Gohan literally means ‘rice’ in Japanese – and when I think of this word, I think quite specifically about a small ceramic bowl of fragrant, glistening, steamed, slightly sticky rice. Tellingly, it is also the general word for a ‘family meal’. A bowl of rice is what most home-cooked Japanese meals revolve around. It’s there for asagohan (breakfast) with a bowl of miso soup, some pickles, tofu and a piece of grilled fish. It’s soaking up the sauce in a comforting donburi bowl, or wrapped in nori in the ultimate hirugohan (portable lunch), onigiri. And it’s there for bangohan (dinner), perhaps served with a pickled plum, with a mild Japanese curry or a flavourful braised fish. If you haven’t eaten rice, you haven’t eaten. I can still hear Obaachan, my Japanese grandmother, announcing that dinner is ready with, ‘Gohan desuyo!’

Here are the everyday meals that you find in the homes of the mothers and grandmothers of Japan, rather than in restaurants. It is the food that I grew up with, the food that I get nostalgic for and that I still request my mother to make whenever I get a chance. It is the food I like to make my family whenever we need nourishment but I don’t have a lot of time to cook, because (unlike what many people think) Japanese home cooking is not fiddly or time-consuming – it’s quick and remarkably simple, thanks to the Japanese philosophy that good, fresh, seasonal food doesn’t need much to enhance its natural flavour and shouldn’t be overcooked.

When I asked my mother, Sumie, what she thought about the idea of calling a book on Japanese home cooking ‘Gohan’, she said to me, ‘Gohan means the everyday home-cooked meal. Nothing fussy, but quick and easy, and nourishing. One that is made with love. I think the best food is created when you cook for someone you love.’ She paused and reminded me of a drawing my eldest daughter Mariù did when she was five, before she could write properly. It’s a recipe for soup, where all the ingredients are drawn instead of written. One of the ingredients is a heart. ‘Remember Mariù’s soup recipe that had love as an ingredient?’ she asked. ‘To me that is “Gohan”.’