Monday, February 13, 2012


I got my hands on a volume of Oishinbo a la Carte by Tetsu Kariya and art by Akira Hanasaki, thanks to sopraninigabi, who lent it to me. Now I want to eat Japanese food in Japan. It doesn't help that my Ate went there last week and wouldn't let me stuff myself into her luggage.

Oishinbo is a Japanese manga about cooking and eating. The manga I borrowed is an English-translated compilation (like a "best of") printed by VIZ Media, and the volume is called, plainly enough, "Japanese Cuisine."

But the book is far from plain! It makes you appreciate the little details that go into the humdrum task of cooking ordinary food (for in Japan, the sashimi, the miso soup and the rice are all "ordinary" fare.)

Did you know that making sashimi is not merely a process of cutting fresh fish and serving it on a fancy plate? It requires long hours of practice with a knife to get the fish sliced while keeping it firm. And here I am just eating my sashimi without thinking about how hard the person who put it on my plate practiced just so I can get my fill!

In one chapter (or "course," as it is put in the manga), an artist called Miyasato invited the main characters Shiro, Yuko and Tomio (journalists) to a lunch at his place to settle the matter of a cover page illustration he had previously promised their newspaper. When they got there, they learned that the rival paper was also trying to get the same cover illustration for their Sunday edition. Miyasato said he could only choose one publication, so it all boiled down to who could judge best whether the cooking was good or bad (the connection being if they understood the food, then they would understand the art, too).

The men from the other paper flattered the artist, even if obviously the meal was plain home-fare, and nothing like what they serve at first-class restaurants. So Shiro took the honest route and said, "All the food we had today is home cooking. It's common, everyday food and there's nothing special about it."

Then he continues, "But it is a real gochiso. The word gochiso not only means 'feast,' but also 'to run' or 'rush.' The host rushes around to gather the ingredients, get them ready, and then cook the food. The vegetables and chicken were homegrown, and you must have sought out the halfbreak and quail yourself. Miyasato Sensei expended a lot of effort to treat us to this meal. The dishes we had are all common ones so that we'd easily be able to compare them with versions we've eaten before. For the wakame and green onion with miso, you pulled the onions out of your own vegetable patch, and you also used fresh wakame and homemade miso. And that's why it tasted so much better than usual. The care you've put into getting all these dishes ready is what made this a real gochiso."

"First course: The secret of dashi." Yamaoka Shiro demonstrates how to make kombu dashi. Kombu is a type of edible kelp. Dashi is a Japanese stock, used as basis for many dishes. (Read it from right to left.)

We can learn a lot from the Japanese in this way: if we put enough care into all our endeavors, we can make a gochiso of all the ordinary things we do--whether or not it involves cooking!

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