by Fumi Yoshinaga
published by Vertical; $12.95 US
For a long while, this has been my most-anticipated manga release, even when it looked like we’d never see it in English, due to its specialized subject matter. What Did You Eat Yesterday? is about two men who live together, one a lawyer and accomplished home cook, the other a hairdresser. They talk over their day while we see in glorious detail what they’re eating, as prepared by Shiro.
I wanted to see it so much that when a work colleague went to Japan, I requested he find the first volume, untranslated, for me. That’s it in the picture below, showing how the American version is slighter bigger, a nicer size in my opinion. (And everything’s bigger in the U.S.!) I’m really glad I can now understand what everyone’s saying … and cooking! I’m very thankful Vertical released it (their first Fumi Yoshinaga title).
I adore Yoshinaga’s art style, how crisp and detailed it is, and how recognizable and emotional her figures are. And I love food manga, going in detail as to how people eat and prepare food in different cultures, so this was a great read for me. Particularly with how lovingly Yoshinaga draws the dishes.
Surprising, though, was how deep and emotional some of the stories were. Shiro’s mother urges him to come out to his co-workers, which he hasn’t done, but she’s clearly struggling with his sexuality, parroting what a support group has told her. The two men argue over how open to be about their relationship. One chapter teaches us both how to make strawberry jam and how important it is to be true to yourself (instead of hiding behind a beard). Another shows a client of Shiro’s, a male victim of domestic violence.
Shiro’s partner, more flamboyant than he is, provides a good deal of humor, as when he’s trying to flirt with Shiro and the more straight-laced lawyer responds, “Oh, sorry! I just can’t do American queer talk.” Kenji’s easy-going attitude serves him well at the salon where he works, where he’s given all the difficult customers. I also adored how Shiro made a friend, when he and Kayoko decided to split a watermelon because it was such a good deal at the supermarket.
But back to the cooking! Shiro thinks through what he’s doing in such a way that his meals could be followed by a reader — if you have access to speciality ingredients like kombu, burdock, konjac, and shirodashi. And if you’re comfortable without specific measurements. You have to cook to taste, which requires more connection to the ingredients and process.
My favorite aspect of the meal is how Shiro makes lots of little dishes. Part of his character is how bargain-conscious he is, and the way he cooks, with several vegetable dishes and using meat more for flavor than as a “main course”, is both healthier and less costly. Although as a co-worker points out early on, “It might sound run of the mill at first, but I’d bet he’s spending a pretty penny on ingredients and seasonings!” She’s overstating it (and she also finds his good looks past forty “creepy”, which seems distinctly uncharitable), but variety does require spending some time searching for all the details. One story discusses eating more veggies to make sure the two eat less rice, which keeps them slender and looking better than straight men, who let themselves go once they settle down.
Some of the terms are untranslated, I suspect because using their names is more realistic than trying to describe them in phrases for a culture that isn’t familiar with them. I found it helpful to have the internet while reading so I could look up wakame, zha cai, nikujaga, and similar. I thought I knew a little bit about Japanese food names, but this certainly expanded my vocabulary!
At least it’s more plausible than Yoshinaga’s other food book, Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! Since that one’s about restaurants in Japan, I’ll likely never see them. This one’s about home cooking, so with help from a specialty grocery, I could try some of these meals, or at least be inspired by the motivations behind them. I admired Shiro’s statement, as he puts a meal on the table, “being able to bask in a sense of accomplishment equal to settling a case at work, and every day no less, is what makes cooking dinner great.”