor home is a dream come true for many of us.
Believe it or not, making your own delicious Japanese meals isn't that hard. As long as you're willing to hit up a local Asian supermarket, you can find the ingredients you want relatively easily. Making most meals, too, tends to be fairly simple once you learn how.
The hard part, though, is finding a cookbook that can teach you how to cook real, authentic, true-to-Tokyo cuisine. Not sure where to begin? Give these cookbooks a read-through and start cooking like a true nihonjin ["Japanese people" in Japanese].
Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji
Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art was one of the first cookbooks to teach Westerners how to make authentic Japanese food at home. The book has been in circulation for well over 25 years—and has become a must-have for anyone who wants to take a foray into Japan's culinary world.
This classic cookbook remains a staple in every chef's library, simply due to its elegant photographs, great recipes, and detailed stories behind the cuisine. Over 230 different recipes are included, as well as important notes on cooking tools and food preparation.
Japanese Soul Cooking: Ramen, Tonkatsu, Tempura, and More from the Streets and Kitchens of Tokyo and Beyond by Tadashi Ono
There's something to be said about a country's street food. In the streets of New York City, nothing is quite as representative of the Big Apple as a "dollar slice" or a dirty water dog. In San Francisco, nothing quite beats the taste of a food truck taco.
Japanese Soul Cooking avoids talking about sushi, and zeroes in on teaching people how to make authentic Japanese food found on street corners and snack stands. Ramen, tonkatsu, and, yes, fried rice can all be found here.
For people who hate sushi but love exotic fare, this recipe book can't be beat. The food tastes like it was served right from a local hotspot in Ginza.
Tokyo Cult Recipes by Maori Murota
If there's one thing that anime geeks and Japanophiles can agree on, it's the fact that Japanese food has a serious cult following. It's a following that tends to glorify and, to a point, mystify the techniques used to make everyday meals.
Japanese Cult Recipes is a book that focuses on making homemade Japanese fare easier to do, easier to shop for, and also a lot more authentic than what most other books may offer. It's a great choice for anyone who wants to get a more realistic taste of Japanese home cooking.
Ramen at Home by Brian MacDuckston
The only food to really rival sushi's notoriety among Japanese fare is ramen—and no, we're not talking about those awful 30-cent packets you grab at Shoprite. Visiting any of the best ramen spots in NYC will assure you that real ramen isn't just a bag of noodles with salty broth; it's a full meal.
Ramen at Home teaches you how to make the most popular Japanese meal of all time, right in the comfort of your own home. You'll learn about the different types of ramen, how ramen gets served, and how to add your favorite meats to ramen.
Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook by Mark Robinson
The streets of Tokyo are dotted with five main types of food venues: food stands, ramen restaurants, sushi bars, upscale venues, and pubs. Most Western travelers are surprised to see the kinds of food served up in pubs—or that there are even pubs in Japan at all.
Izakaya is one of the very few English language cookbooks that teach you how to make authentic Japanese food that's served up in pubs throughout the country. From yakitori to more innovative fusion platter, Izakaya will bring a new level of culinary understanding to your world.
The Japanese Grill by Tadashi Ono
Who doesn't love a good barbecue? In the United States, BBQ is often accompanied with spicy sauces, apple cider vinegar, some corn on the cob, and an ice cold beer. The flavor profile of a typical Japanese barbecue, though, is quite different.
Sweeter, juicier meats with a lot less smoke are the norm. If you love teriyaki sauce or similar seasonings, then trying out Tadashi Ono's The Japanese Grill will be a wonderfully exotic way to kick off summer.
The Complete Guide to Sushi and Sashimi by Jeffrey Elliot
You knew we had to have at least one sushi book, right? This massive tome offers all the recipes you need in order to make any of the best types of sushi at home. Some of the recipes, such as yellowtail sushi, are totally authentic. Others, such as the ones for California rolls, are more Americanized.
This is one of the few books that walks the fine line between East and West in a way that's palatable for everyone. People who want to make authentic Japanese food while also keeping more American-friendly treats in hand will love The Complete Guide to Sushi and Sashimi.
Yummy Kawaii Bento by Li Ming Lee
Bento boxes are Japanese lunch boxes, and there's an entire practice to making them as elegant and nutritious as possible. Among Japanese parents, a common belief is that a child who has an ugly bento box will not want to eat their meals.
Making the cutest possible bento box is a legitimate competition in Japan. This nifty book is one of Amazon's top choices for people who want to learn how to make bento box meals.
The Just Bento Cookbook by Makiko Itoh
Bento boxes might be a common schoolyard meal, but that doesn't mean they aren't for adults as well. Almost every adult who commutes to work will have a homemade bento box in tow—and if they don't, they'll pick one up on the way to work.
Makiko Itoh has become one of Japan's leading bento box gurus, and is known for her site, JustBento. You can now learn how to make authentic Japanese food for work using her smash hit cookbook.
Just One Cookbook: Essential Japanese Recipes by Namiko Chen
Most cookbooks on this list are made by professional chefs, restaurateurs, or professional cookbook writers. Not this one. Namiko Chen draws on her time in her mother's kitchen to show others how to make authentic Japanese food she ate as a child.
From classic Japanese recipes like seaweed salad, to old school Tokyo comfort foods, Namiko's wonderful cookbook will give you an inner glimpse into what life is like in Nippon.