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Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto Paperback – May 11, 2004

4.5 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1986, two years out of college and restless at her job with an ad agency, Riccardi left New York to spend a year in Kyoto, where she lived with a Japanese couple and attended an elite school devoted to the study of kaiseki, a highly ritualized form of cooking that accompanies the formal tea ceremony. From her adoptive "family" she learned about Japanese home cooking and Kyoto's food markets. At the kaiseki school, she was introduced to an art form in which everything is symbolic, from the food and utensils to the colors of the guests' kimonos. Immersion in Japanese cuisine taught her about the country's history, culture and art as well as its cooking, so that even a meal in an ordinary restaurant left her feeling that she had "visited a museum, heard a fascinating lecture, opened several gorgeously wrapped gifts, and consumed the essence of spring in Kyoto." In her delightful and unusual culinary memoir she includes 27 recipes. A few, such as summer somen with gingered eggplant, are for dishes she was served at a Zen temple. Some, including miso-pickled romaine stems wrapped with smoked salmon, and red and white miso soup with sea greens, are from kaiseki meals in which she participated. Others, such as chicken and rice egg bowl, "Japan's quintessential comfort food," are representative of everyday fare. Although many of the ingredients used in these recipes are unusual, Riccardi, who writes for such magazines as Eating Well and Bon Appetit, makes them sound worth searching for.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


“I relished every page. Victoria Riccardi’s prose reflects the same spirited, nuanced, intelligent style that she discovered on a pilgrimage to the heart of Kyoto’s tea kaiseki cuisine.”
--Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun

“As Victoria Riccardi goes in search of culinary enlightenment in this intimate and beautifully crafted memoir about living, cooking, and falling in love with Kyoto, the reader is seduced and transported by the scenes and flavors she paints with words. Riccardi writes with a sensuous eye for detail that brings alive the extraordinary beauty of Japan and the sumptuous pleasures of its table.”
--Lora Brody, author of Growing Up on the Chocolate Diet

“Victoria Riccardi writes from the heart. A personal story of determination and discovery, Untangling My Chopsticks offers a refreshing glimpse into the tastes, intrigues, and traditions of modern and ancient Japan.”
--Elizabeth Andoh, Japan correspondent, Gourmet magazine, and author of At Home with Japanese Cooking

“Victoria Abbott Riccardi’s Untangling My Chopsticks folds back the screen on a city and its traditions just enough to satisfy our curiosity without diminishing the mysterious allure. Her friendships and experiences are recounted with delightful delicacy, and the kaiseki meal and tea ceremony come alive not only as cultural rites but also as delectable gastronomic and esthetic experiences.”
--Susan Herrmann Loomis, author of On Rue Tatin

From the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Broadway Books; Reprint edition (May 11, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 076790852X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767908528
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #615,252 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Wow! I loved Untangling My Chopsticks. It is a delicious book from beginning to end. Victoria Abbott Riccardi's beautiful writing style made me feel like I was a part of her journey, discovering the foreign culture, customs and lifestyle of Japan. Through her detailed descriptions she gives the reader a very true sense of the people, the food and the natural beauty of the country. I loved learning about tea kaiseki and the foods that revolve around it. I craved Japanese food as I read the book and was thrilled to discover that each chapter ends with delectable recipes that are quite simple to prepare.
This book has everything I love to read about from travel, to cooking, to history, to love (yes, it is a bit of a love story!). In summary, it is a fantastic book that captures the reader's attention through wisdom, humor and beauty.
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Format: Paperback
I started this book in a blaze of interest, devouring the pages like the bite sized food Victoria was learning how to cook. Then my interest started to wane and I had to really push through the remainder of the book and in the end, I was glad that I did. I also had a powerful hunger for Japanese food and ate it more than usual while reading this book! As a matter of fact, I could eat some right now...

Parts of this book were fairly shallow, especially where the relationships of the friends the author made in Kyoto were concerned. I got the feeling Victoria didn't even like some of them, and despite their kindness towards her, she had little compassion or warmth towards them in her descriptions, with the exception of the couple she lived with for a short time. I also thought the ending was odd - [spoiler] Victoria is offered a year long teaching job at the end of the book but declines it because she feels she might end up like her quasi-friends, a gay couple who have lived in Kyoto for 14 years and never quite fitted in. m...hello? It is a bit different living in a country like Japan for 2 years and living there for 14 years! Basically I think she just wanted to get back to her boyfriend in the US. No shame in that, but at least be honest about your motivations.

The food descrptions in the book were overly detailed and I found myself skimming over ingredients I didn't understand and can't imagine. I much preferred the chapters of the book that detailed living in Kyoto as a foreigner, and I suspect there are better books that explore this theme.

I have visited Kyoto and this was my favourite part of the book - revisiting the landmarks and knowing where the train station is, and where the Philsopher's Walk is and generally enjoying Kyoto again. A good read, but only for those seriously interested in Japan or Japanese food.
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Format: Hardcover
Three culinary trends today include drinking green tea, dining on meals composed of many small dishes, and exploring exotic gastronomic customs. I just read a book that brings those three together beautifully. It's called Untangling My Chopsticks, A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto, by Victoria Riccardi.
Trained in Western culinary tradition and a veteran of a Parisian restaurant kitchen, Riccardi was on the classic culinary track. Until an employee of the Japan Society in New York mentioned kaiseki to her, that is. Victoria's trip to Japan to learn about kaiseki changed her life as her Cordon Bleu training never would.
Kaiseki, I learned, is an elegant, ritualistic cuisine, a degustation of small, seasonal dishes, which developed in Zen monasteries to accompany the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. From page one Riccardi plunged me into exotic Kyoto, the acknowledged birthplace of kaiseki, with tales of her new home dubbed the "bedroom of eels," and her first meal, in a neon-yellow-splashed restaurant under the Kyoto train station. Her story unveils Japanese culture, taste, and tradition in prose that sparkles like the morning sun on a breeze-rippled pond.
Before Untangling my Chopsticks, my knowledge of Japanese food culture could be summed up in a paragraph, the one dubbed "sushi etiquette" sometimes printed on the back of American sushi menus. The story of Victoria's sojourn was like a gift to me: lush with details of friendships forged, life-changing lessons learned, and deeply symbolic, ritual-imbued meals cooked and eaten. It opened my mind.
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By A Customer on May 15, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. I've never been to Japan, but Victoria Abbott Riccardi's keen eye for detail and luminous imagery lured me into Japanese culture, ritual and customs quite unexpectedly. She led the reader with her to a new place, so different from the West, where every gesture has meaning, often more subtle than the Western mind can comprehend. I traveled with her through the back streets of Kyoto, saw the fruit trees in bloom, met the friends she met, worked with and lived with, and shared her cooking. The book almost becomes an etiquette manual, so detailed is it on how non-Japanese must behave to be accepted. Riccardi explains the mysteries of the tea ceremony and her particular experience with tea kaiseki which precedes tea so clearly that the reader is almost a participant in the ritual. I particularly loved Riccardi's analogies that explained things Japanese by comparisons to what Americans can understand. For example, she likens an octopus to a rubber bathtub mat with its suction cups! The recipes at the end of each chapter beg to be tried and happily the ingredients can be found in the United States. With an overlay of humility, humor and empathy the author takes the reader on a delightful journey of understanding, of maturation, soul-searching and personal peace. I recommend this book to those interested in food, the subtle and often unfathomable culture of Japan, and to anyone who wants to enjoy the vicarious adventure of a curious, energetic and open-minded American woman in Japan.
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