Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki

Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine

Oishinbo (美味しんぼ, lit. “The Gourmet”) is a long-running cooking manga published between 1983 and 2008, but only in 2009 it is published in English in thematic compilation volumes (7 volumes so far), which means they contain “best of the best” and do not follow the original manga chronological order. There are a few minor storylines that jump forward and back. But I guess in the big picture of things, it does not matter that much, because the food is really the central of excitement!

The big question throughout this volume is What constitute real Japanese cuisine? What menu is essentially Japanese? In Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine we learn more about sashimi, rice, and green tea. (I love sashimi. I can keep eating sashimi if it’s not so expensive!) There are different cuts of sashimi, different fish (obviously), and even different way of “cooking” it, one of them with a complex method of using a special type of rice paper and pouring boiled water over the rice paper and the skin side of the fish so that only the skin is cooked, not the flesh. Definitely not something you can do at home! Then there’s one chapter about cooking rice competition. It’s later revealed that the winner hand-picks the rice so they are all the same size and cooked evenly at the same time. Talking about serious cooking!

So yes they can go a bit over the top, although are seemingly realistic at the same time. As a foodie, I just found it a joy to read a book that treats food with so much respect. The green tea ceremony at the end of this volume was a nice closure that reflects how respectful the Japanese are.

sashimi

delightful sashimi (source)

4.5 stars
2009, 272 pp

The volumes in this series (links to my review):
Oishinbo a la Carte 1: Japanese Cuisine (current post)
Oishinbo a la Carte 2: Sake
Oishinbo a la Carte 3: Ramen & Gyoza
Oishinbo a la Carte 4: Fish, Sushi & Sashimi
Oishinbo a la Carte 5: Vegetables
Oishinbo a la Carte 6: The Joy of Rice
Oishinbo a la Carte 7: Izakaya: Pub Food

A rather late shout for Bellezza’s Japanese Literature Challenge IV which runs until the end of January 2011. I’m not sure if I get a chance to read a Japanese novel before the end of January (so far I’ve read only manga), but I’ll try!

Japanese Literature Challenge IV

Happy Christmas Y’all!

Santa Fun Run - Sydney

Annual Santa Fun Run – Sydney

No snow for Sydneysiders ever, but the day started rather cool today in our glorious Christmas summer (that is, 20C-ish) and the sun is shining. Much better than the horrible 30C+ last year. Plan to bake a white chocolate cake today with Mr Mee and watch a Christmas movie (The Nightmare Before Christmas maybe? We watched Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the Muppet Christmas Carol last year). Eat last night’s Japanese Hamburger dinner leftover and pack for our road trip to Melbourne the next day.

Where ever you are and whether you celebrate Christmas or not, hope you have a great end of year break!

Banker to the Poor by Muhammad Yunus

Banker to the PoorAs a person who wishes to contribute something to the world in her small ways, I’m always on the lookout for a good cause to support. I heard of Muhammad Yunus many years ago from a friend who shared about a website called Kiva, in which upon a quick browse I first heard about micro-lending. I knew roughly what it was about but never got around to read about it.

Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank (the micro-finance bank he built) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006, and since then he came to my attention over and over again, though only until a few weeks ago I managed to set a time to read his autobiography, in which he tells you everything about micro-lending and the battle against world poverty.

Poverty is a subject that is close to me, having been born and lived most of my life in third world country, where poverty is not a problem in the other part of the world, but very real, very close, that I saw every single day. But as life would have it, I’m not someone who works in vital sectors, like doctors, economists, lawyers, teachers, or politicians. I work in entertainment industry. So I guess learning about problems of the world and contributing a small portion of my earning would be as far as I can go. Anyway, that’s food for thought for another day.

Muhammad Yunus though, was exactly in the perfect position to make a difference. He’s a Bangladeshi from a well-off family, had a chance to study in US, and became a professor of a respectable University in Bangladesh. He’s highly intelligent, has very strong concern for humanity, and is well connected because of his position and upbringing. And boy did he make a difference.

The idea was born one day in 1976 when he loaned $27 from his own pocket to 42 people living in a tiny village. By lending the small amount of money, they were able to buy raw materials for their trades. What he found later on was that the poor only needs to be given a chance to lift themselves out of the death circle of poverty. By lending a small amount of money and encouraging them to be micro-entrepreneurs, they are able to help themselves. These people have managed to live with such minimum resources. Imagine what they can do given even the smallest window of opportunity. The possibility is limitless.

When you hear a success story of somebody, you often forget that there’s an enormous amount of time and energy to get them to where they are. When I heard Muhammad Yunus winning the Nobel Prize, I imagined a smart professor solving world problems with his almighty brains. But I did not imagine the little things he had to go through physically: going to house after house in a small village, day after day trying to gain the villagers’ trust, to convince them to borrow money and give it a go, rain or shine, literally. There was an occasion when it was downpour raining and he had to wait outside because it was against the custom for a non-relative male to be in the house without the men of the family. So the women lent him an umbrella while he was sitting at the gate of the house, while one of his female students played messenger, going back and forth between the house and the gate. His first “office” did not even have a lavatory since he started with very little money in a tiny village. When nature called he had to go to his neighbour. These are just ones of many little things that brought tears to my eyes. There is someone in this world, willing to go through so much, so his fellow human beings could have better lives. Not just by making up high theories in the comfort of his room, but by diving head first into the center of the problem, to the lowest of the lowest of society. It restores your faith in humanity. It makes you believe the power of one person to change the world. It makes you believe in all sorts of things.

“How did we define “poverty-free”? After interviewing many borrowers about what a poverty-free life meant to them, we developed a set of ten indicators that our staff and outside evaluators could use to measure whether a family in rural Bangladesh lived a poverty-free life. These indicators are:Muhammad Yunus
1) having a house with tin roof
2) having beds or cots for all members of the family
3) having access to safe drinking water
4) having access to a sanitary latrine
5) having all school-age children attending school
6) having sufficient warm clothing for the winter
7) having mosquito nets
8) having a home vegetable garden
9) having no food shortages, even during the most difficult time of a very difficult year
10) having sufficient income-earning opportunities for all adult members of the family”

How down to earth is he? The goals they set are clear and very realistic. The poverty rate has fallen from 74 percent in mid 1970s to 40 percent in 2005. A ridiculously high achievement for a nation that is often struck by natural disasters and has no great natural resources apart from the hard work of its people.

Professor Yunus is truly one in a million. What a better place he has made the world. My admiration for him has no bound.

5 stars
2003, 277 pp

Kiva – loan as small as $25!
Grameen Bank
Yunus Centre

The Book Nest (review)
Dawn @ she is too fond of books talking about Kiva

The Lost Thing by Shaun Tan

lost-thingA few months ago after knowing about The Lost Thing made into a short film and meeting Shaun Tan himself, I determined to read all his books. The Lost Thing and The Red Tree came to the top of my list. Ordered both from Book Depo and read both soon after (I’ll save The Red Tree review for later). Both cost less than $10 (the paperback) and they’re so worth every cent. Books that I love to have as my permanent collection.

Describing Shaun Tan’s books as picture books for adults can’t be more true than in the case of The Lost Thing. I’m not sure how it far it could resonate with kids. For me it shook my soul a little bit, as his books always do.

Storyline is simple. From Shaun Tan’s description at his website:

The Lost Thing is a humorous story about a boy who discovers a bizarre-looking creature while out collecting bottle-tops at a beach. Having guessed that it is lost, he tries to find out who owns it or where it belongs, but the problem is met with indifference by everyone else, who barely notice it’s presence. Each is unhelpful in their own way; strangers, friends, parents are all unwilling to entertain this uninvited interruption to day-to-day life. In spite of his better judgement, the boy feels sorry for this hapless creature, and attempts to find out where it belongs.

The Lost Thing itself I always knew would be red and big, so very noticeable, which makes us wonder why nobody really notices it (this is the key question of the story, for which there is no single answer).

lost-thing

The Lost Thing likes to eat Christmas decorations

Apparently there could be different interpretations of what the Lost Thing actually represents. While reading it though it seemed very clear to me that the Lost Thing is a thing that is important to us, so huge, so noticeable. It’s taking our entire world and yet you wonder why people just don’t see it the same way. That they just don’t care. Don’t you have things like that in your life? I do. Especially, perhaps, back when I was younger. Back when lots of things were important, to me, and people kept saying that they didn’t matter, not after you’ve grown older and learned more about the world. Annoying, but for most things, are sadly true.

lost-thing

In essence, The Lost Thing comments on the sense of being lost, of not belonging, which seems to be the recurrent theme I found in his works. Probably caused by experience as an Asian growing up in Australia many years ago?

The illustrations are stunning. There is no empty space within the pages. Even the gaps between panels that are usually white for normal comics are full of doodles and collages. The book is an absolute keeper. Love.

shaun tan

5 stars
1999, 32pp

The Lost Thing @ shauntan.net

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Remains of the DayAs I entered the novel, a sense of familiarity quickly came to me: the distinctively British language, eloquence and subtlety. I knew I was in good hands, of someone who really knows what he’s doing. My first Ishiguro was When We Were Orphans (ridiculous plot, but again, delicious British style), my second being Never Let Me Go (clinical clean language, intriguing plot), and I have to agree with many people (and the Booker judges) that The Remains of the Day is the peak of his greatness.

Stevens is an old-fashioned butler who has been working his entire life at an old style English house (mansion to be exact, or castle? Anyway, it’s huge). Being a butler is not just his job, it’s his entire life. He has extreme pride for what he does, who he works for, and who he is for his profession. Because of his extreme, rather odd views of things, he is somewhat socially imbalanced, and that causes him to be caught in all kinds of interesting situations with the people around him.

The basic premise is not what I would call my kind of story as it deals with upper class society in a wealthy country, albeit it’s the butler who gets the spotlight. Having said that, I was totally absorbed into Stevens’ thoughts and life from beginning to the end. This is a book that is heavily based on characters rather than plot, and what a great characterization Ishiguro has done. Everything about Stevens is so believable, so well-developed. And the ending will surely take your breath away. It did mine. It was so tragic, so devastatingly heartbreaking.

Jess, my book fairy who passed me the book, described it as “pitch perfect” and I couldn’t agree more. What really stood out for me, apart from the language, was the technique. It felt like Ishiguro has painstakingly rewritten and edited the book, again and again, honing it to perfection. No word was wasted, no gesture was not meaningful, no speech was unnecessary. It was so clean, so lean, so articulate. Yes, it was pitch perfect!

As the basic story is not one that is close to my heart, it probably won’t end up as my favorite book of all time. (Maybe it will maybe it won’t. Only time will tell.) But as a novel, it is amazingly accomplished. Give me another Ishiguro’s anytime of the day. I’m sure I’ll end up reading all his books eventually. I would therefore give The Remains of the Day the perfect 5 stars. I’m not sure if that makes sense. Can you think of a book in which the basic story is not close to your heart but you think it works perfectly as a novel? What’s the next Ishiguro would you recommend? The Unconsoled, An Artist of the Floating World, or A Pale View of Hills? Any that you feel strongly about from the three?

5 stars
1989, 258pp

First Line
It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days.

Memorable Passage
“There was, for instance, the question of cost. For even taking into account my employer’s generous offer to ‘foot the bill for the gas’, the costs of such a trip might still come to a surprising amount considering such matters as accommodation, meals and any small snacks I might partake of on my way. Then there was the question of what sorts of costume were appropriate on such a journey, and whether or not it was worth my while to invest in a new set of clothes.” ~ p10

Challenges/Projects
Read the Book, See the Movie, The Man Booker Prize, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, Reading the World

Also reviewed by
Steph & Tony Investigate!
| Arukiyomi

The Film (1993)

remains of the day film

The film was nominated for 8 Oscars in 1994 for Best Actor, Actress, Costume, Art/Set Direction, Director, Picture, Music, and Writing. (too bad it didn’t win any. But their competitors of that year were Schindler’s List and The Piano. Tough competition!)

Stevens the butler was played by Anthony Hopkins beautifully, as well as Emma Thompson as Miss Kenton the housekeeper. The movie stayed very true to the book, it captured the mood very well, and the important scenes were played better than what I imagined while reading.

The setting in Darlington Hall was amazing. I got to see everything that was hard to imagine by myself: the summer house, dining room, kitchen, servants’ quarter, drawing room, library, etc. There were even a couple of nice extra touches that I don’t recall being mentioned in the book, like secret passages for the servants to go from room to room without being intrusive (so fun!) and the myriad of labeled bells connected to different rooms.

The Remains of the Day is a wonderful movie. Really well done. And for me the tragedy was even more apparent than in the book. Highly recommended.

Rating: 8/10

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