Books: Cooking by Cuisine -> Cooking Japanese
Untangling My Chopsticks : A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto
RICCARDI, VICTORIA ABBOTT
Published: May 13, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1986, two years out of college and restless at her job with an ad agency, Riccardi left New York to spend a year in Kyoto, where she lived with a Japanese couple and attended an elite school devoted to the study of kaiseki, a
highly ritualized form of cooking that accompanies the formal tea ceremony. From her adoptive "family" she learned about Japanese home cooking and Kyoto's food markets. At the kaiseki school, she was introduced to an art form in which everything is
symbolic, from the food and utensils to the colors of the guests' kimonos. Immersion in Japanese cuisine taught her about the country's history, culture and art as well as its cooking, so that even a meal in an ordinary restaurant left her feeling that
she had "visited a museum, heard a fascinating lecture, opened several gorgeously wrapped gifts, and consumed the essence of spring in Kyoto." In her delightful and unusual culinary memoir she includes 27 recipes. A few, such as summer somen with
gingered eggplant, are for dishes she was served at a Zen temple. Some, including miso-pickled romaine stems wrapped with smoked salmon, and red and white miso soup with sea greens, are from kaiseki meals in which she participated. Others, such as
chicken and rice egg bowl, "Japan's quintessential comfort food," are representative of everyday fare. Although many of the ingredients used in these recipes are unusual, Riccardi, who writes for such magazines as Eating Well and Bon Appetit, makes them
sound worth searching for.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Two years out of college and with a degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Victoria Riccardi left a boyfriend, a rent-controlled New York City
apartment, and a plum job in advertising to move to Kyoto to study kaiseki, the exquisitely refined form of cooking that accompanies the formal Japanese tea ceremony. She arrived in Kyoto, a city she had dreamed about but never seen, with two bags, an
open-ended plane ticket, and the ability to speak only sushi-bar Japanese. She left a year later, having learned the language, the art of kaiseki, and what was truly important to her.
Like flower arranging or calligraphy, kaiseki is an age-old
Japanese art form. It began as a modest vegetarian meal that Buddhist monks ate in Kyoto's Zen temples and then developed into a highly symbolic Japanese ritual. Through special introductions and personal favors, Victoria was able to attend one of
Kyoto's most prestigious tea schools, where this art has been preserved for generations and where she was taken under the wing of an American expatriate who became her kaiseki mentor. As a first-hand participant in kaiseki meals and tea ceremonies, she
observed the highly choreographed rituals of this extraordinary culinary discipline, absorbing the beauty and subtlety of its myriad details and symbolic gestures.
During her year in Kyoto, Victoria explored the mysterious and rarefied world of tea
kaiseki, living a life inaccessible to most foreigners. She befriended a Japanese couple, teaching English at their home-based language school and eventually moving in with them. She spent countless hours with her kaiseki mentor and his partner cooking
in their historic Japanese house. Eventually, she even struck up a friendship with a monk when she spent several nights at a secluded Buddhist temple.
She also discovered the beguiling realm of modern-day Japanese food-the restaurants, specialty
shops, and supermarkets. She participated in many fast-disappearing culinary customs, including making mochi (chewy rice cakes) by hand, a beloved family ritual barely surviving in a mechanized age. She celebrated the annual cleansing rites of New
Year's, donning an elaborate kimono and obi for a thirty-four-course extravaganza. In her book, she includes twenty-five recipes for favorite dishes she encountered, such as Chicken and Egg Rice Bowl, Japanese Beef and Vegetable Hotpot, and Green-Tea
Cooked Salmon Over Rice.
Untangling My Chopsticks is a sumptuous journey into the tastes, traditions, and e
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