Sunday, March 22, 2009

Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine

Have you been to an American comic book store? You'll find lots of titles dealing with superheroes like Batman, Spiderman and the X-Men. You may see a few non-superhero titles, such as westerns or horror stores. But you probably won't see a cooking comic book. And if you did, it probably would not be a best seller.

Japanese comics are called manga, and if you visited a Japanese manga store, you might be in for a surprise. You would find manga covering a vast array of topics, including subjects such as cooking, wine and Saké. Luckily some of these fascinating manga have been translated into English and we can check them out.

Oishinbo (roughly translated as “The Gourmet") is a best selling food/cooking manga in Japan. Written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki, this manga was first published in 1983 and is still being written. It has sold over 100 million copies and has been collected in 102 volumes. The series was even made into a 136-episode anime television series.

The premise of the story is a rivalry between two newspapers which are each trying to create a special and amazing menu. The Tozai News is creating "The Ultimate Menu" and has assigned a seasoned journalist, Shiro Yamaoka, and a young reporter, Kurita Yuko, to write the story. Yamaoka is a well-known foodie and even possesses some keen culinary skills. Teito Times is creating their own "Supreme Menu" and Yamaoka's estranged father, Kaibara Yuzan, is working the story. Yuzan is a respected and feared gourmet, as well as the founder of an elite Gourmet Club.

Viz Media is publishing English translations of Oishinbo in special A La Carte editions. Rather than republish the entire series, they are instead compiling highlights into special themed volumes. Seven volumes will ultimately be published and two have already come out, Japanese Cuisine and Saké. So far, each volume is a trade paperback, about 270 pages, and costs $12.99. The books are well researched and intended to present accurate information, including recipes. Interestingly, the books have to be read back to front, like regular Japanese manga.

The first volume, Japanese Cuisine, begins with two sashimi recipes: Seabream Pine-skin Style and Seabream Kamishio Style. Then there are ten chapters, each dealing with a different topic. At the back of the book are a series of notes, many dealing with Japanese terms, concerning the text. Each note indicates the the appropriate page and panel but the actual text does not indicate there is an accompanying note. So, you need to flip back and forth to gain the most benefit.

In this volume, you will learn about such things as making dashi (an important stock), knife skills, cooking techniques, hospitality, etiquette, chopsticks (including how they are made), green tea, and sashimi. It certainly covers a wide assortment of general topics about Japanese cooking. Some of the language is quite poetic. "Etiquette isn't just about how you eat the lies in the way you show your gratitude toward the ones who made it." Plus, there are comedic aspects to the story. The volume is not comprehensive but you will likely learn plenty about Japanese cuisine.

I really enjoyed this manga and look forward to future volumes. I would definitely recommend this to anyone interested in Japanese cuisine. It would make a unique gift for your foodie friends.

In a separate post, I will review the Saké volume.

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