From the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People comes Super Sushi Ramen Express, a fascinating and funny culinary journey through Japan
Japan is arguably the preeminent food nation on earth; it’s a mecca for the world’s greatest chefs and has more Michelin stars than any other country. The Japanese go to extraordinary lengths and expense to eat food that is marked both by its exquisite preparation and exotic content. Their creativity, dedication, and courage in the face of dishes such as cod sperm and octopus ice cream are only now beginning to be fully appreciated in the sushi and ramen-saturated West, as are the remarkable health benefits of the traditional Japanese diet.
Food and travel writer Michael Booth takes the culinary pulse of contemporary Japan, learning fascinating tips and recipes that few westerners have been privy to before. Accompanied by two fussy eaters under the age of six, he and his wife travel the length of the country, from bear-infested, beer-loving Hokkaido to snake-infested, seaweed-loving Okinawa. Along the way, they dine with—and score a surprising victory over—sumo wrestlers, pamper the world’s most expensive cows with massage and beer, share a seaside lunch with free-diving female abalone hunters, and meet the greatest chefs working in Japan today. Less happily, they witness a mass fugu slaughter, are traumatized by an encounter with giant crabs, and attempt a calamitous cooking demonstration for the lunching ladies of Kyoto.
In this entertaining read, Booth, the Copenhagen correspondent for Monocle magazine, makes it delectably clear that Japanese food is a whole lot more than sushi. Informed by a Japanese colleague that he has never tasted real Japanese food, Booth sets forth with his family to eat his way through the Land of the Rising Sun. With only three months to digest an ancient tradition, Booth heroically chows down from Hokkaido to Okinawa. Crowning his pilgrimage is a final supper at an exclusive restaurant that embodies the subtle dining pleasures and philosophies of a cuisine shaped by scarcity, seasonal change, and the fruits of the sea. As a narrator, Booth is both genial and informed, deploying his two sons as comic foils while he performs his "innocent abroad" character with aplomb. There's more to Booth than meets the eye, and his access to Japanese celebrities makes him an unlikely everyman; at times, this persona comes across as a shtick. But Booth redeems even the most pro forma moments with smooth prose, assiduous research, and tireless fieldwork. A chapter on diet and aging seems misplaced. Otherwise, Booth's immersion in a remarkable cuisine is both engaging and convincing.