Friday, October 7, 2016

Rice Noodle Fish - Matt Goulding

Rice Noodle Fish
Title: Rice Noodle Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture
Author: Matt Goulding
Publication Date: 10/27/15
Pages: 352
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: It's been on my TBR
Date Completed: 9/3/16

Summary: An in-depth look into the regional cuisine of Japan.

What I Thought: I went to Japan in high school. I was part of a cultural delegation from my suburb of Columbus to a suburb of Tokyo. I had previously been to Europe, but that didn't make the journey to Asia any less revolutionary for my young self. 

Japan is not a place I would have chosen to go at that age. Of course, my wunderlust was insatiable even then, so I was not about to turn away an opportunity to travel anywhere new. Even at 18, I understood how much world I had yet to see. Europe had, I suppose, whet my appetite to experience the world beyond the Midwest in big ways. Culturally, I got so much out of the trip. I stayed with a Japanese host family and was amazed by the vastness of Tokyo.

The big downside? My 18-year-old palate had hardly even begun the journey to become what it is today (and I still have a long way down that path to travel yet). It suffices to say I was still a pretty picky eater. I spent the trip desperately trying to hunt down as much white rice as I could consume. I certainly was not on the look out for learning about their food culture. The only culinary eye-opening I had was having shabu shabu with my host family. I've thought about it constantly since. In fact, since my sweet husband got me a fondue pot for my birthday, I'm finally going to be able to attempt a stateside recreation of that meal. 

I promise this whole post isn't about my own experiences in Japan. I share all that to say this: I've heard chefs rave about the glory of Japanese cuisine for years. I know it's a mecca of the culinary world for many of the best palates on the planet. I've never quite understood that since my own culinary experience was so different (due to my own immaturity). Goulding opened my eyes. I mean, really opened them.

I understand now that, even if I had been ready for and seeking out the best of Japanese cuisine, I would only have scratched the surface. The depth of that culture is immense and varied. And boy do I want to have a second chance now.

I've been meaning to read this book for a while. However, Goulding's second book (which focuses on Spanish cuisine and culture) is about to come out and I've been asked to read and review for TLC Book Tours. I figured now was a good time to finally pick up this first one. I am so glad I did. Goulding really changed the way I look at Japan, its food, its people, its rich history. I feel as though I can reflect on my long ago trip with new eyes now, even in retrospect. 

I want Goulding to write a book like this on every county's cuisine. I would read every last word. 

I really cannot explain how much I enjoyed this book. Many authors do a wonderful job writing food descriptions, but Goulding takes it to a new level. He immerses you in the sensory experience as well as its background; he introduces you to the craftsmen and -women responsible for creating such wonders. He dives into the history of different Japanese cuisines and what makes them different from one another. He explores both the traditional and those chefs who are breaking boundaries.

Throughout the book there are beautiful photos and guides to navigating various parts of Japanese culture, including their vending machines, a night at a geisha house, and the ubiquitous Bento boxes sold at train stations around the country. 

Reading this has, once again, pushed Japan up on my must-see list. I've wanted to return with Kevin, but now I also want to return for myself. I want to see and taste the world that I only dipped a finger in before. I want to roam the country free of school chaperones or tour guides. I'll never be able to replicate some of the incredible experiences I had on that first trip, but I also know that Japan has so many more to offer me and I want to know them. Thanks, Matt, for helping me better understand the cultural and culinary glory of Japan and reawakening my connection to the country. 

Quote I Loved: "'The process is everything,' Tatsuru says, in what could be a four-word definition of Japan."

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yes, especially if I ever go to Japan

A Reduced Review: It's a mouth-watering, eye-opening journey into the heart of Japan. I've never wanted a second chance at visiting more. 

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