I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2016. This is #22 – Read a Food Memoir.
Reading this book made me realise why the reader harder challenge is so great. I have never read a food memoir before and it is unlikely that I would have chosen this novel over many others on my TBR list. However, I really, really enjoyed it.
I think it’s fair to say that Matthew Amster Burton is obsessed with Japanese food. He actually moved to Japan with his wife and young daughter in order to write the book, which reads partly like a Lonely Planet guide to Tokyo and partly like a love letter to ramen noodles. It is as much about Japanese culture and traditions as it is about food, which made it really interesting to read. It definitely made me want to visit Tokyo.
As an English person, I didn’t expect to learn anything about my own culture. However, the biggest lesson that I took from the book was actually how similar the Japanese and British cultures are (tea drinking, eating offal, etiquette, living in tiny accommodation etc.) and how different we are from Americans. This was totally unexpected and made me really curious to learn more about Japan.
One part of the book that didn’t work was the odd paragraphs at the end of chapters where the author described a Japanese comic book strip (which was also about food). I felt that these parts of the narrative were sometimes shoehorned in and because the characters (naturally) had Japanese names it was quite hard to remember which character was which. I also think that it would have been good to have recipes included, although there is a fairly extensive list of references which provide some excellent resources for further reading.
Apart from those two point I think this book is a great way to begin learning about Japanese food and culture and to inspire you to be a little more adventurous in your eating habits – which in my book is always a good thing.
Overall rating: 8.5/10