- a blog about food and value

Japanese food: Still not sold but getting there

Photo: The Guardian

Photo: The Guardian

Until recently the only Japanese food I tried was sushi and it turned me off the cuisine completely.

My friend, who can’t and won’t cook, asked me around for dinner and produced a range of off the shelf sushi.

It was a harrowing experience; I felt like one those z list ‘celebrities’ in the jungle who eat wigerery grubs to boost their careers.

In fact it totally freaked me out and I assumed Japanese food was all raw fish so I decided to skip it all together.

Realising that I can’t stay ignorant all my life, I decided to give it another try. After flicking through the Guardian, Yotam Ottolenghi came to the rescue and I tried his ‘Udon noodles with miso and walnuts’. It delivered the intense flavours of Japan and I am starting to come around. I’m still not completely sold and the jury is still out but I will certainly give Japanese another go.
Is there any cuisine that makes your stomach churn?

Udon noodles with miso and walnuts

Serves four


  • ½ medium cucumber
  • 3 spring onions
  • 2 small aubergines
  • 250ml sunflower oil, plus
  • 1 tbsp extra 
  • 100g shallots, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp chopped ginger
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 120g walnuts, lightly toasted and roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp mild miso paste
  • 150ml vegetarian dashi*
  • 3 tbsp mirin
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp sake, optional
  • 250g udon noodles

* Dashi: available in Asian food stores, or use vegetable stock as an alternative; it won’t have the same Japanese authenticity but you will still get the idea from the rest of the dish


  1. Cut the cucumber into long, thin, 2mm-thick strips and chill. Cut the spring onions in two from top to bottom, then cut into thin julienne, put into a bowl of iced water and chill.
  2. Use a potato peeler to peel strips of skin from the aubergines, from top to bottom, so it leaves a stripy pattern; cut the aubergines into 2.5cm-thick discs, then cut each disc into four. Heat 250ml oil in a ­medium pan and deep-fry the ­aubergine in batches until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a colander, sprinkle with a little salt and leave to drain.
  3. Put the shallots and remaining oil in a large pan and sauté on medium heat. Once they soften up, after about two minutes, add the ginger and garlic, and cook on low heat for five minutes. Add the walnuts and fried aubergine, stir and set aside.
  4. In a bowl, whisk the remaining ­ingredients bar the noodles, ­cucumber and spring onions, then add to the pan.
  5. Cook the noodles as ­instructed on the packet. While you do so, ­reheat the sauce and allow some evaporation so it thickens a ­little but not much. Serve individual portions of hot noodles, topped in the centre with walnut sauce. Finish with a sprinkling of the cucumber and spring onion, drained and dried.


  1. If buying Japanese products, check dates on products. The Asia Market on Drury Street is by far and away the best source for these products – they have a whole aisle.

    Dashi (stock) is really simple to make (you can get instant dashi) but its a cinch to make up quickly. Its just two ingredients – Kombu (seaweed) and katsuobushi (dried fish flakes) – doesnt take any of the time or effort that is needed to make normal stock.

    Substituting vegetarian stock cubes in, (imho) totally defeats the purpose of the dish. If you are going to go to the effort of getting most of the ingredients, dashi really isnt a big deal at all.

    I can see why people are turned off Japanese Food – but once you get the taste for it, it’s totally addictive. Add to that, the fact that its by far the healthiest food out there and you can see why more japanese restaurants are opening up than any other in the US.

  2. Polish food. All that bitter stuff, yuk.

  3. You’re probably sick of being preached to about japanese food and sushi but there is so much more to it than just raw fish. Chicken Teriyaki rolls are the biz.
    The Hop House (reviewed on this site) does a great range of options, its quite pricey though.

  4. And dont forget Wagamamamama has alot of Japanese stuff too.

  5. Ugh I was encouraged to try the sushi from M&S – the non fishy one because I really don’t go out of my way to eat fish – it just tasted fishy to me and I had to bin it (and I hate throwing food out!)

    I often pop in to the Asian shops near my office for bits and pieces but I have to admit I hold my breath in the one at Jervis because of the fishy smell!! All the memories flooding back of being in Dunmore East as a child and wanting to heave from the smell of the harbour…LOL wonder was that why I moved to a landlocked county….

  6. The Asia Market on Drury Street is amazing and doesn’t smell of fish!