Why I Write About Food 027: Shihoko Ura of Chopstick Chronicles

There's more to Japanese food than sushi and ramen and Chopstick Chronicles is a good place to go for home-style recipes that are easy to follow. Not only does Shihoko show how things are done in a Japanese kitchen, she also offers useful insights on the origins and ingredients of some of the popular classics as well as obscure ones. 

Tell us about Chopstick Chronicles. 
Chopstick Chronicles is an authentic Japanese recipe blog where I share the Japanese recipes and foods that I grew up with. I was born and raised in Japan but moved to Australia in 1998. A change of diet because of the move made me gain weight gradually. In Japan, I mainly ate a little bit of rice, fish, and vegetables, but after moving to Australia, I ate red meat, bread, and lots of dairy. 

I joined the 'I Quit Sugar' eight-week program in the first round and won their Instagram competition. Since then, I've been hooked on taking food photography and thought that I could share easy and delicious Japanese recipes with people who are interested in Japanese culture and food. Chopstick Chronicles was launched in July of 2015.

Why do you write about food?
I love food, especially Japanese food and Asian food. These foods are part of my roots. I think all food has a story or a culture behind it. Through food, I can spread to the world the knowledge of Japanese culture and an understanding of its way of living and thinking. 

Which easy Japanese recipe would you recommend beginners of Japanese cooking start with? 
I recommend the popular Japanese street food Okonomiyaki (Japanese savory pancakes). Some people might be intimidated by the sophisticated and well-presented Japanese food but "okonomi" means what you like and "yaki" means grill, so you can make it the way you like it. You can use any ingredients you like and mix in flour, eggs, shredded cabbage and fry it like you make pancakes with whatever toppings you like. You can make it gluten free, paleo, vegan, or vegetarian. It suits anyone who has special dietary requirements and tastes delicious in any way you make it!

Can you name a versatile Japanese umami ingredient that can be incorporated in other types of food?  
The best and my favourite umami ingredient is shiitake mushroom stock. This stock is full of flavour and is very easy to make. It can be prepared in 20 minutes. And because it is a vegetable stock, it can be used for any dietary-restricted dish.

What are you currently reading? 
The book I am reading now is Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, recommended by Australian photographer Luisa Brimble, whom I met at a photography workshop. 

For food blogs, I follow Just One Cookbook by Nami Chan. She's a great storyteller and is doing an amazing job telling stories through Japanese recipes in the US. I often ask her for advice too. 

Another blog I follow is RecipeTin Japan, which is run by Yumiko, the mother of Nagi of the popular blog RecipeTin Eats. They both live in Australia and I recently attended a one-on-one photography workshop with Nagi. Yumiko has just launched the blog and it is amazing the way she explains Japanese food.

What's your favourite recipe on Chopstick Chronicles?
My favourite recipe that I make often is Daigaku Imo (sweet potato bite). It is easy, naturally sweet, and satisfies my sweet tooth. When I want to eat something sweet, I make this. Its name means university potato and I just love it. This was what university students in Tokyo made to sell in order to pay the expensive university fees. It's a simple Japanese food that has a great story behind it. 

Visit Shihoko's website at www.chopstickchronicles.com
Recommended Recipes:
Okonomiyaki (Japanese Savory Pancakes)
Japanese Kabocha Bread

Daigaku Imo (Sweet Potato Bite)