Wearing rubber boots, Takashi Tamura smoothly weaves his way through the throngs of tourists at the Tsukiji fish market in Tokyo.

Although he could avoid the crowds by staying in his Japanese-cuisine restaurant just around the corner, he takes the initiative to buy his own ingredients.

“The morning is my free time,” the 60-year-old says. “I come to the fish market particularly to see the smiling faces of the people here.”

The third-generation proprietor of Tsukiji Tamura walks around buying clams here and tuna there. He chats with shop owners, even if he doesn’t plan to buy their wares, and catches up with fellow chefs he bumps into.

Tamura visits about 10 intermediary wholesalers, takes a break at a coffee shop in the market and then heads back to his restaurant.

In 1946, immediately after the end of World War II, his grandfather, Heiji, opened Tsukiji Tamura.

Tamura, who was born in 1957 as the eldest son of the second-generation owner, Teruaki, grew up breathing the air of Tsukiji. He practiced riding a bicycle at the empty market where the shops had closed in the afternoon and accompanied his father to meetings.

“When I chose cooking as my vocation in my 20s, I realized that everyone in Tsukiji is a master,” he says.

Tamura joined Koraibashi Kitcho, a Japanese-cuisine restaurant in Osaka, upon graduating from university. After training there for three years, he returned to Tsukiji Tamura.

Heiji had built a positive reputation for the restaurant, which offers Tokyo-based courses of Japanese cuisine, at a time when people came to enjoy a rich and varied diet.

Heiji also worked hard to teach the basics of Japanese cuisine and the mindset to hold the kitchen knife as a lecturer at school and through TV cooking shows.

He was especially strict about discerning the ingredients and using them up. Although Heiji has died, his spirit has been passed to the restaurant as well as his family.

“‘Okara’ (soy pulp) is the most delicious thing in the world, and it is also the least tasty thing in the world,” Heiji would say.

On its own, okara is only soy pulp. But it can turn into a dish if you work on it.

“A cook is someone who gives life to every food. It all depends on the cook’s skills,” Tamura says.

Like his grandfather, Tamura appears in TV shows and teaches at cooking schools. In addition to his model railroad hobby, he has written books, including “Kakushi bocho” (Hidden cuts with the kitchen knife) and “Nihon ryori no kihon” (Basics of Japanese cuisine).

He was officially chosen as a Contemporary Master Craftsman in 2010.

A handful of Tamura-style okara will serve as a filling and colorful side dish that looks quite grand.

The carrot peel, the green part of green onion, and the thin tip of burdock root are not wasted and all contribute to the flavor.

The keys to the dish include adding richness with pork belly and cooking with a generous amount of dashi stock that provides moisture. The okara and the crunchy vegetables create an interesting texture.


(Serves four)

100 grams soy pulp (okara)

100 grams pork belly slices

50 grams burdock root (gobo)

50 grams carrot peel

100 grams green part of green onion

2 cups dashi stock made of dried bonito flakes and dried kombu kelp


Finely slice green onion in rounds. Peel carrot and cut peel into 3- to 4-cm-long fine strips. Cut burdock root in “sasagaki” style. (Make cross-shape incision at one end and cut into shavings as if sharpening a pencil while rotating burdock.) Cut pork slices into 1-cm-wide pieces.

Heat 1 Tbsp sesame oil in frying pan and stir-fry pork. When surface color has changed, add okara and mix. Add dashi stock, 2 Tbsp each of sugar and light-colored soy sauce and simmer over medium heat while mixing occasionally. When most of the water is reduced, spread in flat container.

Wash frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp sesame oil and cook carrot and burdock root. Add 1 Tbsp each of sugar and soy sauce. Add green onion and mix. To retain the green color, spread vegetables in flat container quickly to cool.

Return okara and sauteed vegetables to frying pan and heat. Check taste and add sugar and soy sauce if needed. Add 1/2 Tbsp sesame oil for aroma and stir-fry. Spread in flat container to cool somewhat. Serve.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Watashi no Ryori column