Sub-title: One Family’s Journey Through the Belly of Japan
Published by: Macmillan-Picador
ISBN 13: 9781250099808
Published: September 2016
Format reviewed: eversion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Four out of Five
Super Sushi Ramen Express is a mesh of a food and travel doco-drama as the author takes his family through a holiday through Japan to try any and all types of food, take cooking classes, interview famous chefs and otherwise, and go through various markets and shopping centres. Booth is refreshing in his initial ignorance of Japan as a whole at the beginning, and explains everything with simple detail in an easy fashion. Sitting down with this book, it’s easy to demolish a third of it before you simply have to put it down (too hungry to continue, thank goodness I have a very decent Japanese place over the road from home), and then only to pick it up again to read on about how tofu is made, or sake brewed, and so on.
Throughout, Booth compares the Japanese way of cooking and eating to how people think of their food in both America and France, and sometimes compares the British way also. The Japanese focus on the natural flavour of their foods, relying on the freshness and quality of ingredients over ‘trying to leave their own mark on the food’, like some chefs are quoted as saying the French style of cooking tends towards. We see how the food changes between Tokyo and Kyoto, as well as from each and every tip of the various islands that make up Japan – whether it’s a different style of ramen, or a varying focus on vegetables making up the majority of the dish.
Booth is certainly lucky in this book to have both a guide and the opportunity to sample the rarer and higher-end level of food available in Japan. We don’t get to see as much of the ‘business-man’ level of one bowl wonders that the normal Japanese person may live on week to week – the book shows us more of the michelin star level places, and doesn’t go as in-depth for when he samples random alleyways of ramen. (If you’re looking for more that style of ‘anything, as long as it’s tasty, try the food critic Giles Coren who is amazing.)
The only slight criticism I have of this book were certain slurs that jolted me out to think ‘did he really just say that? Does he, uh, understand what that means?’ that I think (hope) just come down to ignorance or a poor attempt at humour (for example, the use of the word ‘tranny’, as well as other culturally-based slurs that made me worry just how careful he was when travelling around Japan…)
Also, the tendency to joke about animal cruelty and the unsustainability of the certain foods, such as whale, rather than providing commentary as he does on say, MSG. MSG gets a decent chapter on what it’s really made of, and how it can be used healthily, whereas whale just gets a lunch outing and crass jokes about the ‘environmental outrage checklist’… which was rather disappointing.