What Did You Eat Yesterday? Volume 19
With this latest installment, What Did You Eat Yesterday? volume 19, the series by Fumi Yoshinaga remains my favorite manga.
One of the strong reasons is that it’s so rare to see comic characters in late middle age going through challenges of daily life. Each chapter stands alone, and the focus of each chapter is how to make a reasonably priced meal using seasonal produce or tying into recent events, but the underlying conflicts involve such things as whether one has time for dinner with one’s partner when work becomes demanding or how to pick a good birthday gift.
The first chapter shows just how long Shiro and Kenji have been together, as Kenji buys them matching bento boxes for Shiro’s birthday — while remembering how Shiro used to be, years ago, against them matching for fear of someone finding out he had a boyfriend. Now, they’ve come to more of a compromise, as long-term couples do. Their relationship is reinforced when they later bump into one of Kenji’s exes (from 20 years ago), and Shiro has a temporary meltdown about how he looks, feeling inferior to the well-built gym bunny type.
I found myself thinking a lot more about the actual recipes in this volume. I have yet to actually make something from the book, for several reasons. First, there’s a reliance on convenience products that aren’t as easily found over here, such as “noodle sauce” and various powders and concentrates, or sizes of items that aren’t specified, such as “1 pack of fresh cream”. Second, there’s a similar use of local produce, and other ingredients that aren’t translated. I don’t know where to seek out burdock root or chikuwa, which is a tube-shaped fish cake. As it is, I often have to look up ingredient names, like mitsuba (an herb like parsley), on the web. I also had to look up that namul is a kind of vegetable side dish.
Third, I’m beginning to wonder how much a cook participates in the translation. For example, I finally realized “powdered cheese” was grated Parmesan, because I finally noticed the recognizable Kraft container in the art. I don’t know if it’s the publisher or creator who’s against translation notes here, but they would be a real help, particularly if they gave tips on localizing the meals or equivalents for an English-speaking audience.
That said, without being able to recreate the dishes, the intent often comes through. For example, I couldn’t tell you what some of the ingredients in the nori bento are (although I looked some up for the above), but the characters say things like, “That was great, I haven’t had something like that since high school,” which gets the nostalgic impression across.
Another story, again reinforcing the middle-aged characters, revolves around men in their late fifties using a treatment for thinning hair. The actual food item is a lemon pound cake to say thank you for covering a mistake. Which contrasts what I just said, as that recipe I could make and am familiar with, and it’s fun to see how it’s perceived in another culture. I was also familiar with the butter chicken, but I don’t think I would make my own naan, as Shiro does here. He’s supposed to be a home cook, but he does some ambitious things. That’s inspiring.
The underlying theme of enjoying cooking and sharing food with those you love keeps me coming back to this series, with all its diversity of relationships and characters. And now that this couple’s friends are planning a wedding, I bet we’ll get even more creative dishes and relationship moments!