April 2nd, 2009

goku - chewing


The first box from Amazon.com showed up yesterday, which I think is the fastest I've ever got something I didn't order one-day shipping on.* So I read through a couple of things.

Izakaya: The Japanese Pub Cookbook - This is only partly a cookbook. The rest of it is a love song to the traditional izakaya. For those who don't know the term, an izakaya is ... sort of similar to a tapas bar in Spain - a drinking establishment that serves a variety of small dishes that you order by the dish. Anyway, the author visits a number of different izakaya, from the lowly neighborhood one to the refined haute-cuisine one, interviews the owner and talks a bit about the izakaya and the people who go there, then gives 2-4 sample recipes from that izakaya. I think it says something about the wide variety of izakaya food that I ate at five or six in Japan and there is no repeat of any of the multiple foods I ate there in the recipes here.

The recipes tend to serve 2-4 people, and most of them are fairly simple, although a lot of them use Japanese ingredients that I'm going to have to hunt down here or find semi-equivalents for (shiso leaves, for example). The one that takes the longest to prepare takes 2 years. :) It's for a fermented soy product (not natto), but can be eaten after a few days if you want.

Oishinbo: Sake: A la Carte - This is the second collection of themed stories from what is apparently the premier food-porn manga in Japan, which has been running since 1983. The main story is that Yamaoka is a cynical journalist whose newspaper assigns him to search and find the Ultimate Meal. He is the son of a potter and world-renowned gourmet, and their relationship is rocky, to say the least. Yamaoka tends to get into situations where his deep understanding of food and drink saves the day, and occasionally clashes with his father. The English editions cherry-pick themed chapters from the original manga, which means that a lot of the interpersonal plots get left out, and the resulting chapters are all FOODFOODFOODFOOD. Or in the case of this volume, SAKESAKEWINESAKE. There are helpful notes in the back about the food and drink in the chapters, and explaining a bit about the plots that have been removed.

Anyway, I now know more about the history and making of sake that I ever wanted to know, and I have already conceived a gourmet snobbishness, as apparently most of the large sake companies put lots of additives in their sake, and the stores that sell it tend to put it out on the shelves in light and heat, which affects the taste. I've never liked sake, but it's actually convinced me to try, at some point in the future, some sort of small-brewery type that's made with pure rice with just a slight touch of extra alcohol added at the end to smooth out the flavors just to see if it's sake I don't like or merely bad sake I don't like.

Reading the manga is a hilarious experience, as it takes everything over the top in true manga fashion. The colleague of Yamaoka who refused a posting to Paris because he doesn't like French food! Turns out to be an aversion to champagne, and if his superiors visit him in Paris, they drink champagne all the time, and after the TRAUMATIC CHAMPAGNE EXPERIENCE of his youth, he cannot possibly force himself to drink champagne again! Watch how Yamaoka manages to change this man's attitude towards champagne! Marvel the chapter where Yamaoka stalks out of a restaurant in SHEER UTTER DIGUST at the nouveau wine snobs who don't understand that NO WINE GOES WITH FISH!!** Watch how a man torpedoes his social ambitions by inviting Yamaoka's father to a duck hunt and a nouvelle Beaujolais tasting! THE HORROR!!

Then get ready for a six-part series where Yamaoka and his wife/colleague Kurita*** and two of their friends desperately try to obtain a loan for a local sake brewery that's being forced out of business by an unscrupulous large sake company, and have to work hard to convince the bank's loan officer of the Future of Sake in JAPAAAAAANNN!

I swear, you can HEAR the Dramatic Music as you're reading them. XD

Warning: This is Very Very Important. DO NOT READ WHEN HUNGRY.


* I got one-day shipping when I ordered the stationary bike from Amazon. It was eligible for Prime, and this free two-day shipping and when you're paying $175 for an item, really, what's $3.99 to get it one day sooner?

** You should drink sake with fish. According to the manga, the sodium compounds in wine interfere with fish flavor, but the sake complements it.

*** The notes explained that after these two journalists got married, they decided she should keep her last name, as having two Yamaoka-sans in the office would be confusing.