Saturday, January 25, 2014

On the Coffee Table: The Joy of Rice

Title: Oishinbo: A la Carte - 
- Volume 5: Vegetables
- Volume 6: The Joy of Rice
Writer: Tetsu Kariya
Artist: Akira Hanasaki
via Paper Chimes
I have always loved rice.  Growing up with parents who had spent most of their young adult lives in Asia, I suppose it's not surprising that the starch of choice at the dinner table was frequently steamed white rice.  From an early age, I could never get enough, soy sauce my favorite dressing, though I've learned to appreciate other options over time.  We got a fantastic rice cooker as a wedding present and it is one of the most frequently used appliances in our kitchen.

Rice is the heart of Japanese cuisine, period.  The olfactory connection between my love of the food and my love of the place is very powerful indeed.  As such, Volume 6 of the Oishinbo: A la Carte series was a very easy sell.  (I have previously reviewed installments of this long-running food manga both here and here.)  The stories in this collection explore the broad impact of rice on Japanese society: economic, cultural, historical, environmental, etc.

The most mouth-watering tale for me is the three-issue long Rice Ball Match, in which onigiri are explored.  I think of onigiri as train food.  I'd usually grab one or two at the station convenience store before a long train ride.  The salmon ones were my favorite.  I didn't care so much for the other popular option, umeboshi (pickled plum).  My Wife read this book first and was inspired to try onigiri.  Fortunately, there's a relatively new restaurant in Burlington, called Bento, that specializes in Japanese comfort foods: onigiri, miso soup, bento boxes and so forth.  It's not quite what I remember from Japan but it's not half-bad for northwest Vermont.
via Amazon
Last summer, I read Volume 5 - Vegetables.  I wasn't as impressed by that one which is why I didn't blog about it.  Part of the problem was personal taste.  I'll eat vegetables but they're not usually the inspiring part of a meal for me.  Also, the protagonist's rival and father played a more prominent role in that collection and that aspect of the story grows tiresome for me.  I am, however, very excited to read Volume 7 - Izakaya: Pub Food.  While the thing I miss most about Japan is the trains, second place would definitely go to the bars and the food is an essential aspect of that culture.


  1. Ah, the thrills of reading about rice!

  2. It constantly amazes me how diverse a range of comics the Japanese have. Manga seems to delve into every facet of life, not just men with capes disproportionate muscles.

    Moody Writing

    1. In Japan, comic books are mainstream reading material. Survey an average train car and manga are by far the most common choice. There are books for every genre and every demographic.

  3. This was a cool, unassuming post, Person.