For Sofia Hellsten, Japanese food isn’t prolific in her native Sweden. It wasn’t until she spent a year in Japan that she discovered the beauty and innumerable flavors of Japanese cuisine, in large part thanks to her stay with a Japanese family, who taught Sofia how to make the kinds of typical food that’s traditionally cooked at home.
After returning to Sweden, Sofia craved those flavors of Japan—made from ingredients she couldn’t buy or find in a Swedish store or restaurant.
“I had to cook them if I wanted to eat them,” Sofia says.
To grasp those authentic Japanese tastes, Sofia clung to what she learned during her time in the country and started cooking at home. She focused on recreating the dishes and flavors found not in traditional omakase restaurants or noodle shops, but the simple and comforting way that Japanese families often cook at home.
“You don’t find it everywhere in Japan,” Sofia says of the kinds of food she longed for. “You have to know where to go.”
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This yearning for Japanese food was the impetus of Sofia’s cookbook “The Japanese Table.” The book focuses on recreating Japanese home cooking, filled with recipes for small, unfussy plates. You might sit down for a bowl of nyuumen (somen noodles swimming in a hot, dashi-accented broth), tofu and sesame salad swirled with baby spinach, and thick udon noodles bobbing with poached eggs and fish roe.
The Japanese Table, $22.99 on Amazon
“It’s my way of cooking Japanese food,” Sofia explains of her recipes. “It’s an interpretation of cooking those [Japanese] flavors. This is my approach of making it work in a Swedish or western kitchen.”
One recipe that easily brings Sofia back to her days in Tokyo is a tamago sando. The classic egg sandwich is often found served at kissaten (a Japanese-style tea room), but the quality and precision frequently change from place to place. Sofia ate many throughout her tenure in Tokyo, but one she discovered in an unassuming Ginza basement is the inspiration behind the recipe found in the book.
Two slices of sweet white bread, swiped with miso mayonnaise, bookend a fluffy egg omelet and feathers of crisp lettuce. It’s simple yet satisfying, a sandwich that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Cuisinart Honstick Hard-Anodized 12-Inch Skillet, $33.49 on Amazon
To make it, Sofia recommends using a nonstick frying pan. With the temperature on medium heat and butter sizzling, pour the whisked eggs into the hot pan and let it coagulate. Push the sides in to fill the empty spaces as it cooks, and once the egg begins to set, gently fold it into a square. It may still be runny inside, but that’s fine—it’s better than a dry omelette.
Recipe excerpted with permission from The Japanese Table by Sofia Hellsten, published by Hardie Grant Books January 2020, RRP $29.99 hardcover.
Tamago-Sando with Miso Mayonnaise Recipe
Tamago-sando, or egg sandwich, might sound plain, on the verge of boring and also not very Japanese. Well, let’s put it like this: the best egg sandwich I’ve had in my entire life was in a small coffee parlour in the basement of a dull 1970s Ginza building. The egg was incredibly light and fluffy, contrasting beautifully with the soft toasted bread, crispy salad and smooth mayonnaise. A great cup of pour-over coffee (a method with Japanese origin, where the hot water is poured over freshly ground beans by hand) on the side and my day was made. This is an interpretation of that experience.
Tamago-Sando with Miso Mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
- ½ teaspooon white sweet miso
- 2 eggs
- 2 tablespoons water
- ⅓ teaspoon dashi powder
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 2 slices of white bread
- 1 leaf of crispy lettuce, cut in half
- Start by mixing the mayonnaise with the miso and set aside.
- Cut the crusts off the bread and rinse the lettuce in cold water. Set aside while you cook the egg.
- Whisk together eggs, water and dashi powder in a bowl. Heat a frying pan (skillet) over a low heat, add the butter and leave it to melt, then pour in the egg mixture. Let the egg set a little, then push the edges in towards the middle and tilt the pan so that the liquid spreads evenly over the base of the pan. Repeat until the egg is almost set, then fold the sides gently towards the middle so that you get a squarish shape. Turn the omelette over and fry swiftly on the other side. Set aside on a plate.
- Toast the bread lightly and spread the mayonnaise on both pieces of bread. Place the lettuce on the bread and put the egg in the middle. Cut in half and serve with a good cup of pour over coffee.
- Note: If you buy mayonnaise, I highly recommend the Japanese Kewpie. I can’t really explain why, but the flavour is really something different from your regular store-bought mayonnaise. You will want to put it on everything, I promise. In order to get the proper taste of a Japanese tamago sandwich I propose you use a white bread that is slightly sweet.
Header image by Sofia Hellsten.