The Tozai News
is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Part of the celebration is creating the "Ultimate Meal", one that represents the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. The job has been assigned to Yamaoka Shiro, cynical and a bit lazy but a man with a wide knowledge of food and cooking techniques. He acquired this training from his father, Kaibara Yuzan — a man with a reputation as a premier gourmet and a nasty temper. Things go from bad to worse between the two when Yuzan agrees to assemble the "Superior Meal" for the Tozai News
newspaper rival the Teito Times
Shiro teams up with colleague Kurita Yuko and other co-workers on a quest to find the best of the best of Japanese cuisine. An interesting introduction to Japanese food, culture and some history.
The English version is a variety of a la carte
volumes, collections of earlier stories sorted by subject matter. This disrupts the story line, but the editors try to keep the reader informed of what has occurred during the transitions.
- Aesop: At the end of each volume there are cautionary tales that teach a lesson. At the end of Japanese Cuisine there is an Aesop about simple values; at the end of the volume Sake there is one about sobriety; and at the end of the Ramen and Gyoza there is one about racism.
- Art Evolution: the style in the early comics is softer and feels more expressive. Also, while Kurita looks very young in them Shiro actually looks older than later on.
- Big Fancy House: Several
- Body Horror: The extended discussion of the potential hazards of eating raw fresh water fish is horrifying. And the drawings of flukes and tapeworms are beautiful but ewwwwww.
- Brilliant but Lazy: Shiro, especially at the beginning of the manga.
- Calling the Old Man Out: Much of the dramatic tension in the manga is between Shiro and his father.
- Can't Hold His Liquor
- Chekhov's Gun: As soon as the wild grape juice showed up...
- Cooking Duel Lots of these throughout the series.
- Corrupt Corporate Executive: Kanegami. His name even suggests it: "Money over all".
- Culture Clash: In the Ramen & Gyoza volume, one of Shiro's superiors takes some out-of-towner Chinese colleagues to his favorite noodle shop; only to have them stop dead when they see the restaurant, accuse him of deliberately insulting them, and threaten to break off relations with the Tozai News. Turns out the restaurant's name uses an old Japanese word for China that many Japanese see as no worse than old-fashioned, but the mainland Chinese consider highly insulting because of its association with the horrors of the WWII occupation. Good thing Shiro has the connections to set things right.
- Easy Evangelism: Anyone who is okay with the use of pesticides at the beginning of a story will be converted to a rabid anti-pesticides advocate by one meal of non-pesticide using food—even if their other points besides taste are never addressed.
- Everybody Laughs Ending: Many of the story arcs end with everyone laughing, usually at either Shiro or Tomio losing it over some imagined outrage.
- Family Business: Mariko's family hires Shiro to plan a restaurant, but there is an ulterior motive.
- Food Porn: This could alternatively be titled Food Porn: The Manga
- Green Aesop: In the Vegetables volume there is a lot of discussion about the impact of herbicide and pesticide use on the quality of food.
- Hachimaki Worn by Jeff Larsen as he is perfecting his knife skills.
- Hard-Drinking Party Girl: In the Volume of Sake
- Improbable Food Budget
- Insufferable Genius: Kaibara is considered a brilliant artist, and is an expert gourmet. And he takes every opportunity to exploit this, throwing his weight around with no consideration for others. This was the germ of the conflict between him and Shiro...
- Kimono Is Traditional: Most of the older characters, like Kaibara Yuzan, Toyama and Kyogoku, wears traditional kimonos.
- Last Minute Baby Naming: One chapter revolves around the Official Couple deciding on names for their twins after the birth. The male lead has to be extra convincing to explain the Meaningful Name he's giving his daughter.
- Local Hangout
- Long Runner: Over 100 volumes, which is why the English translation is using the "A La Carte" option.
- Meaningful Name: When the twins are born Shiro names the girl Yumi and Yuko names the boy Yoji. There are very good reasons for these names.
- Nice to the Waiter: Shiro and his companions are always sure to show appreciation to the cooks and waitstaff that artfully prepare and serve the food they eat.
- Nom de Mom: Shiro, as part of his break with his father.
- Official Couple: Shiro and Yuko.
- Picky Eater: Although violently opinionated eater may be more accurate.
- More specifically, Shiro is picky, while Kaibara is violently opinionated. As Shiro points out, he thinks art, fine food included, should serve people, and he's fine with more casual forms of Japanese cuisine so long as they are created with care and appreciation. Another person's worth to Kaibara is dependent on the refinement and discrimination of their palate. In fact, he will castigate, lash, harrow, etc. you to the nth degree if you make even the slightest deviation from the way of fine cuisine. How bad is it? He drove his wife to an early death because of her culinary errors. That is the reason Shiro uses his mother's family name (Yamaoka), rather than his father's.
- Second Love
- Sibling Team: Yang Bailong and Yang Honglong are twins that run a ramen shop together. It briefly turned to Sibling Rivalry when the two started arguing who among them have contributed more to their store's reputation.
- Single Issue Psychology: Quite a few stories revolve around a character's Irrational Hatred of a food, drink or eating style, usually because of a bad experience or simply never having gotten "the good stuff." Shiro introduces them to the good stuff, and wins them over. (For example, one character's hatred of champagne turns out to stem from an inferior wine falsely advertised as "champagne" before Japan made that illegal. It didn't exactly help that his exposure to Western film had led him to believe that champagne was the next best thing to divine nectar.)
- Sommelier Speak: Sometimes used
- Spot of Tea: A whole chapter on the tea ceremony in the first volume.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Koichi and Hiroko.
- Stealth Mentor: Kaibara acts as one to Shiro several times.
- Stereotypes of Chinese People: Bit more realistic than usual.
- Supreme Chef
- Take That
- Tastes Like Chicken: Frog legs.
- The Mourning After
- Trigger Phrase: Gyoza