Cooking Anime Review

cookingReview

Itadakimasu! The phrase every proper Japanese and Japan enthusiast worth their salt will probably know and utter before every meal. “We give thanks and appreciate this meal that we are about to partake”, all summarised in one simple phrase.

Food brings people together. Whether we are cooking together, bringing food to eat together, or just going out for a meal, good food is often the catalyst of good conversation, and good conversations make are the perfect seasoning for any meal.

One of the topics that came up during a recent meal was that “for any imaginable topic, there will be an anime or manga written about it”. A few Google searches confirmed that as a fact.
Anime about video games? Log Horizon and Sword Art Online are just some recent ones.
Pirates? One Piece. Ninjas? Naruto. One of my personal favourites “Hozuki no Reitetsu” which discusses office politics in Hell. Anyone who has worked in a corporate environment at some point will find this anime is highly relatable.
But since this topic came up over a meal, I wanted to explore and review anime and manga relating to food and cooking. To do your own (rather enjoyable) research on these titles, you can stream anime legally off sites like Crunchyroll or Animelab. As for manga, the Amazon Kindle store, or tabletcompatible Manga reading apps are a good way to buy, read and organise them.

For each title in this review, I gave it a Realism Rating, which indicates how much a given anime or manga reflects reality. A Realism Rating of 1 indicates incredibly unrealistic themes and scenarios, while a 10 is the realistic end of the spectrum.

Besides the four mentioned here, there are many more cooking-related anime and manga out there — more than I have time to watch and read! Most of them deal with realistic aspects of cooking and food, but wrap them in an entertaining plot or setting, while likeable characters and comedy serve to drive the plot forward, even while educating the reader.

As with any other genre of anime, there is a huge variety of choice out there, whatever your tastes! Gochisousama!

review_oishinbo

Written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki, this manga has been published in the English language by Viz Media. It is compiled into seven volumes based on set topics:
Japanese Cuisine, Sake, Ramen & Gyoza, Fish – Sushi & Sashimi, Vegetables, The Joy of Rice, and Izakaya – Pub Food.

The characters in the manga introduce actual recipes that readers can use to make the food that features in the plot. This manga lacks a storyline, since it is mostly a compilation of selected extracts from the original anime series. However, it appeals to me as it showcases the type of food and effort a good restaurant takes to prepare a dish according to the season and what the customer requires. It also teaches some good food etiquette when eating Japanese cuisine. These are highly useful skills if you are planning to head over the Japan at some stage.

Sticks closely to real life situations. Covers a lot of different types of food. The only unrealistic plot point is the frequency with which the protagonist finds himself bumping into his father, and being caught in situations where he has to cook for a restaurant to prove himself.

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A manga about bread making by Takashi Hashiguchi, with the English language version published by Viz Media. Azuma Kazuma is a novice baker who is seeking the type of bread that would best represent Ja”pan” (a play on the word Japanese word for bread, pan). A distinctive feature of this title is the exaggerated reaction that the various characters have upon eating delicious bread.

In extreme cases, the person consuming the bread ends up visiting heaven. Most reactions involve a variety of puns related to the type of bread created.

Most of the breads created are real and can be replicated. A famous example is the rice cooker bread, which the manga provides a recipe for. Of course, the Realism Rating is impacted by the over-the-top reactions, as well as plot points like abnormally warm hands or highly flexible fingers that give certain characters the edge in making bread.

review_yumeiropatissiere

By Natsumi Matsumoto. A “talentless” girl was spotted by a chef of a famous patisserie school in Japan, who recommended her for enrolment to the St Marie Academy. With the help of the top 3 students in her year, she discovers her talent for creating spectacular art pieces with pastries, and works very hard to achieve her dream of becoming a pastry chef. To help move the plot along, Yumeiro Patissiere introduces a parallel world, where Sweets Spirits training to be pastry chefs and are sent to the human world to help and assist people who have potential to be great chefs.

Pastry-making fairies obviously bring down the realism of this manga. However, this title involves cooking real food, and the manga contains recipes that readers can follow and use. Additionally, a lot of the pastry creations in this series reflect the increasingly fantastical work of pastry chefs around the world and even in Australia, who have created amazing pieces of art from cakes and pastry.

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Currently an on-going series, with the anime available on Crunchyroll. The manga, which is written and ilustrated by Mitsubishi Shimabukuro, is published by Viz Media in Weekly Shonen Jump. Set in a fantasy world, the main protagonist is a Gourmet Hunter called Toriko, who, with his partner Chef Komatsu, travel to various locations in search
of ingredients for his “Full Course Menu”. This Full Course Menu resembles a degustation at a restaurant, and consists of 8 components: Hors d’Oeuvre, Soup, Fish Dish, Meat Dish, Main Course, Salad, Dessert and Drink. Each individual’s Full Course Menu reflects their own character and their goals in life.

Toriko’s world features fantastical (but delicious-sounding) ingredients like marsharock (marshmallow rock), pudding camels, bubbly tuna and BB corn. However, the characters are shown to be very serious about food, with a lot of care taken in sourcing ingredients and preparing food.

Joining the Festivities

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©Hirosaki City ©JNTO

In Japan, festivals occur around the year, and across most regions. From the nostalgic En-nichi, which are street festivals held at shrines, to the most spectacular multi-day matsuri with their countless parades, portable shrines, fireworks and stalls, festivals are a great way to experience Japanese culture. At a festival, you can immerse yourself in tradition, mythology, and have a peek at the wilder side of the normally reserved Japanese.
But what do you need to know when planning to attend a festival? How do you ensure you get the most out of your experience?

Finding a festival to attend

Like any other travel planning, research is key. Most local areas in Japan have their own websites, so if you are planning to visit certain towns or regions, it’s a good idea to look up their sites for schedules of upcoming events and festivals.
Another good idea is to look up the websites of Shinto and Buddhist temples, as those will contain schedules for En-nichi and local festivals.
If you are in Japan and you know the language, look out for announcements in the local newspapers and community notice boards.
On the other hand, if you are hoping to plan your travel to coincide with a festival, there are many websites that provide schedules of festivals around Japan. Refer to the list of sites at the end of this article. We have also provided a handy guide to some of the best festivals around the year.

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©Yasufumi Nishi ©JNTO

Preparing for a festival

Many festivals will have their own individual websites, easily found by entering the name of the event into a search engine. Some of the biggest festivals even have sites catering to English readers. On their sites, you can look up:
– the schedule of events, including when the variousparades and/or fireworks displays will occur
– maps, including the planned route of the parades, recommended viewing spots, reservedseating areas, food and amenities, etc
– information for people who may be planning to participate in the parades, including dress codesand procedures.
Using this information, you can plan your visit around “must-see” events, locations of interest, andschedule rest periods.
Some festivals like the Aomori Nebuta Festival have prepaid seats that can be booked well in advance, which can guarantee a good viewing spot without all the fuss.
During your preparations, you should make sure you have packed enough cash for the day. Most attractions at the festivals run on a cash- only basis, including the food stalls.
Also consider packing a picnic. This is especially useful if you have a schedule to stick to, because
it allows you to avoid the crowds and queues at the street stalls. That said, if you value the experience of getting traditional festival food from the stalls, you should budget your time and money accordingly.
In terms of clothing, most Japanese go to festivals in their regular clothes, which means T-shirt and shorts in the summer when most festivals are held. Of course, you can opt to wear a yukata or kimono, but make sure that your clothes and footwear will be comfortable in a crowd and for spending long periods of time on your feet.

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©Hirosaki City ©JNTO

Tips for enjoying your day

Many Japanese festivals will have mikoshi (portable shrine) parades that are considered must-sees. Some of the parades have unique aspects (such as the massive floats of the Gion Matsuri) which you definitely will not want to miss.
Some festivals have parades during the day and night. While the day-time parades tend to be quite exciting, make sure to stay for the night parades, which are a visual spectacle with lanterns, lights and fireworks.
Consider participating in the parades yourself: many festivals allow visitors to join in the
dancing. But be aware that you may need to buy or rent the appropriate costumes to participate. There are also safety rules around participating in parades, such as not going against the flow of the march. Make sure you check the festival website or with the person in charge regarding the rules.
Make sure to plan ahead and give yourself enough time to secure a good viewing spot for the fireworks at the designated viewing areas. Chairs are generally not allowed, but most locals use tarps or picnic blankets.
You should also expect large crowds and lines atthe train stations, so use a Japan Rail Pass, PASMO or Suica prepaid card to skip the ticket lines.
The common sense rules in crowded areas apply to festivals. Keep your belongs to a minimum, and if you are in a group, have a planned meeting location if you get separated, or a way to contact each other.

www.timeout.jp/en/tokyo
www.jnto.go.jp/eng/location/festivals/
www.japan-talk.com/jt/new/matsuri-list
www.japan-guide.com/e/e2063.html

Recommended schedule of festivals to visit

Most festivals take place during summer in the months of July and August. But there are events throughout the year. Make sure to check their exact dates when planning your visit.

When Festival Location Description
Saturday and Sunday
closest to 15 May
Kanda Matsuri Tokyo One of the three largest Japanese holidays. Thousands of people parade through central Tokyo with portable shrines and decorated horses.
June Sanno Matsuri Tokyo Locals in traditional Japanese clothing parade through Tokyo holding portable shrines, drums and horses.
July Mitama Matsuri Yasukuni Shrine, Chiyoda, Tokyo The area around Yasukuni Shrine is lit up by about 20,000 lanterns. Events include a float procession, traditional dancing, theatre and koto shows. Stalls in the main alley sell traditional food, and visitors to the festival come dressed in yukata.
July Gion Matsuri Yasaka Shrine, Kyoto The roads at the centre of Kyoto are barricaded off to allow food and games stands to be set up. The procession which starts at the Yasaka Shrine features some 30 floats that reach 25m high, and weigh as much as 12 tonnes.
July Ohatsu Tenji Natsu Matsuri Tenmangu Shrine, Osaka A mikoshi parade, with participants dressed in the style of the 8th to 12th century imperial court, accompanied by a river parade of 100 traditional boats, which light fires in the evening to go with fireworks.
July-August Ueno Natsu Matsuri Ueno Park, Tokyo A microcosm of all the summer festivals in Japan. Every day of the festival is different. A giant parade takes place on 19 July, and in the evening Lake Shinobazu is a stunning scene with floating lanterns.
August Gozan no Okuribi festival Kyoto On the day of the festival, giant bonfires are lit on mountains surrounding Kyoto from 8pm on. These fires are arranged in the form of characters and motifs and are each lit for 30 minutes. There are designated viewing spots for each cluster of bonfires..
August Aomori Nebuta Matsuri Aomori City Predominantly a night festival. The parade starts at sunset and runs for a few hours. Dancers carry the illuminated and decorated floats. On the last day, the parade starts at midday, and runs into the night, when the floats are set out to sea and fireworks are lit.
August Awa Odori Matsuri Tokushima in Shikoku region Dancers dressed in yukata and straw hats walk and dance through the streets of the city, accompanied by sdhamisen, drums, flutes and brass.
Visitors can join the Niwaka Ren (drop-in team) and dance without advanced application or fee. They can also opt to get lessons from experts before going to the venue.
October Oeshiki Festival Hommonji Temple, Tokyo On the evening of the 12th there is a parade with lights fixed on tall poles. Followers chant and pray to the unique tunes of drums and flutes.
November Taimatsu Akashi Sukagawa, Fukushima Features giant Taimatsu (fire torches) reaching 10m high and up to 3 tonnes. The Taimatsu are carried at the head of a procession of samurai and royal courtiers which parades to Mt. Gorosan. Once the sun goes down, people climb the giant Taimatsu without the use of ladders, to ignite the “sacred fire” at the top by hand. After the giant Taimatsu is lit, the 30 other Taimatsu are ignited one after another, until the surrounding area literally becomes a sea of fire.



Wagashi – Japanese tradition and aesthetics on a plate

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Summer light filtering through green leaves. The moon reflected on a clear lake. Mount Fuji covered in cherry blossoms. Throughout history, these quintessentially Japanese images have been painted, written into poems and painstakingly made into miniature artworks that are briefly admired, then eaten.

Before Pocky, and before KitKat, Japan had wagashi. Literally “Japanese confections”, wagashi includes familiar favourites like mochi rice cakes, dango, and manjuu, many of which can be found in Japanese grocery stores in Australia.

But for the cultural explorer who dares venture beyond the usual tourist traps of Japan, the essence of wagashi awaits.

JS1413_07During the Edo period, in the ancient Japanese capital of Kyoto, wagashi developed from simple fruits and snacks into highly intricate sweets. These sweets became a key component of the Japanese tea ceremony, to be served alongside matcha green tea.

As the tea ceremony is intimately connected with seasonal themes, the host carefully chooses elements that herald the arrival of seasonal changes. The wagashi served reflects this awareness of seasonality, shaped and poetically named to evoke flowers, leaves, fruits and natural scenery.

This sense of connectedness with nature is true down to the ingredients, which tend to be plant-based and seasonal – wagashi served in spring, for example, may be sakura-flavoured due to the availability of sakura leaves, while chestnut-based wagashi are common in autumn.

Just as the tea ceremony represents the key aspects of Japanese culture, the wagashi’s shapes, colours, ingredients, scent and texture come together in an embodiment of Japanese aesthetics, acting as a bittersweet reminder of the passing of time.

Types of wagashi

The wagashi associated with the tea ceremony are often called jogashi, of which there are three types: namagashi, hannamagashi and higashi.

Namagashi, specifically the hand-shaped nerikiri, are the beautifully crafted confections that most people think of as wagashi. Made from a mixture of bean paste, sugar and rice dough, they are extremely perishable and are usually eaten on the same day.

JS141_08_01In summer months, agar-agar and kudzu are used to create namagashi that include transparent jelly parts, creating a visual appearance of coolness.

Less fragile are hannamagashi, soft sweets with lower levels of moisture that allow them to remain fresh for longer. Yokan, a well-known type of hannamagashi, are blocks of red bean paste, sugar and agar-agar which are sliced for serving.

The third type of jogashi, higashi are dried sweets which include rakugan, a mixture of rice flour and powdered sugar which are pressed into moulds to form seasonal shapes.

Different wagashi for different occasions

JS1413_08_02Besides their role in tea ceremonies, wagashi are tied to the Japanese customs of gift giving.
There are different types of wagashi associated with different celebrations and festivals. Here are just some of them:

1 January, New Year:

Hanabiramochi (Flower petal cake) – white and pink rice cakes flattened into thin circles, layered onto each other, then folded in half.
Wrapped up inside are miso-flavoured bean paste, and sticks of sweet boiled burdock.

3 March, Girls’ Day:

Sakura mochi – a sweet pink sakura-flavoured rice cake wrapped around red bean paste, and then itself wrapped with a pickled sakura leaf.
Hishi mochi – a diamond-shaped rice cake consisting of three layers of red/pink, white and green.

5 May, Children’s Day:

Kashiwa mochi – red bean paste in a white rice cake, served wrapped in an oak leaf. Some areas of Japan may fill the rice cake with miso-an white bean paste.
Chimaki – a sweet glutinous rice dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaf, then steamed.

7 July, Tanabata (Star Festival):

Ama no Gawa (Milky Way) – ingredients and designs vary according to the confectionary maker, but this is usually a jellied sweet with colours and motifs to reflect the Milky Way stretching across a night sky.

Experiencing wagashi in Japan

Kyoto, the historical and cultural home of wagashi.

Tea ceremonies

Experience wagashi as originally intended, within the serenity and context of the tea ceremony. Paired as a counterpoint to the bitter matcha, the combination is sublime.

Where?

Tea Ceremony Room Juan: walk ten minutes from Kyoto Station to reach this authentic tea house. Ceremonies happen once every hour from 1pm to 5pm, and bookings are available online at http://www.teaceremonykyoto.com

Camellia: located between Gion and Kiyomizu Temple, Camellia offers a tea ceremony demonstration in English, and visitors have the chance to whisk their own bowl of matcha. Open 7 days from 10am to 5pm, reservations can be made via email or phone. http://www.tea-kyoto.com

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Stores

For a less formal atmosphere, visit the artisanal wagashi stores. Many of these stores have long, distinguished histories and some feature cafes where you can enjoy their wagashi with tea.

Where?

Tsuruya Yoshinobu: On the second floor of this sweet shop in Kamigyo, Kyoto, visitors can observe a wagashi maker in action, demonstrating and describing the process for making seasonal namagashi. Predominantly Japanese language only.
http://www.turuya.co.jp

Toraya: founded in the early 16th century, Toraya is one of the oldest and most famous of wagashi institutions. It has tea rooms and shops in Kyoto, Tokyo, and Shizuoka.
http://www.toraya-group.co.jp

Yatsuhashi: a well-known shop for yatsuhashi. This triangular confectionary of rice dough, sugar and cinnamon is associated with Kyoto and is a popular souvenir item.
http://www.8284.co.jp

Take a wagashi class

If you’re more the hands-on type, you can get the whole immersive experience by taking a short class on making wagashi.

Where?
Kanshundo: in this 150 year old shop in Kyoto, a skilled artisan will show you how to make uiro (a steamed cake of rice flour and sugar), nerikiri, kinton and higashi. Of course, once you’re done, you can enjoy your finished sweets with matcha.