Tokyo is without doubt the world's top food destination right now (and, frankly, forever). But as well as ticking off the must-eat restaurants from their new Michelin guides, many visitors are heading there to learn how to make Japanese dishes themselves. The Japanese travel agent HIS has recently launched a range of cooking classes, which I was fortunate enough to try on a recent visit.
My first lesson (above) was held in the suburban home of Aetsuku Shinobu, a 60-year-old housewife and mother. Our heads wrapped in tenugui headscarves, we set to work preparing lunch, making senroppen (or julienne) of daikon radish. Mrs Shinobu handed me a sashimi knife to slice a daikon into wafer-thin rounds. The knife immediately felt foreign, resisting my attempts to cut the way I was taught at cooking school, in a rocking motion, away from your body. Because its blade was angled on only one side to cause minimum damage to fish flesh, you must cut downwards, drawing the knife towards you.
My second lesson was at the chic Hifumi-An cooking school in the former geisha district of Kagurazaka. Chef Takamitsu Aihara began by showing us how to prepare spring buns made from broad beans, boiled, then passed through a drum sieve and mixed into a paste with mashed potato and egg white, then filled with minced chicken and diced onion. We spread the paste out on to plastic wrap covering the palm of one hand before placing the mince in the middle and drawing up the corners to form a bun. This was steamed, rolled in crushed, crispy rice and covered with a gloopy sauce of dashi thickened with arrow root.
We watched the chef make a dashi from scratch, gently heating dried kelp in water ("never let it boil") until soft before adding a couple of handfuls of katsuoboshi (flaked, dried bonito fish fillets), then straining it. To this umami-packed stock he added sake, salt and a little soy. "Ninety per cent of Japanese stock is water," he added. "The rest is just to give it more of a rounded flavour."
Last up was sushi. Chef Hiyashi, a 30-year sushi veteran from Yokohama, whisked us through the shaping of rice for nigiri and how to roll our own maki. Top tip: the chef used two bowls of water when moulding the rice, one for washing his hands at frequent intervals, the other to keep his palms moist to stop the rice sticking.
If you are looking for the future of foodie travel, this is the place to start. Michael Booth
Michael Booth travelled to Japan with JAL (tel: 08457 747 700, www.uk.jal.com). Fares start at £615 economy, and £3,170 business. He stayed at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, double rooms from £258, the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, double rooms from £240 (tel: 00 81 3 5322 1234, www.hyatt.com); and Hilton Tokyo, rooms from £116 ( www.hilton.co.uk/tokyo). For more information go to HIS Experience Japan, tel: 00 81 3 5328 4030 (www.j-experience.com); or visit the Japanese National Tourist Office, www.see japan.co.uk