Originally published at Viator.com.
Japanese cuisine is perhaps what the Western world knows most about the land of the rising sun. Even so, there remains a mountain of material to explore beyond sushi and tempura. To best explore, you need a guide like Satomi for an authentic and private Japanese cooking class.
Despite my nearly two weeks of travel in Japan, I had yet to actually enter someone’s home. Anyone who has read up on Japanese culture knows that it’s rare that a foreigner traveling would be invited to someone’s home, making the experience that much more special.
Of course the highlight was the home-cooked meal. On our menu was hourenso no shira-ae, a mixture of spinach and tofu gravy, Kyoto-style ozouni, a white miso-based soup with sticky rice, radish and mushrooms, a bowl of rice and grilled yellow tail. Satomi walked me through prep and cooking, offering as much detailed as I asked for and not a bit more. She clearly knew the fine line between overwhelming a guest and offering just enough information to feel like you’ve learned something.
During prep, Satomi shared that her culinary training came mostly from her father while growing up in Kyoto, located about two-and-a-half hours away from Tokyo by Shinkansen bullet train. The white miso is a staple of Kyoto cooking, according to Satomi. The rest of the menu were simply some her favorite Japanese dishes to cook for her guests.
While dining, I asked her why she started opening up her kitchen to guests. By the time I entered, she had welcomed approximately 20 groups over the past year. As it turned out, her motivation came from being in my shoes.
Before Satomi’s cooking lesson, it never dawned on me to find my way into a local kitchen. Sure I’ve asked for restaurant recommendations that locals love and tourists rarely find, but this was my first time traveling through a country and being welcomed into someone’s home to see their kitchen in action. Satomi was incredibly kind, personable and willing to put up with every silly question I could muster up and throw her way.
This was a comprehensive look not only into Japanese cuisine beyond sushi, but also into Japanese cooking technique — something I’ll undoubtedly bring back home with me. Anyone traveling to Tokyo who is interested in Japanese cuisine and want to experience it like the locals do should definitely consider signing up for a private cooking lesson and meal in Satomi’s home.