If you want to start adding some Japanese and Korean home-cooking recipes to your repertoire, then today is your lucky day. The folks behind Cookpad, Japan’s biggest recipe sharing site, have begun the process of translating their recipes into English.
The website has released English translations of approximately 1,600 recipes, which they plan to boost to around 30,000. That may seem a far cry from the Japanese site’s 1.5 million registered recipes, but the focus has been on quality rather than quantity – and the vast majority of the recipes that I have browsed on the English version of the site look to be winners.
As noted above, the site more than makes up for its lack of quantity by focusing on quality. The other great thing about it is the simplicity and size of most of the recipes. For those who did not know, Japan is a nation of obscenely high tariffs on many types of imported food (and insanely expensive local food). Many of the recipes reflect this: more often than not they contain a short list of ingredients that are relatively easy to obtain for dishes that are quite cheap to put together. This extends to the non-Japanese foods on the site, where you will often find some clever ingredient substitutions.
In contrast, I saw a great recipe on Australian recipe site Taste.com.au the other day, for a meat and bean dish with maple syrup. It looked fantastic and I will be making it, but it called for a kilogram of smoked bacon, which would cost me a small fortune in this part of the world – great for impressing friends, but not practical for everyday purposes. There is something refreshing about getting recipes that do not need to be scaled down.
The other thing that most people in Japan are short on is kitchen space. A typical Japanese kitchen might feature a two-burner stove, a fish grill, a microwave and a toaster oven. As such, most of the recipes that you will find on the site can be prepared in a frying pan.
- Easy tender buta no kakuni (Simmered pork belly cubes)
- Pad Thai
- Very spicy jijimi made with potatoes
- Teriyaki chicken steak
- Crispy and delicious fried Noodles with thick sauce
The Not So Good
The quality of the translations is very good – sometimes too good. I have worked here on editing translations of high-end menus in the past – if your translator is not a foodie, there is likely to be some confusion. The fish dishes are a prime example of this. I had never heard of Pacific saury until I looked at a sloppily translated Japanese menu. Having lived in Japan as long as I have, I was familiar with the Japanese name sanma. In most English-speaking countries it is sold as “mackerel pike.” One recipe that I looked at referred to the fish as saury and mackerel in different sentences. While they are similar in taste and appearance, they are two different fish. While the standard of translation is much, much higher than anything one would see on Google Translate, I think that they could have done a little better in this regard.
Outside of the fish world, things get a lot better. For the purely Japanese ingredients, the site usually lists a romanized version of the ingredient name (its Japanese name written in English) and a translation in parentheses.
How They Can Make it Better
More romanization! Ideally, I would like to see every ingredient on the ingredients list written in English and romanized Japanese. It gives you a better understanding of why a dish is given a particular name. On top of that, it also amounts to a fun, easy language lesson and would make things a little bit easier for newly-arrived expatriates in Japan.
More Asian stuff! Technically, Japan is part of Asia – but a lot of people here (in Japan) don’t see it that way. There are quite a few Korean and Chinese dishes in the list, but there is a mere sprinkling of Thai recipes. After Cookpad builds up its core recipe list, I would love to see them start to bring in a few more dishes from places like Thailand, India, Malaysia and Indonesia – with ingredient lists pared down for simplicity and budget. The Japanese version of the site has a lot of this. Some of the recipes lose a little in authenticity, but are generally pretty good approximations of the dish in question, are easy to make, and save a lot of money in grocery shopping. I like Japanese food, but I do not want to eat it three meals a day – a little more variety would be nice.
Cookpad has done a great thing by translating its recipes. At this stage, it is hard to fault them based on content – there are 28,500 recipes still to come. The English side may never match the 1.5 million recipe list of the Japanese side, but it is curated – so you will be getting the best and they have already provided more than enough to start incorporating some home-style Japanese cooking into your menu.