As you very well know, I am busy preparing for my trip to Japan. Tricia and I are in the final stages of itemizing each and every place we would be visiting. We’ve talked about the sights, the sounds, and most definitely the food we would be sampling. Like any good foodie and traveler, I’ve taken the liberty of doing my research beyond the usual Lonely Planet guidebook or food blogs, I’ve added a book as well to help me out.
Meet Michael Booth’s “Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family’s Journey Through the Belly of Japan”. Yes the title and its sub-title is quite a mouthful but undoubtedly this book has been quite educational and very inspirational, but above all it has been a very good guide for places to eat and have fun.
Just like Serve the People and Eating Vietnam, Super Sushi is a book that explores practically every facet of Japanese cuisine. Yakitori, sushi, udon, soba, ramen, katsu, and even the obscure ones like fugu, chankonabe, abalone, and so many more are all explained in mouth watering detail. Each chapter is devoted to one particular cuisine and Michael Booth does a great job of deconstructing whatever meal he’s eating very well. He strips away each part of the meal, highlighting flavor, taste, texture, smell, and combines each one to give you an idea of how fantastic and glorious that cuisine is. These moments in the book were absolutely the best parts, Michael Booth certainly went out of his way to visit obscure places, fabulous street food stalls, amazing food markets, as well as food critics and titans in Japan. Their insights into the growing fusion-cuisine, the dwindling food traditions and craftsmanships, really demystified the whole artistic perfection of Japanese food.
But apart from being a great book on Japanese food it was also a book lacking in substance. Having read some pretty great food books over the past few months and years, I found Super Sushi Ramen sometimes lacking or sometimes tedious. There were chapters that were excessively dull and there were some chapters that just abruptly ended right before it was getting exciting and educational. Apart from the chapter lengths or its lack thereof, I felt that I didn’t know who Michael Booth was, if this book were a stoic Japanese samurai, then Michael Booth is also that stoic Japanese samurai. He’s an observer, a taster, but he is not a great storyteller, he flits from one food to the other in an objective manner with barely any humor or personality. Again, he is a stoic Japanese samurai.
At the end of it all, Super Sushi Ramen Express certainly has its good and bad points. Beyond those points, its pages are packed with information that I will find useful in the next few months. My notebook is lined with places to see and eat in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto. That of course beats any Lonely Planet guide every now and then.