A British food and travel writer takes his wife, two young sons, and a bubbly brand of humor to Japan in hopes of examining the food culture and losing a few of the pounds he has picked up living and cooking in Paris.
In short, punchy chapters, Booth (The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia, 2015, etc.) recounts his adventures on “a foodie family road trip lasting just under three months,” sticking to the subjects at hand. He may not reach any novel conclusions about Japanese cuisine, but he vividly sums up the sensory experience of bonito flakes, with their “addictive smoky-citric flavor,” or dashi, “sweet as spring peas ripe from the pod, yet complex with the tang of ocean.” Many of the author’s most delightful experiences involved his family. He took them along to a sumo “stable” to see how the wrestlers achieve their vast girth, and one of the “colossal walrus people” allowed Booth’s 6-year-old son to pin him. The author also hiked with his family up “a forest road strewn with the corpses of poisonous snakes” to experience nagashi-somen, noodles launched down a mountain river for diners to catch on the fly. More often, Booth toured production facilities on his own, seeking out real wasabi—remarkably hard to find even in Japan—and Kobe beef. He also attempted, with partial success, to make sense of “the two rival culinary camps that divide Japan,” one centered in Tokyo and the other in Kyoto and Osaka. Though Booth trained as a chef in Paris, his tastes are delightfully eclectic: he is as apt to indulge in a 10-hour “food crawl” of Osakan fast-food noodle joints as he is to savor the most delicate sushi, and he evokes both experiences with gusto.
While some readers may wish for deeper explorations of some of Booth’s subjects, he covers the current state of Japanese cuisine with humor and intelligence.