How to bring Japan home with you: take a Japanese cooking class in Tokyo!

This is your big chance to learn to cook those tasty tidbits from a Japanese chef, in the heart of Tokyo’s kitchen district

One of the best things anyone can bring back from Tokyo is a love of Japanese food. I don’t know about you, but the thing that surprised me most about my first trip to Japan was that I said yes to every tempting morsel (and 10-course meal) that came my way, but when I got home and stepped on the scale…I’d LOST WEIGHT. That’s because food here is wickedly healthy in every way, but so tasty I had no idea I was being so virtuous.

But the downside is, a lot of it is hard to find in restaurants outside of Japan. It’s a little torturous to be pining for that perfect bite of yakitori grilled chicken, but not be able to scratch that itch when you’re half a world away.

Unless you learn to make it yourself! And the most entertaining way is to do it is to set aside a few hours to take a cooking class while you’re here, taught by a Japanese professional chef. I’ve been searching for a great cooking class to recommend to you, and after taking Chagohan Tokyo’s class yesterday, I’ve finally found it!

The toughest question is, what to learn first? I finally decided that I’m most ashamed of how many boatloads of perfectly good vegetables and shrimp I’ve transformed into soggy, greasy nuggets, so I decided to really stress the system and take the tempura class.

And…OMG, miracle of miracles, in two hours, they actually taught me how to turn this:

…into this

I know it’s hard to believe, but I MADE THIS. If you recall how lame I was at making plastic food at home and rabbit lollipops, you’ll know that this was like teaching a chicken to recite the Declaration of Independence

And here’s the bonus bit: Chef Masa didn’t just teach me how to make excellent crispy tempura, I went home with some killer new knife skills and cutting techniques, and was armed with the why of deep frying, so now I can also make all kinds of other stuff that was beyond my reach before (who said donuts? SHUT UP)

Now I know the secret technique for making mushrooms look like they were blessed by the star fairies, instead of turning them into awkward brown lumps
It’s not just the cutting that makes veggies cook evenly and un-soggily
And I’d never have guessed in a million years that this most-hated of jobs could be tackled in such an elegant way. This is the kind of stuff that taking a class is great for – you just can’t learn it without seeing it done and being able to ask questions with your own toothpick and shrimp in hand
Whipping up eggs like a Chopsticks Master? ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED
Recipes on the internet never quite cover how to put the shrimpity-shrimps into the boiling oil without getting burn freckles up to the elbows, or how to look for the signs that it’s exactly the right time to take them out
We even learned how to make the tempura sauce, so my days of trekking across town to the Japanese market to buy it are history
And finally…lunchtime! Sitting down to eat the fruits of our labors, accompanied by a lovely curated glass of sake was the perfect ending to a fine workshop
On the day I took the class, Masa-san was teaching while Junko-san whipped up a killer pot of takikomi gohan (rice cooked with seasonal bits of autumn vegetables) to eat with our tempura, proving that there’s more than one fine chef in this household

And finally, two more extremely important points:

One: Masa-san and Junko-san speak great English. They’re not only able to teach in a natural and easily-understandable way, they can also field questions and answer them with ease. As a veteran of many Tokyo workshops/classes, I can tell you this is super rare, even among the ones that advertise “English available.”

Two: You can book in advance and online, in English. They have a really nice and easy-to-use website that allows you to reserve in advance, with a foreign credit card. If you’re reserving WAY in advance, you may need to email them and be a little patient while they juggle their busy teaching schedule to reply. Don’t wait too long, though – classes fill up fast!

If you want to cut to the chase and see what’s available while you’re in Tokyo, here’s the link to their booking page.

So many things I’m bad at making, so little time!
The happy camper with the world’s most patient chef

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