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, which includes: Japanese Cuisine, Sake, Ramen & Gyôza, Fish, Sushi & Sashimi, Vegetables, The Joy of Rice, and Izakaya: Pub Food (7 volumes so far). Thematic compilation means it contains “best of the best” and does 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 here!
I saw some of the volumes at Sydney Japan Foundation Library and picked the Ramen volume out of whim, since I LOVE Ramen.
If you think you don’t like ramen, well, let me tell you, you just have not eaten the good one. Believe me, I know! I used to think I only liked dry or fried noodle, not soup noodle. But then one day, I tasted the BEST RAMEN EVER (I absolutely do not exaggerate). With one sip of the soup, I could hear the birds chirping and see the sun rise in dramatic scene.
It was divine.
The broth, the noodle, the soya egg, the roast pork. Cooked to perfection.
I never look back ever since. It is my mission in life to constantly look for a perfect ramen.
In this volume of Oishinbo, you’d find many people go very serious over a bowl of ramen. Who could blame them?
Look at the soupy goodness.
(Photo from actual ramen that I ate)
Apart from ramen, there are also gyōza (dumpling) episodes. Being a huge foodie that I am, it was fascinating to learn so much from a manga. There are many comparisons to Chinese food (chūka ryori), since many Japanese food are originated from Chinese food. There are history of Japan and China relationship, making of noodles, miso, bonito, kurobuta (black pig), the sauces, and more.
The food names are all in Japanese and there are notes at the back of the book that explain everything, which is exactly the way I like it (notes at the bottom of the pages would be more convenient, but some of them are obviously too long). I hate it when they translate food items to English. Not only on food, the notes also explain cultural elements that may not be obvious to foreigners, for example sempai-kōhai (senior-junior) relationship.
One interesting note is about how the word used for the title is not “ramen” in Japanese, but rather chūka soba, or Chinese noodles. Although the term chūka soba can be used interchangeably as a name for ramen, it also refers specifically to the noodles themselves, which are Chinese in origin. Because “ramen” is the name by which almost all Westerners know the dish, that’s what they’ve decided to use in Oishinbo.
I have fallen in love with the series, so I’ll continue reading the others. Highly recommended if you’re interested to learn more about Japanese food and culture, in a fun way at that.
2009, 272 pp
Japanese Literature 3 (book #4), Graphic Novels 2010 (book #1)
I love Japanese cooking shows. They make everything so dramatic. Have you watched Iron Chef? You should watch Iron Chef. It’s the most exciting cooking show ever. The Japanese one, not the US remake one (though the latter is not so bad). For anime, Yakitake!! Japan is very fun series about a boy whose dream is to become a bread master. I kept wanting to eat bread the whole time I watched it. When I was small, I used to watch Cooking Master Boy (or I think that’s what it was). I love to watch the reactions of the people eating the food. I think that’s how I learned to be excited about food.
This is my last book for Japanese Literature Challenge 3, which ends today. I’m going to post my wrap-up tomorrow. So see you then!