The Japanese Approach to Food
From “Japanese Viking” by Wallace Gagne:
No two steps behind with downcast compliance.
Nor patient restraint or cherry blossom humility.
Not when there’s cheese omelets and rice pilaf;
Southern Italian pasta, crustless sandwiches and roast chicken.
I have just learned that the Japanese word for all-you-can-eat is “Viking,” or baikingu. This is typical of the Japanese approach to food–so absurd that you assume it’s mock-heroic, until you realize that, nope, everyone’s completely serious–and I love it.
You see, Mr. Ajikko was my Julia Child. In the summer between 7th and 8th grade, I got up every weekday at 7:45 am to follow the animated adventures of a culinary prodigy who runs a katsudon joint with his mom. When an aging master chef chances upon the restaurant and is–quite literally, as you will see in the clip–blown away by a pork cutlet curry, he becomes the boy’s mentor. Thereafter, the young Yoichi juggles family restaurant duties with his travels around Japan, challenging the reigning chef in every category to a culinary duel.
In Hong Kong, I watched a Cantonese-dubbed version of the program; Mr. Ajikko was also translated into French, Spanish and, remarkably, Russian, but never English. Maybe American kids, reared on Hot Pockets and Lunchables, weren’t ready for a cooking cartoon with all the bombast and laser beams of Transformers. Or maybe Oscar Mayer, fearing a rebellion, intimidated would-be distributors.
Fortunately, through the miracle of Youtube, it is now possible to watch subtitled versions of some of Japan’s newer culinary animes online. There’s Yakitate!!, which tells the story of one boy’s quest to create a national bread for Japan, and Cooking Master Boy, set in Qing dynasty China–check out this animated recipe for mapo tofu.