Oishinbo a la Carte cover image is courtesy of barnesandnoble.com.
Rated “T” for “Teen”
Tõzai News is celebrating its 100th anniversary. As part of that celebration the newspaper’s publishers have commissioned the creation of the “Ultimate Menu,” a model meal embodying the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. The job is given to a young writer, Yamaoka Shirõ, and his partner, Kurita Yũko. Yamaoka may be cynical and often lazy, but he also has a refined palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of food… thanks to his father.
Yamaoka’s father is Kaibara Yũzan, a prominent artist with an uncanny sense of taste. Kaibara is known for his ferocious temper as much as he is known for his supernatural knowledge of the art, preparation, presentation, and spirit of Japanese cuisine. Father and son are now bitter enemies, and Tõzai News’ rival, Teito Times, has commissioned Kaibara to head the “Supreme Menu,” a project to rival the “Ultimate Menu.”
In Oishinbo A la Carte (Vol. 1), Yamaoka secretly prepares a special meal to help out a kitchen staff feeling the wrath of Kaibara; then, he helps an American amateur trying to learn the Japanese way of cuisine. However, son soon finds himself in the position of constantly having to learn the right way of doing things from his estranged father.
THE LOWDOWN: The long-running cooking manga, Oishinbo, has been published in the manga magazine Big Comic Spirits since 1983, and has been collected in over 100 tankobon volumes (trade paperbacks). VIZ Media’s Oishinbo reprint project is picking select chapters (what they call “highlights”) from the 100+ volumes and presenting them in volumes dedicated to specific themes. Oishinbo A la Carte focuses on “Japanese Cuisine” and the idea of truly good food, and specific chapters focus on fundamental ingredients like rice, sashimi, green tea, “dashi” (cooking stock), seabream, etc.
Although I’m a fan of Yakitate!! Japan, Takashi Hashiguchi’s manga set in the weird, weird world of competitive manga, I was dubious about liking another cooking manga. After reading the first chapter of Oishinbo A la Carte (“The Secret of Dashi”), I was stunned. If this first volume is truly indicative of the series, then, we’re all in for a treat. Writer Tetsu Kariya and artist Akira Hanasaki didn’t create just a cooking manga. Oishinbo is about food: finding the right ingredients, preparing them correctly, serving the food, etc., but it’s all in the context of human interaction. The spirit of Japanese cuisine, if I’m reading this correctly, is about doing everything with care and consideration from the very beginning of a meal (which can be as early as the planting process) to the end (which can be the way food is presented to guests).
The heart of this drama may be more about people and food than just cooking. The father/son feud between Yamaoka and Kaibara is a battle for the spirit of Japanese food, a conflict fought by people coming together to eat and to appreciate food. No matter what the situation is, food plays the fundamental part; food is best enjoyed and scrutinized with others.