Title: Oishinbo: A la Carte - Volume 4: Fish, Sushi & Sashimi
Writer: Tetsu Kariya
Artist: Akira Hanasaki
Early on in my Japan adventure, my supervisor took me out for dinner in Tokyo. "You know how they say there are about 40 different words for snow in Inuit?" he asked. "The arctic gets so much snow that one word to cover all of the different kinds of snow is inadequate. It's the same with Japanese and fish. We eat a lot of it. That's why we have so many more different words for fish than English does."
Had I been in a more argumentative mood, I might have pointed out that England is also an insular, seafaring nation with great piscatorial appetites. I kept a diplomatic silence because 1) he was an awfully nice guy, 2) he was feeding me and 3) the whiskey sours had me very merry indeed. He could have told me he was the Emperor and I'd have nodded politely.
Over time, of course, I would learn that he was absolutely right. It's not just the matter of words for different species. All modern languages have that, I imagine. Japanese has at least five separate words just for tuna, representing different parts of the animal. Fish names vary by region, by stage of life, by preparation, and on and on. Seafood is truly a way of life for the entire nation and the language reflects that.
Volume 4 of the Oishinbo: A la Carte series focuses on this central aspect of Japanese cuisine. Many Japanese believe that any fish worth eating is best eaten raw so most of the book is devoted to sushi and sashimi. However, grilling and frying techniques are also explored. To the creators' credit, they do not shy away from concerns about parasites in raw fish.
As I wrote in my review of the first three volumes, the overarching story of the series is not particularly interesting. It's the food that keeps me coming back for more. Descriptions of dishes like grilled salmon skin and shinko sushi genuinely make me salivate. Oishinbo especially piques my curiosity about regional cuisines, something I certainly did not explore adequately while I was there. Perhaps someday. Books will have to do for now. They're a lot cheaper than plane tickets!