Title: The Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family's Journey Through the Belly of Japan
Author: Michael Booth
Narrator: Ralph Lister
Format: Unabridged Audiobook, 10 hours and 15 minutes
Published: Sept 6, 2016 (Highbridge, a division of Recorded Books)
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | B&N | Audible
Source: Audiobook Jukebox (http://audiobookjukebox.squarespace.com/)
Rating: 4 out of 5 Wine Glasses
Japan is the pre-eminent food nation on earth. The Japanese go to the most extraordinary lengths and expense to eat the finest, most delectable, and downright freakiest food imaginable. Their creativity, dedication and ingenuity, not to mention courage in the face of dishes such as cod sperm, whale penis and octopus ice cream, is only now beginning to be fully appreciated in the sushi-saturated West, as are the remarkable health benefits of the traditional Japanese diet.
Inspired by Shizuo Tsuji's classic book, Japanese Cooking, A Simple Art, food and travel writer Michael Booth sets off to take the culinary pulse of contemporary Japan, learning fascinating tips and recipes that few westerners have been privy to before. Accompanied by with two fussy eaters under the age of six, he and his wife travel the length of the country, from bear-infested, beer-loving Hokkaido to snake-infested, seaweed-loving Okinawa.
Along the way, they dine with - and score a surprising victory over - sumos; meet the indigenous Ainu; drink coffee at the dog café; pamper the world's most expensive cows with massage and beer; discover the secret of the Okinawan people's remarkable longevity; share a seaside lunch with free-diving, female abalone hunters; and meet the greatest chefs working in Japan today. Less happily, they trash a Zen garden, witness a mass fugu slaughter, are traumatised by an encounter with giant crabs, and attempt a calamitous cooking demonstration for the lunching ladies of Kyoto. They also ask, 'Who are you?' to the most famous TV stars in Japan.
What do the Japanese know about food? Perhaps more than anyone on else on earth, judging by this fascinating and funny journey through an extraordinary food-obsessed country.
It had started off as a perfectly temperate discussion about the relative merits of French and Japanese cuisines. I had recently had dinner at the feted French restaurant SaQuaNa, in Honfleur, on the Normandy coast. The chef, Alexandre Bourdas, was a fast-rising culinary star in France, and I had innocently remarked on his lightness of touch and the freshness of his raw ingredients, drawing what turned out to be a rash comparison between his food and Japanese cooking. I knew that Bourdas had worked in Japan for three years, so it didn’t seem too outlandish to suggest that his cooking had been influenced by the food he had eaten there.
I ought to have known this would be a red flag to my friend Katsotoshi Kondo.
“What do you know about Japan food, huh?” Toshi snapped. “Do you think you know anything about Japanese food? Only in Japan!”…
“I have something for you.”
He handed me a large hardback with a blurry painting of a leaping fish on the cover. Momentarily taken aback, I promised to read it and thanked Toshi….
The book was Japanese Cooking: A Simple Art by Shizuo Tsuji… published in 1979… As I would later discover, it is still the preeminent English-language Japanese food reference source, the bible of Japanese cooking for a generation of Japanophile food lovers throughout the world….
Shortly after finishing the book… I made a rash, impulsive, and, it would turn out, life-changing decision. I decided I had no other choice but to go and see, and taste, for myself, to travel to Japan and investigate the state of Japanese food today, to learn as much as I could about their techniques and ingredients…
That early-August night, I booked four open tickets to Japan, instead of one, and began to map out a workable route through what Toshi had assured me were the pulse points of Japan’s culinary culture.
We would take a foodie family road trip lasting just under three months… I had no idea whether it was realistic to attempt such a journey with young children in tow, but I knew I wanted them to see and experience as much as possible of Japan and the Japanese.
Asger, six, and Emil, four, had never journeyed beyond Europe. Asger was as fussy an eater as I had been at his age, which meant his diet was restricted largely to potato-based foodstuffs shaped like dinosaurs. Meanwhile, Emil had a tendency to projective-vomit foods he did not like… What on earth were they going to eat? What was the real Japan like? Was it navigable? How did the Japanese live? Would there be space, let alone a welcome, for a small, curious family from the West?
The Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family's Journey through the Belly of Japan by food critic Michael Booth is the first food junkie audio I’ve ever listened to. In the past, I would not have picked this up. However, this entry piqued my interest as being not only a about food, but also an extraordinary travel journal through Japan, and, a humorous one at that; because it involved the author and his family including two small children. Think about it: two small children under six-years-old, picky eaters, unfamiliar foods. What could go wrong? I’m thrilled to report that I was not disappointed in the least. It was indeed a fascinating listen and I never once thought about not finishing it. It actually turned out to be a life-changer for me as I’ve since incorporated more foods which were discussed into my diet.
Besides being a food author whose writing appears regularly in The Guardian, The Independent, Independent on Sunday, The Times, The Telegraph, Condé Nast Traveller magazine and other global publications, Michael Booth is also a journalist, broadcaster and speaker. I have read that, minus one chapter, this book is essentially the same book as Sushi & Beyond which was published in 2009 and adapted into a popular Japanese anime television series.
The following teasers are just a tip of the iceberg of what readers can expect to find within the pages of this book. The book is more of an experience in and of itself:
*The family visits a facility of Sumo wrestlers where readers are treated to learning about the culture that surrounds the wrestlers from how they live to the food they eat.
*The family visits a red-light district and a world-famous fish market. I both laughed and was horrified by some of what was related.
*Scandalously to me, whale is very much on the Japanese menu. The Japanese use everything including the whale’s feces!!!! Booth describes a visit to a restaurant specializing in whale. Thankfully, whale droppings aren’t on that menu.
*Typhoons are a frequent occurrence in Japan. The family dealt with typhoon conditions multiple times as they traveled the length of the country over nearly a three-month period.
*MSG has been routinely blamed for Alzheimer’s, ADD, childhood asthma, and more. Japan is the largest producer of MSG. Previous to listening to this book, I didn’t know what MSG was made of or of the benefits of using it.
*The Japanese care about texture and presentation as much as flavor. That’s not to say that they sacrifice any of the three when preparing a dish.
*Okinawans are well-known as being healthy, long-lived people. Booth describes their lifestyle and their diet.
*Readers will experience cod sperm and octopus ice cream.
Following please find a few of my favorite quotes from this listen:
We had arrived in Tokyo a few hours earlier that evening, frazzled but, given the time difference, still frisky, as our brains remained convinced it was early afternoon. Before we had even cleared customs, the foreignness of Japan had become apparent in the form of a “No Broccoli” sign – a silhouette of a head of broccoli with a red line through it. – at customs. Was broccoli smuggling an issue in Tokyo? Were other brassicas also prohibited? It would remain one of many enigmas from the trip.
Over thirteen million people live in Tokyo: one-tenth of the population of Japan inhabiting 2 percent of its land.
Kabukicho and the nearby Golden Gai are about as sleazy as things get in Japan, housing lavish hostess bars with names like Vanity and Seduce, some of them hosted by young men for female clients, all crowded together over many floors of many high-rise buildings. …
This may not seem a terribly appropriate place to take young children for an evening, but even though this is a yakuza heartland, Kabukicho is clean, safe, and, apart from the artfully highlighted Kajagoogoo haircuts of the gigolo bar touts, fairly restrained. Even if they were older, Asger and Emil would have been none of the wiser regarding the -– I’ve no doubt hair-raising – activities in the windowless salons around us. Legend has it the city’s Turkish baths all had to change their names to “soap lands” after the Turkish ambassador was taken to one by mistake and a diplomatic incident ensued.
The Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family's Journey through the Belly of Japan is read by Ralph Lister. This is the first time I’ve ever listened to Ralph Lister. “Read by” is an apt description as he voices the book clearly and succinctly, pausing appropriately. The production is professionally done. Since it is Michael Booth’s diary, there is no need for Lister to perform any other characters. Based upon what I heard, I would not hesitate to pick up another audio voiced by Lister.
The Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family's Journey through the Belly of Japan is an entertaining guide to one of the most food-obsessed countries in the world. Booth’s enjoyment and appreciation of food and the traveling experience is evident in each chapter. I hope to check out more of Michael Booth’s works in the future as I thoroughly enjoyed this audio.