Japanese cooking: where to get started, shopping & niratama donburi

Some of you might not know that my writing extends further than just this blog (and is probably why this blog has been very quiet of late). Among other projects, I’m (slowly) working on my second full-length manuscript. I’m not really a method writer, but for some things, like cooking, I feel like it’s important that I know exactly how the process works. So, for my book, which has a Japanese-Australian protagonist who loves to cook, I felt it was important for me to actually get in the kitchen and do some Japanese-style cooking.

I decided not to start with sushi, though I have rolled some before. Instead, I decided I was craving the staples that I used to order at my favourite Japanese food lunch spot when I lived in Sydney; namely, chicken katsudon (chicken, rice and eggs), okonomiyaki (a Japanese savoury “pancake”) and tamagoyaki (rolled egg omlette).

And this is where I admit to pretty much being a newb when it comes to Japanese cooking. It’s not for lack of interest or fear of it being super complicated, it’s more out of laziness. When I lived in Sydney I was spoiled for choice and price, and even here in Brisbane, why cook katsudon when the local sushi train makes a perfectly yummy one? So my first port of call, as always, were bloggers.

I found these two brilliant blogs: Little Japan Mama and Just One Cookbook

Both have great recipes, beautiful photos and easy explanations of what some of thedifferent ingredients and techniques were.

So, after reading compulsively and making a huge list, I set off for my local Asian grocer to stock my pantry with essentials like dashi, mirin, pickled ginger and of course, Japanese mayonnaise. In Sydney, I lived in the inner city and really had no trouble when it came to picking Asian grocers. In Brisbane, on the north where I live, I’ve had more trouble finding somewhere to go.

But I came across Good Morning Asian Grocery on Gympie Road, Chermside (a few blocks towards the city from the shopping centre) and ducked in there to see what I could find. Impressively, I walked out with everything I need, plus a bag of Hello Panda cookies (I totally needed them) for under $20. It was super cheap and the staff were really friendly.

My grocery haul
I started my cooking the night after my visit to the Asian grocer. It’s just a small store with not much in the way of fresh produce, so I elected for this simple dish of niratama donburi from Just One Cookbook, which is fluffy egg omelette and garlic chives on rice.

I cheated. I used the Thermomix, which meant that I could cook the egg while I was steaming the rice underneath. I also mixed my eggs in the Thermie, which I think meant I’d overdone it a bit and contributes to the more flat look my egg has, so I’d skip that step next time.

Mixing the eggs

The verdict: In the post on Just One Cookbook, Nami makes a point of saying that this deceptively simple dish packs a wallop of flavour and even though mine doesn’t look anything like hers, it definitely has buckets of flavour.  I often make my eggs with the garlic chives we grow in the garden, but they never quite taste like this. It’s amazing how the simple addition of the garlic chives, sake and soy sauce just makes the egg taste amazing.  I was in a hurry to eat, so I took a hasty, sort of unattractive photo and then gobbled. But I would still call my first Japanese dish a mild success.


I’ve got some other dishes to try (the ones from the list above), and some more shopping to do, so stay tuned for my next post on Japanese cooking.

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