By Alexis Agliano Sanborn (Shimane-ken, 2009-11) for JQ magazine. Alexis is a graduate of Harvard University’s Regional Studies-East Asia (RSEA) program, and currently works as a program coordinator at the U.S.-Asia Law Institute of NYU School of Law. Additionally, she is an artist and independent filmmaker, currently working on a documentary about food education in Japan entitled Nourishing Japan.
Tuttle’s latest cookbook, Japanese Cooking with Manga, captures the ethos of creating food which suits the place you live. This quirky read was written by the Gourmand Gohan team comprised of Spaniards Alexis Aldeguer and Ilaria Mauro and Japanese-living-in-Barcelona “Maiko-san,” highlighting the universal love of Japanese food and its adaptations around the globe.
Created to be part comic book and part recipe book, this is a cookbook that you “read,” filled with colorful and humorous visual explorations of preparing Japanese food. Drawn in an artistic style more reminiscent of Tintin than Totoro, the trio guides us through visuals of chopped ingredients and simmering pots culminating in the completed meal. In truth, it would be difficult to consult the book while cooking (there’s something to be said for a more traditional layout); it’s more coffee table or bedside reading. Nevertheless, readers, especially those with an appreciation for comics, will likely enjoy this book.
In addition to recipes and narrative, the writers take care to provide background information, context and history to the world of Japanese cuisine—such as the importance of seasonal ingredients, the history of sushi, or how to identify fresh fish. For anyone embarking and revisiting the world of washoku, these principles are good reminders of the foundation to the cuisine and culture.
As far as the recipes go, there are the obligatory nikujaga, karaage and yakisoba, but the artwork helps you to overlook these typical inclusions. It’s the fun and very unique Japanese/Spanish/European food fusion that makes this cookbook sizzle, from ham and cheese pot stickers, miso-marinated mozzarella and tofu quiche with smoked salmon. These kinds of recipes tap into a style of cooking for people who don’t happen to live in Japan and have certain key ingredients easily available, conveniently allowing for preparation matching the time and place.
Through the pictures and anecdotes, Japanese Cooking with Manga reminds us of the universal bond that food helps to create, and that the act of preparing and eating together is an everyday ritual that we should all think about and enjoy more, as these characters are having fun and enjoying a delicious life. Readers are also reminded of culinary and cultural similarities and differences (from a non-Japanese character: “You will never get me to like tofu!”), and the book gently acknowledges that despite the popularity of Japanese food, the ingredients or cooking process is still new to many and may need to be adjusted to match local tastes.
Japanese Cooking with Manga is an entertaining introduction to the world of Japanese food, and an approachable book for those interested in learning more about Japanese food culture. While it may not become your go-to cookbook for a washoku master class, it is a stepping stone—one to make you smile along the way as you dig deeper into Japanese cuisine.
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