My Dinner With Fumi: that’s what I would have called the English-language edition of Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! The fifteen stories contained within this slim volume celebrate good food and good conversation, documenting Yoshinaga’s interactions with friends, assistants, and fellow artists at real restaurants around Tokyo. No culinary stone goes unturned, as Yoshinaga — or, as her fictional alter ego is called, Y-naga — visits a Korean restaurant, a French bistro, an Italian trattoria, a sushi joint, an all-you-can-eat dim sum buffet, and a bakery famous for its bagels. (Bagels in Tokyo? Call me a recovering New Yorker, but that sounds horribly wrong, especially since Y-naga views the absence of a hole in a the middle as a sign of quality.)
I can think of few mediums less suited to showcasing food than manga, but Yoshinaga’s drawings of steaming dumplings, seafood stews, and sashimi are convincing, despite the absence of color. She renders the food’s textures and shapes in meticulous detail, in the process suggesting the care with which each item was prepared. Her characters’ obvious enjoyment of the meals also helps sell the conceit; watching them rhapsodize over rare ingredients or extol the virtues of dessert makes the reader feel like another member of the party.
Much as I enjoyed the foodie shop-talk, what really sold me on Not Love But Delicious Foods was Yoshinaga’s willingness to poke fun at herself. Y-naga is a sartorial disaster, wearing a frumpy headband, thick glasses, and a scowl as she toils over her comics; only the prospect of a restaurant meal can persuade her to trade her sweatpants for a dress and to comb her hair. Once transformed, however, Y-naga is just as uncouth as her work attire would suggest, spilling copious amounts of food and wine on herself, talking with her mouth full, and flirting aggressively with a handsome dinner companion after drinking too much wine. Yet Y-naga’s dinner conversations reveal that she isn’t a buffoon; she’s surprisingly self-aware, rejecting one potential boyfriend because he’s indifferent to food (he doesn’t like to talk about it the way she does), farming out an incompetent assistant to other artists so that he can improve his skills, and apologizing profusely to a gay friend for “paying my rent by drawing manga with gay themes,” even though her books contain “no real gay themes.”
And that, I think, is the real strength of Not Love But Delicious Foods: the people remain central to the story, even though the Tokyo restaurant scene is the ostensible subject of the manga. As the characters chatter enthusiastically about what they’re eating, we realize that Yoshinaga’s real objective is showing us the important role that food plays in bringing people together, drawing them out, and cementing friendships. It’s a sentiment that’s expressed throughout the manga, as characters find common ground in their mutual enthusiasm for creme brulee and osso bucco. One contentious conversation even prompts the omniscient narrator to praise good food for its diplomatic value; in Yoshinaga’s world, detente is just a dish away. “But through the power of skirt steak, their hearts resumed beating as one,” the narrator observes. Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Review copy provided by Yen Press. Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! will be released on December 21, 2010.
NOT LOVE BUT DELICIOUS FOODS MAKE ME SO HAPPY! • BY FUMI YOSHINAGA • YEN PRESS • 160 pp. • RATING: OLDER TEEN (16+)