What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volumes 7-8
The more time I spend with Shiro and Kenji, the couple behind What Did You Eat Yesterday?, the more I like them and their stories. Particularly now that they’re celebrating Christmas with another couple in volume 7. Mr. Kohinata makes sense for them to get along with, since he’s relatively well-behaved and shares some of the same interests, but Gilbert seems to exist just to make smarmy cracks about how they’re not “being gay” right. (He was the one criticizing Shiro’s bento-making in the previous volume.) For example, his comment upon being welcomed into their home for an Italian-flavored holiday dinner is “What a snug little apartment with no attention paid to interior decoration whatsover.” It’s kind of cute how this riles up Kenji, though.
This time, Gilbert demonstrates what a poor guest he is, complaining that the food is too rich and fattening but it’s too good to stop eating. In other words, everyone else is to blame for his lack of self-control (also demonstrated in his comments). I can sympathize, but that’s why I’m reading about all this tasty food instead of making it myself. (Not that I’m sure I could, what with the Japanese-specific ingredients.) His self-centeredness makes for entertaining contrast with the central couple, a tendency also on display when he cooks for himself in a later chapter.
The humor at Gilbert’s behavior is nicely balanced with a touching revelation, that the private Shiro has been thinking about his relationship with his resistant parents. He wants to bring Kenji to meet them for the first time over New Year’s, a major step forward for him.
I adore how realistically these small moments are portrayed in What Did You Eat Yesterday? The focus of the series on mature conflict and little happinesses and the everyday struggles to keep a relationship together makes it irresistible to me, all the more so because feelings are symbolized through cooking. For instance, while visiting Kenji’s parents, there’s an uncomfortable silence, but even when he and his mother can’t directly talk, they can cook favorite dishes together.
Additional chapters catch us up on what’s going on in the beauty salon where Kenji works and with the family of Shiro’s budget-buddy housewife. The two men also go on an impromptu date to a Western-style cafe for tea, a concession on Shiro’s part to indulge Kenji’s desires. They discuss their thoughts about end of life legal matters after Shiro’s mother helps execute a friend’s will, and Kenji even cooks for the two of them when Shiro is particularly busy.
What Did You Eat Yesterday? volume 8 has more luxury dishes than in the previous book. Shiro gets oysters from a family with a pregnant woman (who can’t eat them), so he fries them for himself and Kenji. Then the two are taken to a thank-you dinner for Shiro’s help with a famous woman’s divorce. The star’s gushing makes Kenji jealous, so Shiro makes his favorite stew to make it up to him. Food equals love, after all.
Later, the two go on vacation together to Kyoto, where they sample all kinds of dishes. Shiro’s being so nice that Kenji believes something must be wrong. It’s quite funny that that’s the conclusion he jumps to, that he’s being set up for bad news. It turns out to be ok in the end, though, as they feast on local delicacies. As always, the dishes are drawn in loving detail to show their deliciousness.
US readers will find the men’s introduction to making brownies, a treat they’ve never had before, amusing as well. They need a use for a gift of cocoa powder, and they get to bake together for Valentine’s Day.
The final chapter was a real standout for me, as we get to meet Kenji’s family, who are very different from Shiro’s parents. They’re much more “live and let live” about Kenji’s love life and how he grew up, making for a nice contrast.
My only complaint about this series is a continuing one — I find the lack of notes troubling. I know that there is a perception that a good translation doesn’t need explanatory notes, but there are too many weirdnesses that need more information for the reader. For example, in various recipes in this volume, Shiro uses scallions, leeks, and later “Welsh onions”. Those are leeks, to my understanding (and they look that way in the art, too), so I’m left wondering if there’s a translation mistake; if different people translated different chapters with different words for the same ingredient; or if there is some subtle difference between “Welsh onions” and “leeks” in Japan, the way that some cultures separate shrimp and prawns or yams and sweet potatoes while the US doesn’t. But then, maybe this is just a side effect — I don’t know how much cooking knowledge the adaptor has. Regardless, with a search engine, most of the untranslated ingredients can be figured out. I just wish I didn’t have to read the book near a computer.