We celebrate the world’s best comfort food by asking chefs and food writers from diverse backgrounds to talk about the dishes they love.


The chef-owner of Edinburgh's Harajuku Kitchen talks about her samurai heritage and shares her recipe for traditional celebratory chicken stew.

Kaori's Favourite Dish

You might say Kaori Simpson was destined to cook professionally. The 48-year-old chef-owner of Edinburgh's Harajuku Kitchen comes from a family steeped in restaurants and the traditional Japanese cuisine of the Fukuoka region.

In the 1990s, Kaori studied international relations in Plymouth, intending to work in journalism, or for an NGO, which she did for a time, 'But, apparently, all my mates remember I was going to open a restaurant. I was such a foodie. Even as a student, I was looking at where I could buy good produce.'

In 2008, living in Edinburgh and following a two-year apprenticeship with the then Japanese consulate chef Toshifumi Minato, that passion finally led to the creation of Harajuku Kitchen. A stall was launched on Stockbridge Market, the restaurant followed in 2013 and, last year, a Harajuku kiosk opened at the St James Quarter development.

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Despite this career change, Kaori - who met her Scottish husband Keith at a university social for students campaigning on green issues - has stayed true to her ideals. A Slow Food member, Kaori's work is shaped by a keen focus on sustainability and Scottish produce.'We were already talking about global warming then,' recalls Kaori. 'With food, it was in my core to be more local.

'At home, we were taught to respect food. My mum, who trained as a chef in Osaka, wouldn't let my sisters and I leave the table until we'd finished our rice. She'd say, "fishermen and farmers worked hard for that food." It was strict.

'Mum's grandfather had been a 16th-generation samurai employed by the Kurd-Han family who later opened a traditional restaurant on the estate lands he was given. As a girl, mum remembers his restaurant and being surrounded by geishas and great Fukuoka-style food. I think that made her want to cook.

'In 1981, when I was seven, we moved from Japan to Manila. Dad had a tuna fishing boat and co-owned katsuobushi factories in the southern Philippines. Mum opened a restaurant, Tsuji Toyo, where she was executive chef and front-of-house host. Later, there were other restaurants, Yokatei and Kappo Yokatei (named after my great-grandfather's restaurant), and she also ran 24-hour refectories for 2000 employees at two Japanese companies. Mum's retired now and back in Japan, but in the 90s she was doing well. She had her Manila restaurant and three industrial estate canteens, which my eldest sister helped manage.

'In the 1980s, well-known Japanese companies were coming to the Philippines and the Japanese community ate at mum's place. But, she struggled at first. My dad died in 1987 and, financially, she was alone with three daughters to feed. Long before I opened Harajuku Kitchen, I'd seen what could go wrong and how hard restaurants are. At 15 or 16, I was working as a dishwasher, then a waitress. I'd be in the kitchen learning from mum, cleaning squid or helping at the 24-hour canteens. I remember sleeping on a rice sack at 1am and, at 5am, pig farmers from the countryside coming to collect the food waste.

'We had a Filipino nanny, Sally, who sometimes cooked us chicken adobo and amazing American bakes, but at weekends and after school, my sisters and I spent a lot of time at Mum's restaurant. She had no time to take us out, so we hung out there.

'At 5pm before the customers arrived, we'd have tebasaki (yakitori-grilled chicken wings) while I talked to Mum about my day or friends. My mum had tebasaki with lemon juice, but I put tograshi on the wings - that's the best way. We were always eating restaurant leftovers, but I also loved one of Mum's specialities; sukiyaki hotpot. You dip pieces of wafer-thin wagyu, vegetable and tofu into whisked raw egg and cook them in a pot of beef stock on a gas cooker in the middle of the table. It's amazing.

'My recipe for chikuzen-ni, a kind of chicken stew, has passed through many generations of the Nakanishi family on my mum's side. The dish came from the area around Fukuoka (chikuzen-ni is Fukuoka's old name) and I remember my grandmother making it in a wood-fired, cast-iron pot in her tatami dining room. She had this wooden otoshi buta, or drop-lid, that was slightly smaller than the pot itself and floated on top. I don't know the science behind it, but it creates a perfectly even slow-cooking environment.

'Chikuzen-ni is traditionally eaten on New Year's Day. The Buddhist tradition says we're not allowed to eat four-legged animals for seven days. My mother would also cook it on birthdays. It's a celebratory dish full of good memories. I like to eat it when I miss home, but it's good when you're down with the flu, too. Burdock, carrots, bamboo shoots and lotus roots are all known for their medicinal proposed. This is the Japanese version of chicken soup for the soul!'.


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