For me, food has always been a great comfort. Growing up on a farm, I subsisted on a classic meat-and-potatoes diet, not knowing much about other cultures’ food outside of frozen pizza and the local bar’s Mexican night. As I grew up, though, I learned to expand my ideas and my palate. Moving to bigger cities meant being able to enjoy different cuisines from all over the world. Even if through an American filter, it was a way to get a feel for life somewhere very different from where I grew up. It was a bit of tourism by taste, and it was something I always embraced. And now more than ever, it helps me get away from home without leaving. While in this extended quarantine I could easily just grill up another pork chop, or I could do carryout, support a local business, and just get away from it all, at least for a few bites. Now author and illustrator by Betty Reynolds is helping me get away, thanks to her latest book, Japan Eats! An Explorer’s Guide to Japanese Food.
A mouth watering drawing of Okonomiyaki, a savory cabbage pancake and, Eki-Ben, a delicious type of bento box. (Japan Eats! An Explorer’s Guide to Japanese Food, pg 33 & 47.)
Betty has a unique angle on Asian culture. She started out in the advertising industry in the Philadelphia area, specializing in art. But when her husband’s job took the couple to Singapore in 1988, she was able to soak in the world around her, taking calligraphy and cooking classes to enrich her knowledge. She and her husband were able to take many trips across the continent, including an extended stay in Tokyo, and that inspired her to keep a sketchbook of what she saw in her travels. The two would eventually move back to America, but Betty’s sketchbooks became the inspiration for a series of books on Japanese culture.
In Japan Eats!, Betty shows us the varied culinary styles of Japan. She starts by laying out the ground rules of Japanese dining – chopstick etiquette, when and where to wear the right shoes, and even the proper controls for using a Japanese toilet. Once that’s out of the way, things start out easy with sushi, sashimi and ramen. From there, Reynolds expands her reach to touch about every corner of Japanese food. Options range from affordable oden carts to high-dollar shabu-shabu meals, and from everyday konbini meals at convenience stores to special holiday treats cooked at home to celebrate the New Year. A part of the book is even devoted to a stay at a ryokan, a traditional Japanese inn, covering meals, outfits and how to handle the public baths.
Delicious Sukiyaki and rules about eating sushi. (Japan Eats! An Explorer’s Guide to Japanese Food, pg 31& 16)
While served up in a picture book format, Betty has gone to a lot of trouble to give detailed descriptions of each food item and the people that serve them. Even in each individual food style, she’s very detailed in her coverage, giving you a wide menu of choices to consider. And Betty does a great service in providing proper Japanese manners and phrases, in case you find yourself in an Izakaya in the future. Her illustrations pop with color, making your mouth water with every page. This is definitely a book you’ll want to read on a full stomach, or you’ll be looking for the closest snack to wolf down.
The chefs who make the magic happen. (Japan Eats! An Explorer’s Guide to Japanese Food, pg 37.)
Throughout Japan Eats!, it’s clear that Betty Reynolds has a great affection for her time overseas, and she does an incredible job in bringing their food culture to your hands. The other best option might just be finding your own local shop for some carryout. If you’re looking to dodge the calories for at least just a moment, though, this book is a great way to enrich yourself with the beauty of Japanese cuisine.
Japan Eats! An Explorer's Guide to Japanese Food features story and art by Betty Reynolds. For first-time visitors and seasoned gourmets alike, Japan Eats! is an entertaining guide to the pleasures and pitfalls of dining in Japan—with hilarious insights and tips not found in other books. Whether it's the proper technique for holding chopsticks or the etiquette of slurping soup, author Betty Reynolds reassures the bewildered and includes mini-lessons on how to read the curtains at the entrance, the menus on the wall, and even the signs on the bathroom doors!Add to CartLearn More