Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know About Cooking by Michael Booth
|Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know About Cooking by Michael Booth|
|Reviewer: Ruth Ng|
|Summary: A personally told, fascinating gastronomic tour of Japan that left me hungry for Ramen and sushi and looking up flights to Japan.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: May 2010|
Japanese food has a tendency to sound a bit freakish or even controversial. Raw fish? Octopus ice cream? Whale meat? Yet it is slowly infiltrating the UK with sushi conveyor belt restaurants popping up everywhere and noodle bars offering Westernised bowls of steaming noodles. In this book Michael Booth takes his wife and two young children to experience the real thing, travelling across the whole of Japan tasting an enormous range of foods and learning about their history, how the foods have been produced and are cooked and eaten.
This isn't a cookbook. It is all about food, but there are no recipes to follow, although there are a couple of little hints and tips sprinkled within that might help someone who already has some Japanese recipes that they've tried and wish to perfect. It also isn't really a travel book, although the family do travel through Japan from the Northern island of Hokkaido through central Japan, down to Kyushu and on to Okinawa. I think it works well because it doesn't fit into a particular genre and is instead an eclectic collection of short essays, and although it is predominantly about food there are personal anecdotes throughout, usually humorous, as well as notes about locations and scenery.
There is, as you'd expect, a lot about fish, as well as interesting pieces about Kobe beef and sushi. Yet the parts I enjoyed most were those about things such as wasabi, MSG, how sake is made and the various different soy sauces. I hadn't given them much thought previously other than the fact that our sauce shelf at home has both Chinese soy sauce and Japanese soy sauce which are noticeably different. Of course, now I've read the book I want to go back to Japan and get my hands on some of the really good stuff!
There are also some interesting thoughts about the health benefits of a Japanese diet, including a look at why Okinawans have such long life spans, and why the Japanese have generally seemed to be healthier than Westerners, although that of course is changing as more American fast food seeps into their culture, as it has in ours, eroding the traditional ways of cooking and preparing food.
He also visits a sumo training house to look at their diets and how they prepare their bodies to take part in sumo matches. He talks us through traditional meals that are all about beauty, tastes and textures of foods and the use of seasonal produce, as well as one special meal which takes place in a secret, exclusive little restaurant somewhere in Tokyo run by an elderly gentleman and his wife for just a handful of guests that you won't find on any map or in any guide book.
I fell in love with Japan several years ago on my first visit there. It is so beautiful, a country that is loaded with traditions and history yet simultaneously buzzing with new ideas and new technologies. Japan is both utterly beguiling and incredibly strange. Michael Booth's book manages to portray all the charms and quirks of Japan, acknowledging the stereotypes and yet moving beyond them to give you a real sense of the country, its culture and people as well as, obviously, their food and eating habits. This isn't a book I would go back to re-read but it was fascinating to read through once and I did mark a couple of pages for reference next time we return to Japan. I spent a lot of time during my reading saying 'Hey, did you know...' to my husband who later stole the book from me to look up everything it said about Ramen, noodle geek that he is. It made me long to go back there once again, and not just for the food.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion:
For more about Japan you could read Japan Through The Looking Glass by Alan Macfarlane. For foody travels in a different country try Shark's Fin and Sichuan Pepper: A Sweet-sour Memoir of Eating in China by Fuchsia Dunlop.
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