Laura and her partner Sarah are two creative foodies out to discover enticing flavours and food ideas. When they aren't tucking into their latest delicious find, they're writing, photographing and designing at www.sarahlauradesign.com
Published March 27th 2015
Authentic in-home Japanese cooking experience with Kobe Beef
If you're a foodie and have Japan on your holiday wish list, be sure to check out Haru Cooking Classes in Kyoto. Jump in and try your hand at preparing traditional Japanese dishes and learn about the history of Japanese food along the way. Located just a short bus ride away from downtown Kyoto Station or JR Kyoto Station, classes are held at the home of Taro and his family Yoshiko, Haruko and Kyoko in Shimogamo, a peaceful residential area. The easiest way to get there is to take a city bus (numbers 4 or 205) from JR Kyoto station (or from anywhere on Kawaramachi street. Get off at Shin Aoibashi stop. (Two stops AFTER Kawaramachi-Imadegawa stop and two stops BEFORE Shimogamo shrine). Note that it's possible to walk there if you have the time and the weather is nice, so you could even take in the sights or do a bit of shopping along the way.
Take the opportunity to learn about one of Japan's favourite dishes - Kobe Beef.
Taro will meet you at the local bus station for the short walk to his house nearby. Be sure to take off your shoes, Japanese style, before going inside and sitting down for a great introduction from Taro about the cooking experience awaiting you. Over a hot cup of tea and a cracker or two you'll learn about key ingredients used in Japanese cuisine as well as why Kobe beef is so well loved in Japan and around the world. Taro speaks excellent English so feel free to fire away with any questions you may have about food of Japan during this fun and enlightening conversation.
Lightly salted wheat crackers and roasted barley tea were a pleasant snack during our class.
While waiting with much anticipation for our chance to cook (and eat) the Kobe Beef we had a look at some of the other ingredients in store for us on the day. Being lovers of mushrooms we were excited to see Japanese enoki and shimeji mushrooms, and were intrigued by the large red carrots called 'kintoki', alongside more familiar ingredients such as cucumbers, peppers and garlic. All together they make for a colourful and appetising plate, which is one of the things we love most about Japanese cuisine. What we loved even more was finding that Taro buys all the ingredients from local markets to support local farmers, and you can even accompany him on a market trip to check it all out for yourself (more information below).
Taro only uses fresh, local produce from the Nishiki Market.
First up on our menu was to prepare the Dashi Stock. This is arguably the most important ingredient in Japanese cuisine and is what gives so many dishes that unique flavour. This simple yet tasty ingredient was essential for a few of the other dishes we would soon prepare, so it was a great place to start. Made from boiled kombu seaweed and dried fish flakes, the dashi stock was very simple to prepare. Taro explained that while there are convenient powdered stock products on the market, many are full of added salt and MSG, so it's always best to make your own if you have the time.
Learn Japanese home-style cooking techniques that you can replicate at home.
With the dashi stock merrily bubbling away we turned our minds to Miso Soup. It's fair to say that this dish is so popular in Japan that it's served with almost every meal. Miso paste, made from fermented soy beans, is added to dashi stock and heated over a low flame until it dissolves. Various dry ingredients such as tofu and wakame (a type of seaweed) are added to individual bowls before the soup is ladled over the top.
Next we began preparing the Amazu Miso Dare. We used this sweet and sour dressing to give flavour to our side salad of pickled Japanese vegetables: daikon (radish), kintoki (red carrot), and shiso leaves (a bitter leaf similar to mint). When pickled these vegetables gained a delicious crunchy texture while retaining their gorgeous colours; a beautiful dish to look at as well as to eat.
Sharp folded steel knives hand-made in Kyoto were a thrill to work with.
Another side dish we prepared was Nabeshigi, consisting of minced chicken, green pepper and sweet fried tofu, which was cooked in a blend of soy, miso, mirin and sugar. So simple to prepare, yet so full of flavour, and a perfect addition to the overall meal.
Here is Taro in action, explaining the techniques and guiding you through each step in great detail.
By far the most fun dish to cook was the Japanese rolled omelette; we all had fun attempting to replicate Taro's skill at flipping the omelette using chopsticks. We found out that there's definitely a knack to it, but it's not too hard to pick up with a bit of practice. How do you think you'll go?
One of the tricker techniques to master on the day: flipping omelettes with chopsticks.
With our side dishes now complete it was time to cook the Kobe beef. The high quality beef was cooked in Kobe Beef fat to retain as much of the delicious flavour as possible, with the only additions being a few cracked cloves of garlic to the oil when cooking, and a light dusting of salt and pepper to each piece of beef. Thinly sliced, transferred to the plate and it was ready to be eaten.
A slice such as this sirloin cut of Kobe beef is all you need between 6 people.
Japan is the home of wagyu beef, which when translated literally means 'Japanese Cow'. Four specific breeds of beef fall under the 'wagyu' category, one of which is Kobe Beef, which is the most famous. It's becoming so popular internationally as well, and this is one of the main reasons is why we chose this lesson, so that we could learn more about the beef and how to cook it properly. Taro told us that Kobe Beef breeders are meticulous about carefully raising their cows and the herd numbers are kept very small, which means better quality, and of course higher prices. In classes Taro generally uses a sirloin cut, and his suppliers even give him a certificate showing the authenticity of the steak so you'll know that you're getting the real deal.
Lightly fried in its own fat, the meat was glistening on the plate which still remaining nice and pink on the inside.
Once the beef was taken out of the pan some green peppers, enoki, and shimeji mushrooms were lightly cooked in the remaining oil, giving them a truly unique and delicious flavour and making the perfect accompaniment to the delicious Kobe Beef.
A few simple ingredients accompany the beef, as the flavour on its own is more than enough.
After almost four hours of wonderful conversation, fun demonstration and, practical hands on experience we were very excited to see the products of our hard work arrive on the table, plated up to perfection by Taro's wife Yoshiko. After a quick 'Itadakimasu' ('Let's eat!') we picked up our chopsticks and got to try our first taste of Kobe Beef - delicious. Don't worry though, If you prefer a knife and fork feel free to ask.
Light sides accompanied the beef perfectly.
The entire meal, while spead out was actually a really nice meal size.
Haru's Cooking Classes have three different experiences available, including a Vegetarian cooking class (approx $60 AUD per person), a Kobe Beef cooking class (approximately $80 per person), and a Nishiki Food Market Experience (additional $40 AUD per person) for those who want to check out where Kyoto's food and food culture intertwine.
On average, class sizes range from two to four people with a maximum of six. Individuals are welcome to book and join a class, however please note that private classes are not guaranteed so you may have others join your group during a class. Beginners are more than welcome as classes focus on home style cooking using recipes that are easy to replicate at home.