3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Lively writing but in need of better editing,
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This review is from: Sushi and Beyond: What the Japanese Know About Cooking (Paperback)
Michael Booth is a fluent writer, and the book contains some entertaining anecdotes as he travels around Japan for three months with his family. However for me it was marred by a lack of editing, and the feeling that it was not quite foodie enough for hard core food lovers, and yet not quite authentic enough a travelogue for someone looking for a travel book. It rather falls between two stools in this regard. Japan and its food scene is vast, varied and complex, so it is hardly surprising that on what appears to be his only trip to Japan he could only lift the kimono a little. I enjoyed his account of a wagyu beef farm, but it was odd for him to just dismiss the whole genre of Japanese beef as "it's not ice cream, it's an animal". Sure, the ultra-marbled specimens of beef are so soft that you can forget you are eating beef, but then just opt for one of the less marbled grades, as many top chefs do.
As someone who has worked in professional kitchens he has generally good insight into food, and it is nice to see that he does not get too carried away with the mystique e.g. he also seems to find fugu a fish that is as much valued for its sense of danger as its inherent taste, or lack thereof. On the other hand some of the travel observations seem peculiar - Japanese taxi drivers are unfailingly polite, but many are utterly clueless about finding even straightforward destinations (the stagnant economy has lured many non-professional cabbies into this profession), so his comments here seem strange, or at least very different to my own experiences in Japan. It is also a pity that he writes reverently about an invitation-only kaiseki restaurant that, by definition, few will be able to try. He could surely have compared this with some of the top kaiseki restaurants, such as Kitcho and Mizai in Kyoto, that readers could, albeit at a price, actually go to? Finally, some of the chapters seemed in need of a firm but kindly editor.
All in all, worth a read, but I had the feeling that this book could have been even better. Overall, his charm wins out over the book's flaws.