Japanese Comfort Food
December 21, 2014 10:09 AM   Subscribe

A friend of mine is having to be in the hospital for the next ten days or so. I've promised him I'll make him dinner when he's out, and his request is for Japanese comfort food. I've done some googling and ramen and/or miso soup was already going to be on the menu, but I'm really interested in vetted/actually-from-Japan recipes and I don't have enough knowledge of Japanese cuisine to evaluate them.

No dietary restrictions on my friend's side; I can't eat nuts (seeds are fine). I'm decently stocked for equipment and have access to pretty much any foodstuff commonly available in a large city (and for unrelated reasons have a ridiculous quantity of bonito). Bonus points for seriously budget-conscious recipes.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
Japanese curry w/ rice is cheap and easy. I like it with katsu which is a breaded and fried pork or chicken cutlet, but that is optional. Definitely comforting!
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 10:14 AM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

okonomiyaki!!! I don't know why it isn't as ubiquitous as pizza. so delicious
posted by citron at 10:17 AM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Katsu Curry with a generous drizzle of Tonkatsu sauce is just the job!
posted by Middlemarch at 10:21 AM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oyoko Donburi! It will travel well too.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:22 AM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Third curry. As it's winter, Buta no Kakuni is also a nice, rich dish. It can be made with shoulder instead of pork belly. I use this recipe but just by cooking it in a large sauce pan.
posted by Muttoneer at 10:28 AM on December 21, 2014

Cookpad seems to be a pretty good source for actually-from-Japan Japanese recipes. They started out as a Japanese-only site and expanded into English a few years back.
posted by contraption at 10:30 AM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Seconding okonomiyaki, and this is the cookbook I would recommend for it.
posted by winna at 10:34 AM on December 21, 2014

And yes, curry.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 10:45 AM on December 21, 2014

Omurice (with a cartoon face drawn on it in ketchup)

Basically anything considered "Youshoku cuisine", Japanese-style Western food. I can't think of any more comforting Japanese food than that.

Of course, you could just ask your friend which dishes he wants.
posted by pravit at 10:50 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Of course, you could just ask your friend which dishes he wants.

Well, yes. I am hoping to gain some familiarity.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:51 AM on December 21, 2014

My wife is Japanese, and the comfort food she cooks for our kids includes:

Curry rice
Croquette (potato, mince)
Salisbury steak using a combo fatty ground pork, lean ground beef
posted by Nevin at 10:59 AM on December 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

There's always okayu/congee/jook, although I'm not a big fan. My Japanese relatives all call it jook for some reason.
posted by humboldt32 at 10:59 AM on December 21, 2014

Fifthing or sixthing curry, with the tip that the boxes of packaged mix are likely available at your typical large supermarket (that is, specialty grocer not required - check Asian foods aisle.) Look for a skinny-ish box, probably some brand like House or S&B, and instructions will be on the back (chop vegetables & meat, saute, add water, cover, simmer, remove cover, stir in curry mix.) Easy, tasty, comforting, transportable, can make huge batches, eat with rice.

Suggest considering desserts as well - maybe buy/make something like mochi with red bean paste (daifuku, I think)? (Mochiko, the sweet rice flour, might also be found in large supermarkets.)
posted by cdefgfeadgagfe at 11:15 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If looking for recipes I recommend "Cooking with Dog" on YouTube it hashas videos of most of the suggestions here. They are set out the recipes to make it super easy to follow, and suggest more easily found ingredients if needed.
posted by wwax at 11:15 AM on December 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

My father's answer is Japanese gruel and something he calls cat food, which is rice and bonito flakes and soy sauce and crumbled up nori. Udon also, but it takes a little more time, and I would add chawan mushi if you are feeling up to it.
posted by umwhat at 11:28 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Cooking With Dog is where you want to find the recipes.
posted by Nevin at 11:45 AM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Cookpad, it's legit. If you're a comfortable at-home cook with a facility for understanding recipes and adjusting them to suit your goals, it'll do you just right in the ideas and plans department.

My first thought was omurice with something cute and encouraging written on it in ketchup.
posted by Mizu at 12:08 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Takoyaki? Yummy octopus balls.
posted by Splunge at 1:19 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

This book is good for the background information, but as I recall them the recipes are a bit overcomplicated. There will be simpler home-cooking recipes in cookpad.
posted by sukeban at 1:23 PM on December 21, 2014

"Comfort food" is very individual; I would ask your friend what dishes are in that category for him.

Could also depend on what he's having done in the hospital... 10 days is a long time to be in for--if his treatment is very extensive/invasive than really simple foods might be preferred. If not, than more complex dishes with more/heartier ingredients could be craved.
posted by dancing leaves at 2:10 PM on December 21, 2014

I make House Curry for Husbunny, with chicken, onion, sweet potato and peas.

It smells vile and I won't go near it, but as you can see, folks love it! It's also really easy.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:25 PM on December 21, 2014

If your friend is actually from Japan and not from Tokyo there might be some regional dish that they would really appreciate an attempt at (even if you don't get it 100% right). Try googling the name of their prefecture + "delicacy" or "speciality" or something. Often it's just a standard Japanese dish with an unusual sauce or topping -- you won't necessarily be asked to track down genuine Ishikawa kelp or whatever.
posted by No-sword at 4:09 PM on December 21, 2014

Mori Soba.
posted by 256 at 4:16 PM on December 21, 2014

Miso soup with tofu. Super easy if you use dashi packets. Dashi is also easy enough to make from scratch with bonito flakes if you have so much. When I google "dashi" from where I am the top hits are recipes that use dried kombu with the bonito flakes, but you can do without, no problem. And if you make a batch of it, you can use it in the following recipes (except the fish).

Nikujaga. This recipe is very proper and has shiitake and shirataki and green beans but when I make this I just use potatoes and meat. Yes, I omit even the carrot. No problem. The dish is called niku=meat jaga=potatoes, after all!

And/or ohitashi.

Maybe if you're feeling up to it after all that, dashimaki might go over well, too. This recipe says white soy sauce but regular soy sauce is fine (it's just a matter of color). And the potato starch is there to make it easier to roll, so you can do without it and it won't change the taste.

Slice of salmon, salted and baked. Simple.

The above with some steamed white rice would make a typical Japanese meal. You're a good friend fffm!
posted by misozaki at 4:17 PM on December 21, 2014

Oh, and re the steamed white rice, if you don't have a rice cooker, white rice is a cinch to cook in a pot. Here's a "recipe" for it, but you know what? You can omit all the setting aside and soaking times and it won't change the result much. Also, boiling the rice on low for 20 minutes sounds way too long, it'll be done before that. The final steaming part is important though, so let it sit for that 15 minutes. This was a good tutorial. So after washing the rice and adding the right amount of water, it's a total of about 15 minutes with the heat turned on (first high until it boils, then low), then 15 minutes after you turn it off. Don't lift the lid after you turn down the heat.
posted by misozaki at 4:33 PM on December 21, 2014

Probably the most important part: use the right kind of rice. You want short-grain Japonica rice. It should be rinsed well. If you don't have a "smart" (digital) rice cooker, you should also soak it for 30 minutes.

More information on perfect Japanese rice on Just Hungry.
posted by WasabiFlux at 5:40 PM on December 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My Japanese relatives all call it jook for some reason.

humboldt, I thought you were deliberately using all three names to acknowledge the pan-East-Asian nature of the dish.

Jook/juk, you might know, is the Korean (and upon googling, apparently the Cantonese) name for this. Why your Japanese relatives might use that word is, of course, beyond me, but they might have discovered it in Korea (or, apparently, Hong Kong).
posted by war wrath of wraith at 6:58 PM on December 21, 2014

Japanese curry with rice. If you want to do more than just follow the instructions on the box then Just Hungry has a more involved recipe.
posted by poxandplague at 8:31 PM on December 21, 2014

Jook is called "okayu" in Japanese, and is sick-person food, although my wife will sometimes have it for lunch. I seem to recall it's served for breakfast when we stay at a ryokan or something.

Tonight we had, as we do on Saturdays and Sundays "o-nabe" or Japanese hotpot, which to me is the ultimate Japanese comfort food.

We use a stoneware pot with a heavy lid, and we cook it on the stove. First we use dried konpu to create the broth, and then remove the konbu, saving it for the next day.

After that we cook diced daikon radish and carrots. When they're mostly cooked we add thinly sliced pork, and, if I'm lucky, meatballs made from pork or chicken. We cook that for a while. We often add in big cubes of tofu.

When the meat is pretty much done we add udon noodles. When the udon is nearly done we add a mountain of hakusai and green onion (or negi, if you can find it).

Negi is my favourite part of the o-nabe, so I like to make sure it is not overcooked. Tonight we also had big fat oysters.

We bring the pot to the table and everyone takes what they want.

We serve it with ponzu, or perhaps sesame sauce. I also like it with lemon juice, since I'm not really supposed to eat too much salt.

Have it with cold beer and it is indeed the ultimate winter comfort food.

The leftover broth and vegetables should be saved. Dump it into the big container you put the used konbu into. Keep all of the broth. The next day heat up some cooked Japanese rice in the leftover broth.

That is your okayu, good for lunch.
posted by Nevin at 8:39 PM on December 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Apple Rabbits!
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:41 PM on December 21, 2014

Ochazuke is what I like when I'm hungover and/or need something easy on my stomach.
posted by danny the boy at 11:20 AM on December 22, 2014

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