Saturday, May 23, 2009

Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza

The third volume of the fascinating Oishinbo series has just been released and is titled, Ramen & Gyoza. Though it primarily deal with ramen noodles (and other noodles dishes) and gyoza (dumplings), it touches on various other topics as well, including Chinese food and factory farms. I enjoyed this volume very much and it is a fine addition to the series.

Like the previous volumes, this book begins with a recipe: Oishinbo-Style Miso Ramen. Then there are eleven chapters and also like the prior volumes, the back of the book has a series of notes, many dealing with Japanese terms, concerning the text.

The initial chapter deals with two, competing ramen restaurants which are owned by twin brothers. They used to own a single, renowned restaurant but split up. But now, neither restaurant is doing well by the critics. It seems each brother is good at a specific aspect of creating ramen, and they make up for the other's weakness. It is only together that they make great ramen, and you learn about how good ramen is made.

Chapters Three through Five depict a competition to create the best Hiyashi Chuka ("Chilled Chinese Noodles" or "Chilled Ramen"). It is not a traditional dish and there is no standard version as of yet. These chapters touch on how overly processed foods don't taste right, though companies do it to save money. Factory farms are castigated while organic, healthy farms are praised. This is what many concerned about sustainability having been saying, yet the message comes in a comic book. Japanese manga can address some very important topics. One of my favorite lines is "In today's world it takes a lot of effort to eat things that are both safe and good." (p.93)

The next two chapters deal with a conflict between two villages, each trying to introduce a special local dish. The two villages will thus be battling over tourism. They each hire a food expert to help them design their new dish, yet those experts try to create something to unite the two villages, rather than divided them. A ramen dish, using fish and pork, is the winner, as each village specializes in either fish or pork and thus can contribute equally to the dish.

Chapters Eight to Ten deal with Gyoza, and a contest to create the ultimate gyoza. You learn how gyoza are prepared, including fried, boiled and steamed. There is even a dessert gyoza! The final chapter is about two Chinese men who go to a Japanese ramen shop. This section touches on potentially racist words and how countries should address each other. Very deep for a food comic.

This volume of the series was both educational and thought provoking. I definitely recommend the entire series to any foodie. I will continue to look forward to the next volume of the Oishinbo series.


JacquelineC said...

Richard I've really enjoyed the First in the series. Am finishing another book then will pick up Sake. I can't wait to read this one, too.

I LOVE "somen" the chilled noodles we would beg Mom to make for us in the summer. I even will eat them with bottled sauce. I think because Japan is fairly warm and humid (Tokyo is similar in latitude to the Carolinas, I think) they do summer dishes very well.

Thanks for introducing me to this series! As a Japanese-American I can attest to their authenticity on many levels. From the obsessiveness, to the quirky things, to the rigid social mores. And the obsession with food done "just so."

Gokurosama - for all your work bringing us more knowledge about good food and wine!

My new motto: Learn what you can, share what you know, eat yummy stuff. That's you!

Richard Auffrey said...

Jackie, thanks very much for your kinds words. The Oishinbo series is so much fun and I can't wait for the next book to come out.

I would slightly modify your motto, to account for good drink, to: "Learn what you can, share what you know, eat and drink yummy stuff."


JacquelineC said...

Good catch!

Jacqueline Church said...

Hey - posted on Momos and vegetarian gyoza with a link here and a contest.
Momo Mo - How do you like it?

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks Jackie!