the Little Red Reviewer

The manga for foodies

Posted on: June 9, 2011

Time for something completely different!  Work has been nuts lately, so I read something quick and easy. it had lots of pictures.

Oishinbo, volume 1, by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki

Where did I get it: the library

I’d been hearing about this title for a while “The manga that’s all about food!”,  “a bestseller in Japan!”, “everybody is reading this!”, so when I saw it at the library, of course I had to get it.  The title, Oishinbo, means Gourmet, so this had to be for a food lover like me!

The first few pages of Oishinbo are character profiles, and with a large cast, you will want to take the time to read these. The main characters are Yamaoto Shiro, a young man who was trained in the traditional culinary arts and now works at a news agency, and his father Kaibara, one of the city’s foremost experts in traditional cooking techniques.Yamaoto had originally trained at his fathers school, but the two had a falling out and are now barely on speaking terms. The rest of the cast is rounded out by Yamaoto’s friends and co-workers, and Kaibara’s business associates.

Yamaoto’s newspaper is working on an “Ultimate Menu”, and each chapter in Oishinbo covers a different aspect of traditional Japanese cooking from Dashi, the chopsticks, to the basics of sushi, to knife use and treatment to tea ceremony to the connection between environment and meal enjoyment.  This isn’t so much a plot centered story as it is a discussion of the beauty of Japanese food culture. The food culture and culinary traditions of Japan focus around presentation, and the time, energy, and love that went into creating and preparing the food, the utensils used to eat it, the plates it is served on, even the environment it is served in.

As Yamaoto educates his journalists friends, many of the “meal scenes” felt like a judging scene from the original Iron Chef, where characters are noticing that the sweetness of one ingredient balances out the sourness of another, or the soft flavor of something else.  Yamaoto and  Kaibara usually meet in each chapter, and while they bring up personal grudges they also argue food philosophy, each believing they have the only right answer.  In most cases, they are both right, but they are always too stubborn to admit it.

A handful of Oishinbo volumes are available in the United States, but this is a long running series that started in the 80’s, and currently over 100 volumes are currently available there, all covering aspects of Japanese food and drink.

We have a “foodie” culture in America, but it is nothing like the way Japanese see food culture,  a some aspects just do not translate.  Sure, we have organic, and locavoring, and farmers market, but it is still very different. Reading Oishinbo was almost like reading something about the development and love for American Jazz or Blues music – something we are passionate about, but someone who only knows that Jazz and Blues exists might have trouble connecting with.   Although I do have to wonder how our relationship with food, health, obesity, etc would be different if we had a more intimate relationship with not only how our food got to our tables, but the time and energy that other people put into creating it.

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6 Responses to "The manga for foodies"

I have a couple of these. A friend loaned them to me. I haven’t read them yet but they look interesting.

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Oh god a foodie manga. I’m drooling at the mere thought!

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Linda – sweet! how many have you got? at the library I only saw the one, but Amazon has a handful. If you get a chance to read them, I’d be curious to know what you think of the first one, and what the others are like.

Wolfshowll – I know right? But I’d only categorize this as a “foodie manga” to people who are into Japanese food. Us foodies are a varied bunch. :)

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I’ve got a couple of these and love them. Especially the volume about curry – I learnt a lot of things about spices which I knew nothing about even though we eat a lot of curry. And I think the series is still ongoing.

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it’s very slowly being translated to English, there’s a zillion Japanese volumes, and I do think it’s still going? the curry one would be cool, I love learning about spices.

when i finished this manga, my first thought was that the food obsession thing was lost in translation, and that I probably wouldn’t read more in the series, but now I think I will read further.

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Great point at the end about what American culture has created with their food. Although not a foodie, I’m always trying to improve my meal and snack choices. Thanks!

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