Have you ever dreamed of being a professional chef in the world of Japanese food? If you haven’t, then you’ve probably wanted to become a professional eater in the world of Japanese food. Or maybe you want to do both. You want to cook it all, eat it all, and then have your free dessert with pride and gusto.
You can do all of this at Tokyo Kitchen in Asakusa, which is a cooking class offered primarily to tourists visiting the Tokyo area (although it is available to residents as well). The classes are given completely in English by Yoshimi Daido, who has been cooking for herself and the rest of her family since the age of 10 and is something of a professional home chef. She knows exactly the right amount of time to leave rice cooking in a cast-iron pot (no rice cookers in this class) and the number of seconds to wait before dropping another set of vegetables into the hot oil for tempura. She measures nothing, but everything comes out tasting deliciously.
Japan is certainly a mecca of tourist activities–places to see, temples to pray at, streets to shop. It is also a world of experience if you know where to look. Yoshimi’s class is personal: you learn, chop, peel, season, mix, fry and cook together. The meal you make is truly authentic, and you had more than half a hand in its conception.
Not only do you cook, but Yoshimi also provides a brief but detailed background of Japanese cuisine, explaining everything from the different types of soy sauce to the multiple onomatopoeic words that are used to describe food in Japanese to table and chopstick manners. You can take notes on the note cards she gives you–note cards with all of the recipes you make that day. Everything is basically already taken care of for you; you just need to show up. As Yoshimi told me: “The hardest part of this class is putting on the apron.” (She was not wrong. The apron takes some effort.)
I had the pleasure of experiencing Yoshimi’s class this past Monday with my roommate. We made vegetable and shrimp tempura, hiyayakko (cold, seasoned tofu with toppings), seasoned spinach and miso soup from scratch (none of that instant or powder broth stuff). It was just a few hours of casual cooking, but I learned a lot–including the secret as to why tempura shrimp is always long instead of curled, which BLEW MY MIND. (I’m not telling you! You have to figure it out for yourself!) Even if you think you might know everything there is to know about Japanese food, it’s a completely different experience when someone who has been doing this for their entire life is right in front of you explaining how to fry tempura.
I’ve fried a ton of tempura in my life. It’s definitely in my list of top three Japanese foods. But my tempura has never been as good as when I made it with Yoshimi.
Perhaps the best part is that the class is actually fun. Waking up at 9 to take a cooking class was not my idea of a good time, but Yoshimi’s class was worth it. The “classroom”–an apartment Yoshimi rents specifically for the class–itself is worth it: it’s situated next to the Sumida river and is refurbished, giving it an airy, modern feel in an older but beautiful neighborhood.
Yoshimi also offers a kimono try-on experience for women, so after you’ve finished eating your meal (with your complementary dessert) you can have her fit you into a kimono and take pictures. She also films a short movie throughout the lesson and puts it together for you on her blog and Facebook so you can have a little souvenir of what you did, and of course show it off to everyone you know on social media.
Classes are held in the mornings on weekdays and in the evenings during the weekend, and the menu is set for each day, although if you are the first person to book the class you can request to cook something else.
Check out the website here. Happy cooking! More importantly: happy eating!
All photos taken by Massiel Gutierrez. The opinions expressed are the author’s own.