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Book review: Sushi and Beyond by Michael Booth

Book review: Sushi and Beyond by Michael Booth
Sushi & Beyond: What the Japanese Know About Food and Cooking
Michael Booth
Jonathan Cape publishing
RRP £12.99
 
Booth captures the essence of Japanese culture - from cooking methods to etiquette faux pas- often impenetrable to Westerners and violated by Booth on myriad occasions. A rollicking read.
 

From page one, it's clear Michael Booth is a big character. Literally. He virtually leaps off the page in the first paragraph, smack bang in the middle of a confrontation with a Japanese friend antagonising him over his ever-increasing girth. Following the altercation, said friend bestows on him a copy of Shizuo Tsuji's 'Japanese Cooking- A Simple Art'- widely regarded as THE culinary authority on Japanese food.

It's this encounter which spurs Booth on to discover all that the Japanese have to offer in the name of gastronomy. He should lose a few pounds along the way, sure- but the real motive underpinning Booth's proposed voyage is an attempt to go beyond our cliched image of the Eastern cuisine, exploring the length and breadth of the country- with young family in tow.

It's a real rollicking read- you feel you're with Booth on every step of his witty, engaging, and ultimately enlightening journey. He manages to neatly capture the essence of Japanese culture and hospitality- from regional variations in cooking methods to etiquette faux pas- often impenetrable to Westerners and violated by Booth on myriad occasions!

His character, though, is such that he's largely forgiven the odd misdemeanour- seemingly taken under the wing of all those he meets. His good fortune benefits us greatly- we're treated to accounts of restaurants so exclusive they're almost verboten, backstage capers at a TV show hosted by one of J-pop's biggest boybands, and near-fatal encounters with fugu- rather you than me, mate!

Many of Booth's discoveries are utterly serendipitous. He's forced into a bizarre 'Relaxation of Dogs' cafe by his two sons, and ends up having to demonstrate haute French dishes to a cookery club- who are none too impressed with his efforts. But whatever scrapes he gets himself into, it's always with aplomb and a great dose of humour- rather like a rumbustious cartoon character.

That's not to say you won't learn anything on the adventure- au contraire, in fact. Booth is a tremendously knowledgeable journalist, with an insatiable curiousity and appetite for knowledge. There's history, politics and a great deal of cultural information to be gleaned- the big difference being you're so enjoying the prose that reading the facts doesn't feel like a chore. By the epilogue you'll be smarter, happier and- if you follow Booth's advice- maybe even slimmer. What's not to love?
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29 July 2009
By: Zoe Perrett
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