Oishinbo Volume 1 by Kariya Tetsu and Hanasaki Akira

I’m happy that the manga industry in the U.S. has matured enough to bring American readers didactic cooking manga. I’ve enjoyed reading manga that use cooking as a setting like Mixed Vegetables, Kitchen Princess, Iron Wok Jan, and Yakitate Japan, but the cooking portrayed in those volumes isn’t exactly instructional. I find it staggering to think that Oishinbo ran for over one hundred volumes in Japan; the Viz editions are going to pick highlights to release here.

Oishinbo’s plot revolves around a classic father-son conflict. The father is a renowned gourmet and artist named Kaibara Yuzan who thinks nothing of forcing a chef to prepare a dish over and over again until he is satisfied with the quality of the dish. The son is Yamanoka Shiro, a journalist who has been tasked with creating the “Ultimate Menu”. Shiro has rebelled against his strict father, smashing all the pottery in his house before leaving forever. While Yuzan thinks nothing of bringing an innkeeper to tears with an accusation of serving substandard food, Shiro intervenes and show the innkeeper’s cook how to prepare a better dish. The bonus for Shiro is an attempt to achieve his goal of proving his father wrong.

Shiro and Yuzan keep running into each other in various settings. Sometimes Shiro’s intellectual approach to food wins the day but other times the depth of Yuzan’s years of experience proves Shiro wrong. The first volume’s theme is Japanese cuisine, and the reader is treated to episodes exploring knife technique, sashimi, chopsticks, the tea ceremony, etiquette, and the idea of hospitality. The art in Oishinbo is simple and cartoon-like, with more care and detail spent on the illustrations of food and cooking tools than the people using them. The plot is also secondary to the information presented about the food. This was all fine with me, because the point of Oishinbo is the appreciation of food, not the art or the storyline. I did find Shiro’s know-it-all attitude amusing and I thought it was funny that his reporter colleagues react with resignation every time he starts to lecture them on the proper way to enjoy food.

I think someone’s enjoyment of Oishinbo can be measured by how much they may enjoy passages of text like this, where Shiro talks about how he found the correct salt to season some sea bream:

The fish is placed in the saltwater before it’s dried. The important thing is to make sure the saltwater has the same salinity as the seawater. The salinity of the water varies a lot in different parts of the inland sea. This is especially the case in the Akashi Strait, which is recessed like a pocket. So I came to the conclusion that the best way to season the fish would be to match the salt level of the seawater that the fish lived in.

I put down the first volume of Oishinbo thinking that I had learned more about sea bream than I ever thought possible. I might not read every volume of this series, but since the volumes are themed around a certain type of food or drink like sake, vegetables, and ramen, it’ll be easy to just pick and choose the topics that I find interesting. I’m hoping that there will be volumes just about udon or miso soup. The production quality for this manga was great, with plenty of text notes, author comments, and two full-color recipes included in the front of the book.