Random Musings: Oishinbo and the Romance of Food

Way back in my undergraduate days, I took an anthropology class that was simply called “Food and Culture.” It ended up being one of my favorite courses (pun entirely intended), and not just because we ate in class almost every week. I found the subject matter to be absolutely fascinating. I became more consciously aware of how important food is. Certainly, we all have to eat in order to survive, but the symbolic and ceremonial uses of food are an essential part of culture and society. Almost every major life event or celebration has food associated with it in some way. Sharing food is a way of bringing people together, creating ties and developing relationships among individuals and communities, and it can strengthen connections and traditions that already exist.

Of course, as can be seen in Oishinbo, food can also drive people apart. Yamaoka and his father are barely on speaking terms because of Kaibara’s demanding palate. But at the same time, it’s because of food that they still have any interaction at all. So far, I have only read three of the Oishinbo, A la Carte manga collections: Japanese Cuisine, Sake, and Ramen & Gyōza. While rereading the volumes for the Oishinbo and Food Manga Moveable Feast, I noticed something—there are an awful lot of couples in Oishinbo who a hook up, and in some cases are even married, either directly or indirectly because of food. Granted, Oishinbo is first and foremost a food manga, so it’s not at all surprising that significant story and relationship developments are going to have something to do with what people are eating.

Although at first there may seem to be an overabundance of romantic intrigue surrounding the cuisine in Oishinbo, and as a plot element it almost becomes expected in the many of the stories, the more I thought about it the more I realized that it was a fairly realistic addition. (Even if Oishinbo can be a little over-the-top with it on occasion.) Eating a meal or having a drink together is an extremely common aspect of a date and frequently occurs when pursuing a relationship. A specific example of this in Oishinbo is “French Food and Ramen Rice,” which is collected in Ramen & Gyōza. What I like about this particular story is that it shows that while planning an elaborate dinner will help form a connection with another person, the sharing of common and familiar food may be even more meaningful.

In fact, out of all of the stories in Ramen & Gyōza, only one doesn’t include a couple that has been brought together or has otherwise had their relationship saved because of food. I find this particularly appropriate for a volume that largely focuses on what basically amounts to comfort food. Sharing a fancy meal with a potential partner is all well and good, but establishing more casual fare that is mutually acceptable is also important for a successful, long-term relationship. I know that personally I am much happier when I am well fed. I’m confident that is true for most people.

At its very core, eating is a matter of survival. It may not be a particularly romantic way of thinking about it, but by sharing food and drink with someone else those involved prove (even if it is subconsciously) that they can help to provide sustenance, that they have enough that they can share, or that they are willing to sacrifice some of their own resources. Any of these things can be a very welcome characteristic in a prospective match. Because of this, it makes sense that such a basic need as food would be incorporated into the rituals involved in courting another person. Food may be a practical necessity, but there’s still room for a little bit of romance, too.

This post is a part of the Oishinbo and Food Manga Moveable Feast.

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