Obanzai Ryori – My introduction to Kyoto’s home-style cooking

Japanese cooking is a vast universe, way beyond the sushi, sashimi and ramen that we know of. (Read: Going beyond sushi: Eating my way through Japan). While every region has different styles of cooking, the food and cooking style varies within regions too, case in point the three cuisines of Kyoto – Kaiseki (the cuisine that invovles different cooking techniques and has evolved from the tea ceremony culture), Shojin ryori (the no meat, no onion-garlic cooking of the Buddhist monks) and Obanzai ryori (the simple home-style cooking of Kyoto). While the three styles differ from each other, they have a few things in common – using local and seasonal produce, minimal ingredients and simple flavours.

My introduction to Obanzai style of cooking happened at a local’s home in Kyoto, an experience I booked through Traveling Spoon. We drove through the Kamigamo river to reach our host Keiko Morita’s house in Koyama Kamigamo on the outskirts of Kyoto where she lives with her parents.

Kamigamo River, Kyoto

Kamigamo River, Kyoto

Our lunch began with a little tea ceremony where Keiko served us sencha and bancha tea.

In what can be described best as a minimal kitchen, Keiko gave us lessons in quick and easy home-style cooking. We learnt to rustle a quick tamogayaki (Japanese omelette also called dashimaki) in a traditional rectangular pan called makiyakinabe, made a stew of beef, carrots and potatoes, and stuffed shitake with chicken mince.

Keiko in her kitchen, Kyoto

Our meal was simple and the most satisfying one in Japan.

ONIGIRI (Rice balls)

Onigiri (Rice Balls)

TAMOGAYAKI or DASHIMAKI (Japanese omelette)

Tamogayaki, Japanese omelette


Pickled ginger

MISOSHIRU (Miso soup with mushrooms)

Misoshiru (Miso soup with mushrooms)

SHITAKE TSUKUNE (Meatballs stuffed with whole shitake, pan fried)

Shitake tsukune

NIKUJAGA (Beef, carrots and potato stew)


Japanese cooking tips:
– Dashi – a stock made with boiling water with seaweed and bonito flakes is the key to most of Japanese cooking. It makes the base for miso soup, added in stews and also in the flour batter of okonomiyaki and takoyaki. You can also get dashi powder from the market which you can just add to boiling water.
– Don’t add miso paste to your soup till the rest of the ingredients are completely boiled. Cooking will kill the healthy micro-organisms of miso paste.
– While stir frying meat or fish, use chopsticks, they make the flipping and turning easier.
– Remember the Japanese mantra of flavouring the food – Sa Shi Su Se So, which means Satou (sugar), Shi (salt), Su (vinegar), Seuyu (soy sauce), So (miso). The ingredients must be added in this order; flavours that are more likely to change after heating-up like soy sauce and miso are added in the end.

Recipe: Nikujaga (beef and potato stew)

100 gms thinly sliced beef
400 gms potatoes, peeled and diced
100 gms carrots, peeled and diced
1 onion, thinly sliced
½ tbsp. sugar
1 tbsp dashi stock
1 tbsp cooking sake
1 tbsp mirin
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp vegetable oil
400 ml water

– Heat oil in a pan and add onions, cook on medium heat till they turn pink.
– Add beef and cook and stir fry for 5 minutes. Add potatoes and carrots.
– Add water, cooking sake and dashi stock, bring to a boil, cover and cook for 10 minutes on low heat.
– Add sugar and mirin, cover and cook for another 5 minutes.
– Add soy sauce and let it simmer for 5 minutes without the cover.
– Reduce the water to one-third, serve with steamed rice.

You can replace beef with pork or mutton.


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