OISHINBO A la Carte – Ramen & Gyoza by Tetsuya Kariya and Akira Hanasaki (a J!-ENT Manga Review)

June 7, 2009 by  

“The award winning manga that has captured the attention of Japanese readers since 1983 and is still ongoing today.  ‘OISHINBO A la Carte – Ramen & Gyoza’ continues the wonderful manga series of the adventures of the journalists Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita of  the Tozai News who are working on their ‘Ultimate Menu’ project.  Where the last graphic novel focused on cuisine and the second focuses on sake, this time the stories focus on ramen and gyoza and also more competitions between Yamaoka and his father/rival Kaibara-sensei.   ‘Oishinbo A la Carte’ is a magnificent manga series.  Highly recommended!”

(C) Image courtesy of Tetsu KARIYA and Akira HANASAKI.  All Rights Reserved.

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MANGA TITLE: OISHINBO A la Carte – Ramen & Gyoza

STORY AND ART BY: Story by Tetsu Kariya, Art by Akihara Hanasaki



PAGES: 270

RATED: T for Teen

As part of the celebrations for its 100th anniversary, the publishers of the Tozai News have commissioned the creation of the “Ultimate Menu”, a model meal embodying the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine.  This all-important task has been entrusted to journalist Yamaoka Shiro, an inveterate cynic who possesses zero initiative – but also an incredibly refined palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of food.

Each volume of Oishinbo follows Yamaoka and his colleague sthrough another adventure of their quest for the Ultimate Menu.  Now, the highlights from the hundred-plus volume series have been selected and compiled into A la Carte Editions: bite-sized chunks of story arranged by subject that add upt to a full-course manga meal!

Few foods inspire as much passion and partisanship as the dish of noodles in broth known as “ramen”.  Hot or cold, plain or miso, from fancy fusion creations to humble roadside takeout, ramen is truly a beloved food, one that can give rise to fierce loyalty or fiercer criticism (not to mention the occasional fistfight).  In this volume of Oishinbo, Yamaoka and company inquire into the “soul of ramen”, from the flour used in the noodles to the chickens used in the broth.  And where there’s ramen, there’s gyoza: little dumplings made with a variety of fillings and served as a side dish.  Will Yamaoka be able to create an “ultimate” gyoza before Kaibara creates a “supreme” one?

The long running manga “Oishinbo” (which means “The Gourmet”) is a popular best-selling manga series published by Shogakukan which has been ongoing since 1983.  The series have sold 1.2 million copies per volume annually and have sold more than 100 million volumes as of Jan. 2009.

Written by Tetsu Kariya and art by Akira Hanasaki, the series has won multiple awards and has had a successful anime TV series run from 1988 through 1992.  And now the series is being released in the United States from Viz Media through their Viz Signature.   Because there have been so many volumes, Viz has selected chapters from the popular manga and will separate each volume release by cuisine topic.  The first volume in the US which  was well-done and captured the heart of Japanese cuisine, the second volume focuses on the alcoholic rice beverage very popular in Japan known as sake and now the latest version of “Oishinbo A la Carte” focuses on ramen and gyoza.

“Oishinbo” revolves around the employees of the newspaper Tozai News with its employees commissioned to create the “Ultimate Menu”, a model meal that embodies the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine.  Both Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita are in charge of the project and throughout each chapter, the series is broken down to several types of dishes or food related items and how each dish is created.

The characters featured in “OISHINBO” are:

Shiro Yamaoka – A journalist for Tozai News who knows his food and how things are created but he is estranged from his father, a prominent artist and founder and director of the Gourmet Club.  He despises his father because of the death of his mother.  Yamaoka was trained from a young age by his father, Kaibara.

Kaibara Yuzan – The father of Shiro Yamaoka is a prominent artist and founder and director of the Gourmet Club.  Because of his prominent stature, all restaurants fear him and thus feel the need to create perfect food for him.  Estranged from his son Shiro and despises him for destroying all of his paintings and pottery worth tens or hundreds of million yen.  A man widely revered for his sense of taste and feared for his ferocious temper.    He heads the “Supreme Menu” project for Teito Times, rival paper to the Tozai News that his son works for.

Yuko Kurita – Knowledgeable about food and partner of Shiro.  She learns a lot from him.

Daizo Ohara – Publisher of Tozai News

Hideo Tanimura – Director of Tozai News Art & Culture Department

Tomio Tomii – Deputy Director working under Tanimura

Tojin Toyama – A legendary ceramicist and gourmet

Mantaro Kyogoku – A wealthy businessman and gourmet

Seiiichi Okaboshi – Chef/owner of a sushi shop and Shiro’s local hangout

Tokuo Nakugawa – The head chef for Gourmet Club

“OISHINBO A la Carte” is broken up in chapters that related to ramen & gyoza.  Here is what to expect from this volume (free from major spoilers and is a brief description of each chapter):

  1. FIRST COURSE – THE SOUL OF RAMEN – Mayumi and Masumi are twins married to men who own a ramen shop together.  But because of a dispute on who could make the better ramen, both brothers went on to have their own competing ramen shops and now are bitter rivals.  Which ramen shop is the best?
  2. SECOND COURSE – FRENCH FOOD AND RAMEN RICE – Junichi Hirakawa works in the science department and recently has a new girlfriend from a rich family.  Problem is that Junichi is not rich and is a basic ramen and rice guy but he wants to impress his girlfriend so he asks Yamaoka to help him impress his girlfriend by showing him how to order food at a French restaurant.
  3. THIRD COURSE – SOUP AND NOODLES –  Hoshimura Rumiko, a home and garden reporter wants to do an article on Hiyashi Chuka and wants to asks both her friend Yuko and Yamaoka to find the best restaurants that serve the dish but Yamaoka is not a big fan of the dish.
  4. THIRD COURSE – SOUP AND NOODLES PART TWO – Somehow their search for the best Hiyashi Chuka ended up a competition between Yamaoka and his father Kaibara-sensei.  Now Yamaoka must find the best ingredients.
  5. THIRD COURSE – SOUP AND NOODLES PART THREE – Its the day of the Hiyashi Chuka dish competition between Yamaoka and his father Kaibara-sensei.
  6. FOURTH COURSE – BATTLE! VILLAGE REVIVAL (PART ONE) – The Konishi Village and the Kohigashi Village are bitter rivals and now they are working on cuisine that represents their villages.  The Konishi Village has allied with Kaibara-sensei and now the Kohigashi Village has asked Yamaoka to help them.
  7. FOURTH COURSE – BATTLE! VILLAGE REVIVAL (PART TWO) – It’s another competition between father and son as Yamaoka and his father Kaibara try to show who has the best cuisine…the Kohigashi Village or the Konishi Village.
  8. FIFTH COURSE – A NEW GYOZA (PART ONE) – Yoshiko is smitten by the owner of the Gyoza Shop Oharu but the owner wants to make better gyoza but doesn’t know where to start.  So, Yoshiko asks Yuko for help.  Yuko goes to Yamaoka for help.
  9. FIFTH COURSE – A NEW GYOZA (PART TWO) – Yamaoka has agreed to help Yamawaki-san of Gyoza Shop Oharu and create a new ultimate gyoza.  But first they need to do research on the other gyoza shops in the local area.
  10. FIFTH COURSE – A NEW GYOZA (PART THREE) – While the group are doing research on gyoza, both Yamaoka and his father Kaibara-sensei get into another competition on who can make the best gyoza.
  11. SIXTH COURSE – CHINESE FOOD AND CHINA – Yamaoka’s boss has gotten himself into a predicament when he brought his two Chinese business guests to a ramen shop with a name that is racist for Chinese.   Yamaoka explains why the businessmen were offended by the name.

Also, included at the end of the main chapters is a “Notes on the Text” which explains certain panels and meaning of certain Japanese words.

The first two installments of “OISHINBO A la Carte” have been wonderful to read.  The two manga which focus on Japanese cuisine is well-written, witty and for Japanophiles who enjoy Japanese cuisine will definitely find these stories to be quite enjoyable because they go into the history of certain foods but also giving the reader some idea on the creation or a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the dishes.

The third installment which focuses on “Ramen & Gyoza” is actually quite interesting because these chapters tend to focus on the rivalry between Shiro Yamaoka and his father Kaibara-sensei.  These two in the past have crossed paths when discussing dishes but now the two have become quite competitive in terms of having to cook against each other.

Also, another interesting moment is the friends and family members of both Yamaoka and Yuko that the two are quite close to each other and people joking around as if they are a couple.  Because every book has mentioned that Yuko eventually becomes Yamaoka’s wife, it made you wonder when these two actually get close because the earlier chapters focus on their working relationship more than anything.

But you do learn quite a bit about ramen and gyoza.  Especially the quality of flour and also how even in Japan, some people have disdain on dishes that utilize MSG.  There are also dishes and how they are prepared that sound so delicious.  In fact, there is a recipe included on how to prepare “Oishinbo-Style Miso Ramen”.

But I really do enjoy “OISHINBO A la Carte”.  It’s a manga series that is witty, hilarious but also educational and leans towards real life situations.  I absolutely found it hilarious when one chapter, Shiro and Yuko have offended people at work because they have eaten a lot of food with garlic that their pores have made them reek of garlic.  I have known people who have eaten a lot of garlic gyoza and so, I can understand how the co-workers felt.

For those who wonder if these books can be read in any order, the answer is yes.  The first book does explain how Yamaoka and his father Kaibara-sensei have a disdain towards each other but after that one background chapter, every chapter or storyline can be easily read without prior knowledge of any backstory.  So, “OISHINBO A la Carte” is easy to jump into anytime.

Again, another wonderful release of “OISHINBO A la Carte”.  I highly recommend checking out all three releases thus far.

“OISHINBO – Sake” is highly recommended!

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