Oishinbo by Tetsu Karina / Akira Hanasaki

Cover art of Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine

Food! Glorious food!

There are so many manga about food, and Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine (January 20, 2009; à la Carte volume 20) and Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza (May 19, 2009; à la Carte volume 2) are only a couple (–and the only two in this seven volume series that my library had.)

As I read them, I had to wonder: what is the appeal of reading about people appreciating good food?

This is a phenomenon true of things like The British Baking Show and The Iron Chef and a whole slue of cooking competition shows, too, and I’m not sure I entirely understand it. I APPRECIATE it, because I always end up getting deeply sucked into these things, but I’m really not sure what it is about them that makes them at all compelling.

Is it because food is so universal?

We all have to eat.  Most of us, even those of us with unrefined taste, would love to eat delicious food, prepared by experts.

Certainly, for me, reading about Japanese food as a Westerner has the extra layer of getting to learn new things about stuff I’m deeply curious about.  (To be fair, that’s the appeal of any slice-of-life for me.)

Plus, most of these food-centric manga also provide some kind of story in the background.  Even if it’s the kind of gentle concerns of regular life, like you find in What Did You Eat Yesterday?/Kinou Nani Tabeta. Obviously, there are high-drama food-centric manga, too, like Toriko and Food Wars!

Oishinbo is more in the vein of What Did You Eat Yesterday? in that it follows the day-to-day adventures of two food critics/food experts, Shiro Yamaoka and his partner, Yūko Kurita, particularly as they try to gather ideas for a feature article on the “Ultimate Menu.”

SPOILERS

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There’s not a lot to spoil in these manga.  They really mostly are about two food critics that work a prominent food guide, going about their business, eating a lot of food, and discussing it.  There are mini-arcs that involve little dramas, like the two twin sisters who married two twin brothers who used to run a ramen shop together until they were awarded a third star and began to argue about who deserved credit for the upgrade. Their fight became so acrimonious that one of the brothers opened up a shop across the street both claiming to be the “original,” and they’re destroying the remains of their customer base by always arguing in the streets.  Shiro sweeps in and discovers that actually their ramen is terrible separately, but amazing together.

A very special ramen episode!

I also really liked the story where a hapless friend of Shiro’s has finally found the girl of his dream.  The problem? She comes from a fancy, upperclass family and he knows nothing of fine dining.  He begs Shiro and Yūko to double-date with him, so he doesn’t flub it.

Interior of Oishinbo

As you can see, the art style is very clunky and old-fashioned.

Shiro gets his friend through the meal, but the pressure of it all breaks him. At the end of the meal he shouts, “No! This is dishonest! I’m not this kind of person, I’m just a simple ramen and rice guy! I can’t do this fancy stuff!”  Yūko suggests that if this was so dishonest, maybe they’d better try again at a place he feels comfortable.  So, a few days later he takes them to a hole-in-the-wall for an amazing meal of simple fare.  The love interest has never been to a place like this because all her paramours think she needs the fancy stuff, and so she makes her love confession, and everyone lives happily ever after eating the authentic food of their social class!

There’s an overarching story of the deep rivalry between Shiro and his father, who is a master of all arts (calligraphy, pottery) and also famous for his culinary genius.  Shiro is forever being corrected in the proper Japanese way of doing things, and dad is always being surprised by Shiro’s clever, foodie innovations (though he won’t admit it.)

Alas, none of these volumes are available on-line anywhere I could find; Baka-Updates implies no one is scanlating them.  Otherwise, I would recommend them if you’re interested in food and liked What Did You Eat Yesterday? but wanted a tiny bit more “action” to the plot. If you’re super-curious, you can download a sample chapter of it from its official site on Viz Media. (And of course, they’ll let you buy it right there, if you decide you like it!)

Cover image of Oishinbo