Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oishinbo: Izakaya, Pub Food

The seventh and final volume of the compelling Oishinbo series has just been released and is titled, Izakaya: Pub Food. It deals primarily with izakayas, a kind of Japanese pub which serves small plates of food. The book discusses a variety of foods served in izakaya, as well as touching on other related items such as the arts of pouring beer and heating Saké. This final book, as were all of the pst volumes, both enjoyable and informative.

Also like the previous volumes, this book begins with a recipe, this time being: Fried Sardine Fish Cake. Then there are eleven chapters and the back of the book has a series of notes, many dealing with Japanese terms, concerning the text.

The first chapter captured my interest as it dealt with two new items to me, black edamame and a master beer pourer. Most people know of the usual green edamame, a type of soybean, yet there is a rarer black variety as well. They are supposed to be delicious, with a different flavor from the green ones. I also was unaware of the intricacies of pouring beer, of why you want a perfect head of foam atop a good beer.

Chapter Two then deals with sardines, and the various ways they might be prepared, from sashimi to sardine salisbury steak. Often thought to be an inferior fish, this chapter praises its taste. Chapter Three begins discussing sazae, the horned turban, which is a new seafood to me. It is supposed to be a highly prized gastropod, kind of snail-like, and a Japanese delicacy. Chapter Four then continues, discussing intriguing dishes such as Fried Prawn Dumplings, with caviar inside of them, Scallop Rice and Engawa, a dish using the dorsal fin of a flounder.

The next two chapters deal with a large izakaya franchise, Pink Hippo, which is seeking new dishes for their menu. There is a discussion of some standard izakaya dishes, though the franchise owner wants more unique ones, something their customers won't be able to get elsewhere. Ultimately, dishes are added for the end of the meal as it is though izakaya usually don't pay attention to that type of food. Some of those dishes are actual sweet desserts with others are noodle dishes. They are intended to fill that void that some izakaya customers feel when leaving the bar.

In Chapter Seven, there is an amusing tale of a samurai challenged to eat a potato, a food he vehemently dislikes after a near fatal incident with a potato that got caught in his throat. A recipe is devised though that allows him to eat, and even enjoy the potato, which must be presented whole. The dish is Potato Stewed in Butter, which is a whole potato immersed in soup. Place potatoes in some dashi with butter and let boil. The potatoes should then melt in your mouth, and the samurai loves the dish.

Chapters Eight and Nine start with the hero of the series trying to determine names for his newborn twins. He stops by an izakaya for a drink and some food. The chef concocts some playful dishes, and the hero soon realizes that "playing is an important part of life." A Dutch historian, Huizinga, coined the term Homo Ludens, which means "man the player" as he felt that humans were different from animals because humans can play. (I would disagree there as anyone with pets knows animals enjoy playing too!).

The next chapter then concentrates on eel and the myriad ways that they can be prepared, especially using every part of the eel, from the liver to the fins. They are all cooked on skewers, with different preparations, showing an amazing versatility. I do enjoy eel and would love to experience some of the different dishes from this chapter.

The final chapter surprised me as I thought it would have been in their Saké volume. It describes the okanban, the person who keeps watch on Saké while it is being warmed. He is able to gauge the best temperature for a Saké. Most premium Saké is meant to be drank slightly chilled while hot Saké has a bad reputation. But some Saké can benefit from a gentle warming, and this chapter explains the reasons for such. A few specifics Sakés are also presented along with food pairings. What a nice way to end this series.

I am saddened that the Oishinbo series has ended, as it was a fun and educational series. I highly recommend all of the books to any food lover. I'll keep hoping too that they decide to publish more volumes in the future. Once again I also have to ask, why can't an American publisher do something like this?

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