Makiko Sano reveals how Japanese women eat their way to health and wellbeing
Makiko Sano. Photograph by Lisa Linder
Makiko Sano, a restaurateur, writer and mother of four, who describes her age as 39 plus two, is the best possible advertisement for her food philosophy, which she describes as “virtuous indulgence”.
With her glowing skin, silky hair and slim figure, Sano radiates good health, and she puts it down to the traditional Japanese diet she follows, and has written about in her book, Sushi Slim , published this week.
Sano prefers to describe her book as “a Japanese cookbook which introduces healthy foods”, rather than a diet book, but if you are eating her way – making good use of the Japanese staples of rice, miso, wasabi, fish, seaweed and tea – weight loss, or at least maintenance, should follow.
She recommends incorporating five things she calls “diamond ingredients” into the daily diet – ginger for all-round health, nori for healthy hair growth, sesame seeds for a youthful body, vinegar for its fat-busting properties and the citrus yuzu for younger looking skin.
“I eat one of these every day. My grandmother always said that a tablespoon of each would be most beneficial, but I prefer to enjoy eating them without worrying about how much I am taking in. I usually have a teaspoon of yuzu in a dressing or in tea, a teaspoon of ginger with a breakfast drink, sesame with vegetables – and I eat a lot of seaweed at lunchtime.”
She also makes soup with chicken or fish (grouper or salmon), for their immediate skin enhancing benefits. “Usually I see a difference by the next day. I used to have it every evening. My skin became 10 to 15 years younger, softer but firmer, and lifted.”
Food was central to family life when Sano was growing up in Tokyo. “The family all lived in houses on the same plot of land and we ate together every evening; nearly 30 of us in all. Each member took it in turns to prepare the food for this huge family.”
Since moving to the UK to marry her now ex-husband in 1995, Sano has made food her career, first with a catering company, Miss Tamaki, which led to her running the sashimi counter at Selfridges, from where she supplied sushi to Buckingham Palace.
Since 2009 she has had her own business, Suzu, a Japanese restaurant and bar in west London. She also runs sushi classes and, before beginning to teach, she asked a sushi chef, Mr Hama, to train her in the art. His advice was that she should first go to work in a fishmonger, so she spent two challenging years doing so. “It was tough. I cried all the way home on the bus for the first six months. It taught me so much, from sourcing the best fish to filleting and pin boning.”
The recipes in the book are calorie counted, and Japanese-trained dietician Miki Symons contributes three Sushi Slim meal plans, for those wishing to restrict their calorie intake to between 1,300 and 1,700 a day, making it a useful manual for food lovers with an eye on the scales.
The recipes cover sushi and sashimi, through soups and salads, to a wonderful selection of bento-box style lunches, each pegged at 500 calories, and which are so colourful and full of variety that they appear far more indulgent.
Sano does have a weakness when it comes to her diet. “I love sweet and fatty foods, so I have a small amount each day. When I want fatty food, I try to eat it at lunch and only have a bowl of miso soup in the evening, with a lot of vegetables.”