Oishinbo A La Carte, by Tetsu Kariya, is a story about the richness of Japanese Cuisine and how much it means to those who appreciate the custom along with the special traditions behind it. Told in the manga style of graphic novels, the artwork by Akira Hanasaki lets the reader savor each chapter step by step.
The main character, Yamaoka Shiro, is on a quest for items to be part of the “ultimate menu.” Although hardly what one would expect in terms of a cheerful disposition, Shiro nevertheless has something else to his credit – a discriminating eye so he keenly understands the correct way to prepare food. There is a delicate touch to creating the perfect combination of eye pleasing and tasteful eating. Plop fish on a plate and serve to guests? Of course not, the knife must be sharp enough to slide as though through butter yet delicate enough to make thin slices which melt in one’s mouth.
Shiro has been taught everything he knows from his father, Kaibara Yuzan, a demanding, critical perfectionist. The two men are rivals in more ways than one. Shiro will never be good enough for his father to appreciate, but Yuzan cannot stop himself from rubbing that fact in his son’s face. The dynamic makes for some interesting reading. One wants to know what these two will verbally tussle over next.
In between the ten “courses,” readers are introduced to many forms of Japanese cuisine with illustrations to match. Sometimes a lesson in this particular art of cooking is given as well. For example, one method shown is the use of paper to add texture to the dish mentioned. Another technique described is using gauze to boil fish skin without affecting the flesh.
This book is read slightly differently than what one is used to. It starts at the back cover and reads towards the front. I quickly figured out the way to peruse the panels was by starting at the right and go to the left. Every so often, I had to go down and take in a new panel before picking up at the other side. Even the word balloons go from right to left. Basically, one reads far right all the way over to the center. It’s helpful to have a good grasp of context so one can tell where the next logical point of conversation is.
A couple of recipes are included for the reader to try out. Seabream is prepared with exact instructions so someone does not have to guess as to proper form. Both lessons are covered in the book, which is a nice touch.
All in all, this is a well written book. Once the reader opens the first page, it is easy to be drawn into the storyline even if one has never read a graphic novel before. This is a compilation of highlights from a series of about one hundred comic books. Putting this book down will be impossible until one reaches the final page.