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Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto Paperback – May 11, 2004
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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 the Hardcover edition.
“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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I also recommend getting the physical book as opposed to the kindle, simply because it is then more convenient to access the recipes. (Reading on the kindle was fine, no formatting problems, except for some words being split like so: mis alignment. Didn't really bother me though.).
It turns out that Victoria and I were both in Japan at about the same time. She cooking in Kyoto and me studying photography outside of Tokyo. I fell in love with the colors and textures of this country and it's food... and this book captures it perfectly.
A wonderful read... and do try some of the recipes! As a broke student in Tokyo I lived on Okonomiyak.
However there just is not enough drama in the book and the descriptions of places are fairly flat. I had a difficult time imagining any of this - the locations, the people.
I didn't dislike the author, but she didn't pull me in to the experience that much either. I felt like she purposefully distanced herself, like she felt she was above it all.
I read the book and sent it back for a refund because honestly, there was no one I could think of to give it to to read - it just wasn't engaging enough.
I'm glad everything worked out for the author though. Like Frances Mayes (of the Tuscany books) who ends up with a great husband, living in San Francisco and Tuscany and having a tremendously fabulous life, I'm glad that no one who takes these "sojourns" in foreign countries ever comes up a loser like the rest of us.