I have an insatiable Austrian sweet tooth. It’s genetic and it’s OK if you don’t believe me, but just try and keep me away from sweets after I re-read Antique Bakery for the twelfth time.
I grew up in a family who enjoyed sweets of all kinds as something that was eaten before dinner or in favor of dinner, and who came from a culture where your local coffee shop serves cakes and ice cream instead of dry biscotti. The fictional setting of Antique Bakery might as well be like “home” to me with it’s exquisitely wrought desserts.
Ah, but that’s not the only place where Fumi Yoshinaga succeeds as a food writer.
Let me explain: I really hate fish. In an attempt to get me to like it as a child, many forms of fish were “disguised” as chicken. But I could see through my mother’s lies. (I was a pretty picky eater back then.) During college, I wound up getting some beta fish as pets and the thought of someone eating anything like one of my pets did not sit well with me. On a trip to Vietnam, the group I was with was repeatedly served fish that was cooked, but still looked like it could be alive. I don’t have a weak stomach, but watching people pick flesh off a fish whose eyes were looking straight at me was totally nauseating. The only fish I can stand to eat is in the form of tuna fish sandwiches, which must be doused heavily with mayonnaise or another strongly-flavored condiment before consumption.
Years later, Not Love But Delicious Food Makes Me So Happy was published. I read it with gusto as I do with any Fumi Yoshinaga manga (I have her entire English-language oeuvre and I make it a point to seek out new releases immediately) and came across this page:
Only an intense desire to impress a sushi-loving crush has ever made me want to eat fish before. (I figured he’d steer me in the right direction, sushi-wise. He started dating one of my closest friends and that killed my eagerness to impress him.) Thankfully, Yoshinaga’s description of that sushi only lasted a few pages and the chapter on the unagi restaurant didn’t make me want to run to my nearest Japanese food joint for fish. I still have trouble re-reading that page though.
But at the same time, I’ve not felt so swayed by other foodie manga. Oishinbo does a great job at describing what makes delicious, gourmet food so amazing, but I’ve never wanted to try any of their fish dishes. I did want to try the texture of one dish once, but the idea of it being seafood killed that food boner pretty quickly.
Ekiben Hitoritabi, which I just read on Jmanga, doesn’t even come close. Sadly, the main character’s excitement over finding an ekiben he wants is more interesting than when he actually eats one.
I think it’s not just Yoshinaga’s fangirl-like obsession with deliciousness that makes her a good food writer. She has a down-home quality to her foodie-ness that makes her easy to relate to. Not every foodie is a die-hard who knows about every ingredient or technique behind a dish, so Yoshinaga geeking out over an incredible flavor that she didn’t know existed is more realistic to the average reader than watching a battle of complicated technique. Impressive as technique is, it can feel too much like something for professionals.
Food is something that’s for everyone and Yoshinaga gets that. It’s not that Fumi Yoshinaga’s other manga is bad, but there’s truly something magical happening whenever she writes about food.