Akiko KannaNutritionistTOKYO, JAPANPhotography Lauri LevenfeldStory by Lauri Levenfeld
Traveling to Japan was one of my biggest dreams realized- the food, the fashion, the culture, and the people. All were everything I imagined and more. My husband and I felt extremely lucky to spend the day with Akiko Kanna, a celebrated nutritionist and chef. Not only did we get to walk the infamous Tsukiji Market in Tokyo with a pro, learn about all the fascinating ingredients and vegetables Japan has to offer (now I may actually be able to shop properly for groceries in Japantown), but we also got to travel to Akiko’s home to cook side-by-side with her father. Akiko will have two new babies to celebrate this year- one from the belly in October and a new cafe with her father as chef in May. Akiko shares her wonderful stories and recipes below.
After I graduated from school, I got a job at The Discovery Channel Japan as a production assistant, and then went on to a PR agency. In both jobs, I worked tremendously hard and had the wonderful opportunity to travel the world. It was a great adventure and I loved every moment, but the hours and work were exhausting. The stress was all taking a toll on my body and health.
I realized that I needed to take better care of myself. I became more interested in food and health, what I put into my body and its direct correlation to how I felt and my energy level.
I finally quit my job one year after I got married and I enrolled in the Hattori Nutrition School to be a nutritionist. I was 29 years old.
When I graduated from the school, Tokyo Gas Cooking School hired me as a cooking instructor. I learned so much there about being a chef and teaching others.
At the end of this month, I will be stepping down as an instructor and will be welcoming two new babies into my family, my unborn child in October and my cafe in May. It is very sad to move on from such an amazing institution and experience, but I believe I am “stepping up” to a new stage of life.
In the past few years, I have had many people ask me about Okinawan local food and the culture because my husband is from Okinawa. Okinawa is very special and different from Japan in culture, food, language, climate and history. I learned a lot about the Okinawan food from my husband’s grandmother, who passed away 3 years ago at the age of 104.
My blog “Anko-mama’s Tokyo Anmar!”, all written in Japanese, has been a great love and journey. It has been a journal of my days around Okinawan food and my days with my husband and son enjoying our adventures around the food.
At the height of my writing, I had 300-400 people visiting my site per day. I would have never dreamed that I would be teaching Okinawan food or opening a cafe to celebrate it. But life is so funny in this way.
My inspiration comes from so many things- TV, magazines, radio, and conversations with my friends. I always am thinking about a new recipe which is easy to make and nutritious for my family. Oh and it has to look good too.
When my mother got sick, my father retired from his job at a small printing company to take care of her. During this time at home, he attended classes and learned to cook. When he retired, he expressed his dream and desire to open a restaurant. In May, we will open our cafe. My father will be the chef.
There are two chefs who have been inspirational in my cooking. Katsuyo Kobayashi, who just recently passed away. She was a famous cooking expert in Japan. Her recipes are easy, fast and tasty. Her food was made to inspire and help the busy housewife and mother. Jamie Oliver, who used to be the rockstar of cooking and now concentrates on the importance of agriculture and food education.
My food is simple, easy to prepare, and nutritious. I wanted to share some local traditions and recipes with The Moms Project. They are easily adaptable and will bring happiness and goodness to your family.
Rice (Japonica rice) 300g
Sushi vinegar (Rice vinegar 60cc/ 2 Tbsp sugar / pinch of salt)
Egg sheet mixture (2 egg/ pinch of salt)
Boiled edamame 12
1. Wash rice with water and drain well. put rice and water(430g) into a pan with rid. (Leave more than 30min. if you have time) Heat until boiled and then keep boiling for 10min and stop the heat. Leave for 20min. (Do not open the rid)
2. Put rice into a bowl and pour Sushi vinegar all over. Leave while and mix rice carefully with a paddle.
3. Heat a frying pan with a Tbsp oil, and pour Egg mixture and make a thin omelet. Cut into half, roll up and cut into julienne.
4. Cut shrimp head off and put into a pan with water. Heat the pan until shrimp get red. Then stop the heat, leave until cool and shells off.
5. Arrange the rice on the dish and garnish rice with julienne egg, edamame and shrimps.
Konbu kelp 1 cut (10cm)
Bonito Flake 15g
1. Heat the pan with water and konbu kelp with low heat. Put the konbu out before boiled.
2. Then heat the water until boiled. and put bonito flake into the pan. Stop the heat and leave until flakes sunk down.
3. Drain slowly with kitchen paper and strainer.
1 Tbsp of Salt
Dashi Stock 1 cup
Soy Sauce 1 tsp
Bonito flake for garnishment
A pinch of salt
1. Rub the salt into Okura and put into a boiled water for 1 or 2 min. Drain well.
2. Heat Dashi stock and add soy sauce and salt. Put Okura into the pan, stop the heat and leave for a while.
3. Drain and arrange okura on the dish with bonito flake.
Simmered Shrimp and Winter Melon (Wax Gourd)
Winter melon 200g
Dashi Stock 2 cups
Soy sauce 1 tbsp
Sake 1 tsp
a pinch of Salt
1 Tbsp of Starch with 1 tbsp of water
1. Cut shrimp head off and put into a pan with water.
2. Heat the pan until shrimp get red. Then stop the heat, leave until cool and put shells off.
3. Cut the winter melon into a bite size and peel off.
4. Put winter melon and stock into the pan and heat in middle until a skewer pierces easily (about 20min.) Add shrimps and other seasonings and simmer for 5 to 10 min. Add Starch with water into the pan and simmer for 1or 2 min then the soup get thicken.
Tempura Batter (1 cup of flour, 1 cup of cold water and a pinch of salt)
Tempura sauce (1 cup of Dashi stock, 2 tbsp of Mirin, 1 tbsp of soy sauce)
Any vegetables and fish
1. Cut your favorite ingredients into bite size and dry well. Sprinkle lightly with flour before putting into Tempura batter.
2. Heat the oil to 330- 340F (165-170c) for vegetables, 360F(180c) for seafood. Coat the ingredients lightly with batter and deep-fry until crisp.
Satoimo potato 6
Dried shiitake mushrooms 4
Canned chestnuts 6
Dashi stock 2 cups
Sugar 1 tbsp
Soy sauce 1 tbsp
Sake 1 tbsp
Mirin 1 tbsp
1. Peel Satoimo and put into the pan with water. Boil until you can skewer pieces easy. Wash with water and set aside.
2. Soak the shiitake mushrooms in the water and heat in the microwave for 5min. Drain well and set aside.
3. Peel a carrot off and cut into bite-size.
4. Put Shiitake, carrot and Dashi in the pan and heat in the middle until skewer pierces carrots easily.
5. Add Satoimo, chestnuts and other seasonings. Simmer with a drop-lid for 10-15 min.
Akiko, thank you again for your amazing warmth and hospitality. We can’t wait to see you again soon with one baby in hand and a menu in the other. Good luck with all your endeavors and I can’t wait to try these recipes out on the fam. xo, TMP