Sunday, August 22, 2010

In the Kitchen with Banana Yoshimoto

I have to agree that I might be biased in reviewing a book which mentions a boiling kettle and tea every third page. I can’t help but notice how much this imitates my life. Come to think of it, my day is planned around my four cups of tea (one black, three green). I will read the newspaper, finish breakfast and chat up with B between the first and the second cup. Work gets intensive after that time and I finish off all phone calls and email replies before my third cup. The fourth and final cup is a declaration to myself that the day is over and it’s time to slow down. On days when I’m sipping my fifth cup (strictly a herbal infusion) it’s mostly because I’m treating myself for staying up late to finish work or waiting for B to be back.

‘Kitchen’ by Banana Yoshimoto is a book I honestly picked up only because I was drawn to the cover design, idea of flavors from Japan and the author name. I was a bit ashamed to acknowledge this when the book revealed it’s true story to me. Mikage the central character of the novella is an orphan raised by her grandmother and finds a Kitchen to be the most comfortable place in the world. So much so, that after her grandmother expires, she could only sleep next to the refrigerator in the kitchen where the constant hum would comfort her. Her imagination is descriptive when talking about her dream kitchen. Another amusing characteristic you’ll notice is that she would often be found scrubbing the kitchen sink or floor as this would have a calming effect on her and help her deal with her loss. Cooking and cleaning can be meditative and the same thread is carried throughout the story. It gives her strength to carry on with her life despite being caged in steely loneliness.

Yuichi the male protagonist leads a strange life too. After his mother dies, his father turns into a woman because he can’t bear loving another woman in his life. After he/she dies, Yuichi is left to deal with his own solitary life. All of this changes over a full meal Miyage cooks for both of them. I promise you that by the end of it you’ll be craving for some soupy rice or ramen. How beautiful that their story is destined to culminate over a meal of Katsudon (pork-rice)! Yuichi find himself in a monk-town where restaurants serve only Tofu dishes while Miyage is far away on a food tour with her sensei. (She quits school to work with a celebrity gastronome.) The sudden urge to share her Katsudon with Yuichi is when she gives in to her feelings and travels through the night to scale the walls of his hotel to bring it to him.

Although I make it sound very Bollywood, but the writing is far from it. It's bursting with true Japanese flavors and the simplicity of it steals the show. For example- A sentence asking for take-away at a restaurant reads as “Can this be made to go?” It’s also dotted with powerful notes such as “People aren’t overcome by situations or outside forces, defeat invades from within.” Yoshimoto-san has generously garnished her book with sashimi, prawns, tempura, soba noodles for that perfect one-pot read for hungry eyes. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did and do keep the ramen handy!


  1. Very Very nice ! I heartily approve!

  2. Sounds like an interesting read... Also, "To-go" is a commonly used term here in the US for take-out food.