Wednesday, April 27, 2011


「王将といえば、 餃子!!餃子と言えば王将!!」

"Oushou is gyouza!! Gyouza is Oushou!!"

And I welcome thee back, use of the 'food' tag! The tag hadn't been used since I returned from Japan and while food is still in the blog description, the strike-through kinda implies it's not really part of the blog anymore. Which it, usually, indeed isn't. I'll be sure to use it more often when/if I return to Japan. But! There are reasons to why I never deleted the word 'food' from the site description completely. One was because I still expect I'll someday post pictures of ramen bowls and gyouza and stuff again. But it also served as a reminder to myself to discuss one particular series.

I like detective fiction. And I also like food. Especially food in Japan (note that I'm not saying Japanese food; 'cause there is a big difference). And as it happens, there are also quite some detective manga in Japan. And there are a lot more gourmet manga available. About all sorts of food. And thera re really a lot of series. But I'm pretty sure there is only one series that combines both of these themes: Kuitan (a contraction of the two words kuishinbou ("gourmet") and tantei ("detective")). An idea so absolutely ridiculous that it actually works out quite well. Quite tasty (only the manga though; the drama is bad. Avoid!).

Protagonist Takano Seiya is a historical writer by profession. While he's quite popular as a writer, he is horrible at actually keeping deadlines, much to the despair of assistant Kyouko and his publishers. The biggest problem of Takano: he just can't stop eating. He eats everything that tastes good. And quite a bit of it too. Takano shoves away 50 bowls of ramen away as a lunch (which reminds me I once witnessed somebody eating about 70-80 plates of sushi at Sushi Ichiba in Fukuoka. His three friends together probably had only 30-40 plates...). With eating taking a lot of his free time, there just isn't a lot of time left to actually work.

Besides his writing and eating, Takano also often assists the police in criminal investigations. His expertise lies, naturally, in food-related crimes, so you'll often see him called in at murders at restaurants and the like. So how does he use his expertise of food to... detect? Well, did you know that sushi made for delivery is made differently than the ones made in restaurants? Or that ice water works well for gyouza skins? Or that the bikes delivering Chinese food are designed differently from the ones delivering udon? Or that if you boil ramen together with udon, the taste of the udon will suffer from it? Need fingerprints? They might be hidden within a cooked egg! You'd be surprised how much clues are left in food!

Takano's knowledge of all the ingredients of a dish, how people prepare the food, how restaurants work all help him in solving cases ranging from murders, but also theft and in Conan-like hostage situations. Conan might use his wristwatch to knockout a suspect, but nobody but Takano can use a Cup Noodle to disarm a suspect. After which he eats the rest of the noodles. Don't be surprised if Takano 'accidently' eats the food left at a murder crime scene either: you should never let good food go to waste and dead people usually don't eat anymore. And like I said, you'd be surprised how much can be detected from looking at what and how someone ate right before he died. In detective fiction, food is usually only investigated for poison, but how often do you see food being used for alibi tricks?

Experienced detective readers might be trained experts of recognizing locked room tricks, alibi tricks, the workings of rigor mortis and know precisely which poisons taste bitter and which are odorless and how effective they are, in short, they might know a lot about things most of them won't see in their everyday life. Yet, it's not nearly as entertaining and down-to-earth as the food theme in Kuitan. I am pretty sure I'll come across gyouza more often than cyanide. At least, I hope so. While a lot of the tricks and explanations rely on semi-obscure information, it's always very interesting and often actually applicable to real-life. The series often feels more like a gourmet manga with a detective twist, rather than a detective manga with a gourmet twist, but I think it's a really fun series for people interested in a) detective manga, b) food (Japanese food culture) and c) both.

And it's just totally awesome to have actually tasteful pictures in a detective manga, rather than the bloody chopped up corpses and stuff. You really shouldn't read this on an empty stomach.

Of course, with gourmet manga (and detective manga) not doing it particularly well outside of Japan (the same with sports manga), I doubt that Kuitan will make the jump to a western country.

Original Japanese title(s): 寺沢大介 『喰いタン』

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