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Oishinbo A la Carte: Vegetables
by Tetsu Kariya & Akira Hanasaki
Oishinbo is a long-running Japanese manga series. It started in 1983 and, as far as I know, new chapters are still being produced. Instead of bringing the 110+ volume series to America directly, Viz decided to an “a la carte” version that instead focused on the highlights. Each book focuses on a different type of food, from rice to fish to the star of this volume, the humble vegetable.
The Tozai News has commissioned the creation of an “Ultimate Menu” embodying the soul of Japanese cuisine to celebrate its 100th anniversary. Reporter Yamaoka Shiro is responsible for creating this august list with help from his friends and the Tozai News staff. Each episode focuses on a different ingredient or aspect of cuisine, with an emphasis on fresh, organic vegetables and quality ingredients.
It’s a little difficult to determine the overarching plot in this series of excerpts. It’s obvious that great spans of time have elapsed and large chunks of the story are gone – in one chapter, Yamaoka’s pretty partner Kurita Yuko laments that he hasn’t noticed her interest in him; in the next chapter, she’s his wife – but each chapter tends to have a self-contained story that is pretty easy to follow. In one chapter, for example, a boy is being bullied at school, but through a cooking lesson he’s able to win his classmate’s hearts. In another, a wealthy man suddenly loses his fortune, and the Tozai News reporters help him rediscover the simpler life. The tales are heartwarming and sweet.
Even though I don’t know what exactly is going on, plot-wise, the characters are all very distinctive. Yamaoka is rather lazy, a genius when it comes to food but oblivious to much of the world around him. Kurita is sweet, patient, and kind – all traits desperately needed when dealing with the difficult Yamaoka. The staff of the newspaper has all the stereotypical characters: an overbearing boss, a flirtatious beauty, and a somewhat geeky supervisor, but they’re all depicted with such warmth and affection that the reader quickly grows fond of them, too.
But the star of the series is obviously the food. The vegetables all look delicious, a tough trick in black and white drawings! The characters describe the food with such mouth-watering detail that it’s easy to imagine exactly how it tastes. There’s an educational aspect – the characters discuss different methods of preparation, and what to look for when purchasing fresh vegetables – that makes the book delightful for foodies. I also enjoyed the cultural aspect of the dishes; many of the traits that the Japanese characters praise in their food aren’t always important in the minds of American diners. Ultimately, this series makes me want to branch out of my comfort zone and try new vegetables, and check out the rest of the series, even though as a story the lack of cohesion bothered me.
3.5 out of 5 stars
To read more about Oishinbo A la Carte: Vegetables, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.
Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: The Italian Woman (Catherine de’Medici #2) by Jean Plaidy
2012: The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee
2011: Fool’s Gold #2 by Amy Reeder Hadley
2010: Dawn of the Dreadfuls by Steve Hockensmith
2009: In the Footsteps of Paul by Ken Duncan