The latest installment in the Oishinbo a la Carte manga series recently became available from VIZ Media. This one is all about that quintessential Japanese food, rice. It covers such topics as the optimum moisture content of rice grains before cooking, when organic brown rice can be very unhealthy, foods that actually taste better with rice than by themselves, and dishes in which other items are either cooked separately or together with the rice.
All this is remarkably entertaining as well as informative.
Rice of course has been of major importance to the Japanese for millennia. So much so that it was used as a unit of monetary exchange, the koku (approximately 330 lbs of rice), and of a daimyo's (feudal Japanese lord's) wealth. Estates were appraised by how many koku of rice they could produce.
By coincidence, shortly after reading this volume, I happened to watch Seijun Suzuki's Branded to Kill again. In it, Jo Shishido's character has a thing for smelling fresh cooked rice. In an interview on the Criterion DVD, Suzuki explains that since the character was an assassin, he did not think the character would crave the smell of cooked meat. So instead, Suzuki says, he decided to use rice, the most Japanese of all foods.
Oishinbo ("The Gourmet") has sold over 100 million copies since it began publication in 1983. The VIZ a la carte editions compile selected highlights by topic. Consequently, the narrative is sometimes non-chronological. That is, developments in the story line that occur in one edition may not have yet occurred at points in a subsequent edition. Fortunately, there's a concise, easy to use appendix of notes at the end of each volume. Here such "temporal dislocations" are explained, and additional terms are described.
The Joy of Rice is another fine volume in this terrific manga series, which is definitely one of my favorites. The only downside about it that occurs to me is that, like every other volume, it made me hungry and wishing that I was wealthy enough to fly to Japan and eat and drink nothing but the best of the national cuisine!
Finally, for your info, the next and I believe final a la carte edition will explore the world of izakaya - Japanese bars and drinking establishments. It's due to be available in January 2010.