Japanese American Blogger Pens a Cookbook About Ramen
By Connie K. Ho
Summer is winding down, and soon, the crisp feel of fall, complete with its dropping temperatures, will be in the air. What better way to welcome the changing seasons and weather than to fill your stomach with the greatest comfort food: warm, soupy ramen.
The Pacific Citizen recently interviewed Japanese American blogger Amy Kimoto-Kahn to find out about her new cookbook “Simply Ramen: A Complete Course in Preparing Ramen Meals at Home.” Her new book offers recipes that even the most novice chef can make in addition to insight about her experience in cooking and writing the unique and delicious recipes.
Kahn, who grew up in Orange County, Calif., but now lives with her family in the San Francisco Bay Area, is a graduate of the Miyajima Ramen School in Osaka, Japan, and has also taught Asian-inspired cooking classes for Williams-Sonoma. She also shares Japanese American recipes on her blog, Easy Peasy Japanesey, in addition to running a marketing firm, Fat Duck Consulting, which she founded in 2008.
The Pacific Citizen: How did the book come about?
Amy Kimoto-Kahn: I had been working on a book proposal for about four years with my editor with the original book idea for easy Japanese American recipes that would be a compilation of family-friendly recipes and those that had been passed down for generations in my family.
When my agent sent the proposal out, one of the publishers —Race Point Publishing — asked if I would consider doing a book on ramen instead. I agreed but first told them that I’d like to go to ramen school in Japan first. So, I attended the Miyajima Ramen School in Osaka for an intensive ramen cooking master class and came back to start the book and start developing recipes.
The Pacific Citizen: What was the experience like in putting together the book?
Kimoto-Kahn: I had never written a book before, so everything was new to me. Luckily, I had an agent who helped me through the process, and I just learned as I went along. I had only a little over seven months to write the table of contents, recipe test and submit the entire manuscript, which was very difficult to do.
The recipes came pretty easy to me because I love to cook and experiment, but writing the headnotes (notes above the recipes), preface, introduction and other nonrecipe chapters were a challenge because I’m just not a professional writer.
The Pacific Citizen: Where did the recipes come from?
Kimoto-Kahn: In my book, I start off with four basic recipes for the traditional types of ramen — Shio, Shoyu, Miso and Tonkotsu. The Tonkotsu is the only recipe that is directly from my Sensei Rikisai from ramen school.
The others I developed over trial and error with the goal of having them be easy enough for the home cook made with ingredients that are accessible with a soup that has a rich, layered flavor.
I then took those four basic types and combined them with other ingredients to make different variations, which is where the nontraditional part comes in. For instance, I take my Shio soup and add coconut milk and curry powder to the soup base to make an Indonesian Pork Ramen with Coconut Curry Soup, or I’ll take the Tonkotsu soup and add finely grated Gouda cheese to make a Cheese Ramen inspired by a ramenya known for this in Tokyo called Tsukomo.”
I also have a friend, Malaysian chef Emily Lai, who helped me create a Malaysian Curry Laksa Ramen where you add homemade laksa (a Malaysian dish of Chinese origin, consisting of rice noodles served in a curry sauce or hot soup) paste and use preserved shrimp shells to your ramen soup base to give it tons of flavor. It’s nontraditional because I take the basic traditional types of ramen and turn them into original style ramen that is nontraditional.
Many of my recipes do have some inspiration from church cookbooks my family has collected over the years or from recipes passed down over generations. My Auntie Alice also gave me some old, treasured Japanese cookbooks that gave me lots of ideas to try.
The Pacific Citizen: What do you enjoy about cooking?
Kimoto-Kahn: I enjoy the process, the bringing together of family and friends from cooking, the warmth and memories cooking and eating can invoke and the pleasure of tasting something that is so satisfying with the reward that you’ve created it.
I learned to cook from my mom, growing up and being curious in the kitchen and having her teach me not just the technical aspects of using a knife, cleaning as you go, but also how your food should always be visually appealing, balanced and well-timed.
I remember picking fern and flowers in the garden to help her garnish dishes and make them look beautiful. I used to pretend I had my own cooking show in the backyard, and I would make mud pies while I explained my process to a fake audience.
So, for me, I’ve always wanted cooking to be a part of my life. I do cook with my kids, and my youngest daughter, Ellie, who is 3 years old, seems to be the most interested, so we have so much fun together.
The Pacific Citizen: What was it like growing up as a Japanese American?
Kimoto-Kahn: I grew up in Fullerton, Calif., in the heart of Orange County in Southern California. I have an older brother and sister, neither who really like to cook, so I enjoy cooking for them when I visit or when they visit me. I do still have family in Hiroshima, Japan, but I’ve never visited them. Hopefully, some day.
The Pacific Citizen: And how did your experience during your time in Japan affect your cooking and, ultimately, your life?
Kimoto-Kahn: I did visit Japan when I attended ramen school in Osaka and also went to Kyoto and Tokyo for pleasure. I’m a Yonsei (fourth-generation Japanese American), and even though I took over 10 years of Japanese school, my Japanese is far from good, so I didn’t speak much Japanese while there.
For me, the trip was life-changing. Japan is filled with the most beautiful landscapes and architecture seeped with history, generous people who will stop what they are doing and literally walk you to your destination if you are lost, people that respect others so much that it makes you look at yourself and change and, of course, it has the most delicious food — from street food to the finest dining.
Going there made me so proud to be Japanese, and their dedication to the craft of cooking is no wonder why Tokyo has more Michelin stars than any other city in the world. My ramen experiences there helped me develop my basic recipes and set the bar for the flavor profile I was looking for. Without going to Japan, I feel like I could not have written a cookbook I could be proud of.
“Simply Ramen: A Complete Course in Preparing Ramen Meals at Home” can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Indie Bound and Kinokuniya Book Store. Follow Kimoto-Kahn on Facebook and Instagram for updates or visit her blog easypeasyjapanesey.com for recipes.