With the fourth collection of Oishinbo, we return to Shiro Yamaoka’s — our protagonist and all-round lazy journalist — quest to put together “the Ultimate [Japanese] Menu”! This volume focuses on raw fish for the most part, which means it is pretty much a delightful education in a food form I know very little about.
Once again, this volume features a rather silly battle between Yamaoka and his blow-hard father, this time over the best way to cook salmon. Apparently, Kaibara couldn’t stand the idea that his son was given such an important task as to decide what foods would comprise the ultimate Japanese menu, he got in bed with another news organization to create his very own “Supreme Menu.” Let’s say, this is not what one would call a “supportive parent.”
Although food is always the central preoccupation of the book, I have to admit I have a high tolerance for the dysfunctional dynamics of this father-and-son-foodie-duo. I’ve seen people complain that both characters are unbearable, but I enjoy Yamaoka’s often sacrilegious perspective on food — sacrilegious because he’s constantly going against the god-like ego of his tyrannical father, but also because his youthful exuberance means he isn’t as tied to tradition as his exacting father. Both are egoists of the highest order, but I’d take a laconic iconoclast over an abusive traditionalist any day of the week.
Also, because I’m a girl and must like romance (yes, this time I cheerfully embrace the stereotype), this volume also sheds some much needed light on how Yamaoka and his constant companion on his quest to create the ultimate menu, Kurita, might have fallen in love. We start to see that Kurita has more to her as a character than just being the “girl” in the series. In a crucial moment before their marriage, she subtly reminds Yamaoka why he is creating this menu when he starts to have doubts about merely “playing around with food” by having the arrogance to declare what an entire culture’s “ultimate menu” would be.
Also, don’t be fooled by my focus on the emotional dramas which always accompany the never-ending search for the best in food and drink. It isn’t that I don’t love drooling over descriptions of how sushi and sashimi are made, or even better, how to make tempura out of…well. Anything. For me, however, food is always about who is eating it and what significance that food has to them personally (one of the many lessons handed down in this fourth volume). It is the interesting personalities of the people eating, discussing and preparing the food that gives it its appetizing aura in this book.
Review Copy provided by Viz Media.
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