[tasty review + giveaway] Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites by Jamie Michalak, Debbi Michiko Florence and Yuko Jones

Even before I took my first bite of this delectable new picture book, I was in love. Just look at that cover! Yuko Jones’s appealing depiction of young Niki had me grinning and giddy with anticipation. I immediately wanted to know more about her. So much joy, spunk, and pride in that adorable face — I could just eat her up!

I was not familiar with Chef Niki before reading Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2021). A pioneer of modern Japanese kaiseki cuisine, she founded the upscale Michelin two star restaurant n/naka in Los Angeles. In the decade since its opening in 2011, n/naka has risen to national prominence as the most celebrated kaiseki restaurant outside Japan.

Master Kaiseki Chef Niki Nakayama

This beautifully written, inspiring book shows how Nakayama defied expectations throughout her life, never giving up on her dream to chart her own destiny in a profession still dominated by men.

via n-naka.com

What is kaiseki? Considered the pinnacle of Japanese haute cuisine, it’s a traditional culinary art form consisting of an exquisitely presented multicourse meal prepared with locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Courses follow a specific sequence balancing the taste, texture, appearance, and colors of food, thereby creating a singular story embodying the chef’s essence.

via n-naka.com
via n-naka.com

What makes the cuisine at n/naka unique is how Chef Niki has integrated her Japanese and American heritage and upbringing in Southern California within the template of traditional kaiseki. Just as her meals consist of 13 courses, Jamie and Debbi chose to tell her story in 13 scrumptious bites.

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[mouthwatering review] magic ramen by andrea wang and kana urbanowicz

“Mankind is Noodlekind” ~ Momofuku Ando


Know what would really hit the spot right about now?

A warm bowl of instant ramen. Care to join me?



I can’t even guess how many years I’ve been going from “hungry to happy” with Top Ramen and Cup Noodles. They’re pretty unbeatable (and ubiquitous) as comfort food — quick, convenient, portable, shelf stable, cheap, tasty and satisfying. It’s the kind of thing you take for granted, the food that helped you get through college. 🙂

But do you know who actually invented instant ramen?



I first heard of Taiwanese-born Momofuku Ando in an article that appeared in David Chang’s inaugural issue of the now defunct Lucky Peach magazine (2011). What a fascinating and inspirational story! Anyone who’s ever slurped up their fair share of ramen should know the who, what, when, how, and why of what the Japanese consider to be their best invention of the 20th century.



Now, thanks to Andrea Wang and Kana Urbanowicz, hungry, noodle-loving kids can read all about it in a new picture book, Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando (little bee books, 2019). They will see that because of one man’s compassion, ingenuity, persistence, and entrepreneurial smarts, people all over the world can make their own delicious ramen “anywhere, anytime” in just a few minutes. 🙂

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tales from high mountain by tara austen weaver

A couple of years ago, I discovered a blog called Tea and Cookies — it was listed by the London Times as one of the 50 Best Food Blogs in the World. I was hooked instantly by Tara Austen Weaver’s fascinating stories of food, travel, cultures, family and friends, and oohed and ahhed over all the gorgeous photos in each and every post.

Just found out that “Tea,” as Tara’s friends call her, has written a book about the first few months she lived high in the mountains of central Japan. Always up for an adventure, she set forth for Takayama when she was just 22, fresh out of grad school. Tales from High Mountain: Stories and Recipes from a Life in Japan is a chronicle of her immersion in a foreign culture, living in a centuries-old, rural town with an established family. There are feasts, festivals,  ancient temples, and many new “rules” and customs to learn.

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some good hawai’i reads, a recipe, and a giveaway

Recently, I asked my long time friend, O’ahu resident, and fellow Paul McCartney stalker admirer, Sylvia, for some Hawai’i-related book recommendations and a favorite local recipe.

I thought a librarian’s suggestions would be helpful, since books about Hawai’i, especially those for children, vary greatly in quality and substance, running the gamut from mass market vanity press touristy books about sharks and surfboards, to solidly researched and beautifully written trade books (like the works of James Rumford and Graham Salisbury).

It seems most Hawai’i books are published by regional publishers with limited distribution. They’re available for purchase online, of course, but it’s difficult to assess their quality in the absence of reliable reviews or personal recommendations.

So here are Sylvia’s picks:

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let’s get cracking!


     “I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called Mother and Child Reunion. It’s chicken and eggs.  And I said, I gotta use that one.”   ~ Paul Simon

Who knew?

The incredible, edible egg has apparently inspired some pretty cool songs.

We all know about “Scrambled Eggs,” which became Paul McCartney’s, “Yesterday.”

And now this!

Back in the day, I once went to the airport with friends to greet Simon and Garfunkel. We waited for hours at the arrival gate with leis and a giant gingerbread boy (we were convinced Paul Simon was the cuddly type, so we referred to him as Bunny Boy). We were also certain that Paul would love the gingerbread boy, since it resembled him.

Such is the folly of youth. Paul and Art whizzed past us and all the other screaming fans, without so much as a nod or a wave. Wow. What a let-down. The gingerbread boy went into the trash, but we attended their concert anyway.

It turned out to be one of the best acoustic performances I have ever heard. It made up for our disappointment many times over.  

Almost ten years later, Paul Simon hatched an idea in the Soy Eng Look Restaurant in New York City’s Chinatown. I imagine he wagged his wattle when he saw the menu. “Mother and Child Reunion” was included on Paul’s first self-titled album after he and Art Garfunkel parted ways, and is considered to be one of the first tunes by a white musician to feature reggae elements. Paul seemed to embrace world music after that,cluck cluck.

No, I would not give you false hope
On this strange and mournful day
But the mother and child reunion
Is only a motion away, oh, little darling of mine

I can’t for the life of me
Remember a sadder day
I know they say let it be
But it just don’t work out that way
Over and over again . . .

(Rest here.)

(Do you see elements of Lady Madonna and Let it Be here?)

In case anyone else out there has had a disappointing rock star moment, here is some comfort food courtesy of the Japanese. To prevent any more arguing over which came first, the chicken or the egg, this tasty, easy-to-prepare dish features both. We eat this chicken-egg omelet quite often here at alphabet soup. It’s almost as good as a hug from Mom! Flavor is of course enhanced if this is consumed while listening to Bunny Boy sing.

(Japanese chicken and egg omelet)
serves 4-6

1 T oil
1-1/2 cups chicken (breast or thigh), sliced thin
1-1/2 cups chicken stock
4 T soy sauce
2 T sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup green onion (chopped)
5 or 6 eggs (depending on size)
1 or 2 T Aji-mirin (Japanese rice wine)
1/3 cups chopped bamboo shoots (optional)
4 oz mushrooms (optional)
cooked rice
2 sheets nori (dried seaweed)

Saute chicken in oil. Add stock and cook until chicken is tender on medium heat.
Add seasonings and green onions.
Beat eggs and pour over chicken mixture evenly. Cook on low heat until eggs are coddled.
Fill bowls with rice. Cover with chicken/egg mixture and pour sauce over all.
Sprinkle crushed toasted nori on top for garnish.

TIPS: Best to use a deep bowl for serving. You may be able to find authentic Donbori bowls at an Asian supermarket that sells dishes. It usually comes with a cover, so that the dish can steam a little with flavors mingling, just before eating.


Hmmm . . . chicken egg, egg chicken?