If you read much manga at all it won’t be long before you’re reading about food. Indeed, some of my favorite manga center around food and restaurants, stories like Antique Bakery and Dining Bar Akira…and most recently, Shinya Shokudou, by Abe Yaro. (Links are to my reviews.)
Shinya Shokudou is about an old-fashioned, all-night food stall and its proprietor, plus the many dishes he prepares to suit the tastes of different customers…and the funny, poignant, interesting stories of the regular patrons and their night-owl life-styles. Nominated for the 2nd Manga Taisho Award (2009) and the winner of the 39th Japan Cartoonist Awards Grand Prize (2010), the art is funny, quirky, and unusual—as are the stories and the characters. Sweet, delicate, no overarching plot, just short episodes centered around the regulars and their food. I was so sad when I came to the end!
I also SERIOUSLY wanted to eat.
Actually, tons of manga I read make me want to eat. All these pretty drawings of bento, or quirky food-stalls, or interesting regional dishes. Gah! I don’t even eat most of this stuff, fried pork cutlets or various kinds of fish everything, or sausages cut into the shapes of octopi. Still, it’s like cigarettes in manga. I have no interest in smoking whatsoever…but it looks so cool and awesome and sexy when some of these characters smoke (and many, many of them do)…it kind of makes me want to try it. A little bit. I mean, not really. But sort of.
But junky food, that’s not like smoking, I can try that on for a night or two, one meal won’t kill me….
All righty then! What is the single most common manga food that pops up over and over, eaten constantly by manga characters, about which I have become terrifically curious?
Or, as it is known in a strange around-the-world, English-to-katakana and then back to English again in the form of romanization: kare raisu.
There is this great story in Shinya about Yesterday’s curry (because curry always tastes better the second day) and a relationship that forms between two regular customers, so sweet and funny.
<—– Read right to left <——
Wait a minute. Japanese curry? Huh? Isn’t curry Indian? I know, I know, I was confused, too. But seriously, as far as manga is concerned, curry rice is like meatloaf in a contemporary Japanese family dinner line-up. Ubiquitous comfort food, eaten by the masses. The history of why the Japanese eat curry is discussed in this interesting article over at Tofugu and I’ll link it rather than quote at length. But suffice it to say, after reading about the 2oo,000th manga character eating kare, I had to try it.
Okay. So with that description in mind the kids and I headed off to the Asian Market! Where we scored this:
That’s not a giant chocolate bar, that is authentic S & B Japanese kare roux. So, it goes like this:
Saute a chopped onion in oil or butter until translucent. Add whatever you want in your kare, meat if you eat it, veggies, etc. We used the manga classic of potatoes and carrots, to which I added tofu and cabbage. Add some water and simmer for ten minutes or until everything is done to your liking. Add the roux and let it dissolve into a salty, spicy gravy. Serve this savory stuff over short-grain Japanese white rice. Like so. YUM. Vegan, even!
I don’t usually eat MSG so I was a little worried that I would get headaches or heart palpitations or asthma attacks…but I was fine. And this stuff was seriously tasty. Sophie, Paul and I licked our bowls. Luc refused to even acknowledge the curry’s presence in the yurt, of course, he doesn’t eat “weird food”. But I can see why they like it in Mangaland. Hearty, lip-smacking, make-you-want-to-eat-more in a homestyle junky food, but not too junky kind, of way.
Well, if kare raisu is the number one (in my estimation) manga food, what is the number two? It’s gotta be ramen. (Or possibly instant noodles? But who wants to eat those?) But really, manga characters are constantly going out to ramen shops, passing through those doors with hanging down blue noren curtains, and it makes me crazy because at this point I soooo want to eat ramen from an all-night ramen shop like the one in Shinya, and I can’t. I swear, this has become my new travel-food fantasy. I want to have espresso in a Parisian cafe, and I want to eat ramen in an all-night ramen shop in Tokyo. In the rain. I don’t know why rain is important, but it is. It’s probably a Blade Runner thing.
Anyway. On the heels of my curry success, I decided to try to make some ramen, not, obviously the chemical packs you can buy in any grocery store (yuck), and not the REAL ramen where they boil beef bones for three days to make a broth the recipe of which is a secret passed down in the family for generations. But surely there was something in between? Surely there is some homestyle ramen I could made here in North Carolina that will satisfy my curiosity and manga-spawned cravings?
Where I found this very simple recipe that was, honestly, quite delicious. Not vegan because of the dashi stock, and the egg. (You could make it vegan by using kombu seaweed instead of the dashi. And leaving off the egg.)
From the Asian store: fresh curly noodles (Luc’s name for them). Hondashi instant dashi stock (primarily MSG, plus dried fish). Shitake mushrooms. Scallions. Shiro Miso. Seaweed. Garlic. Eggs.
Boil the eggs, then then noodles (in the same water is easy). Rinse and divide into four bowls along with some of the seaweed and the peeled eggs, sliced in half. Simmer 8 cups of water with 2 tsp of the dashi stock granules, 1 T of soy sauce, plus the garlic and mushrooms, for ten minutes or so. Turn off the heat and stir in 4 T of miso. Ladle the broth over the noodles. Sprinkle with scallions and chilli flakes (for me because I love hot things). EAT.
I was surprised at how delicious this ramen was! Really, this was seriously tasty and light years better than those instant noodle packs that also go by the name of ramen. Even Luc slurped up his bowl, too busy eating to answer my “how is it?” He did manage a thumbs up after a minute, haha. Definitely a success.
I see there is a live action drama made from Shinya Shokudou.
I wonder where I could watch it? From this picture it looks terrific.
But of course, for the ultimate in Ramen Media, you have to watch the WONDERFUL 80s movie Tampopo. A really, really good film, highly recommended. It isn’t manga, but even I can branch out every now and then.
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