Viz only released seven volumes of Oishinbo A la Carte in the United States, despite there being about twenty volumes to draw from (as well as over 100 volumes of the unabridged manga, but it’s understandable that no one wants to go through the massive undertaking of translating and releasing the entire series). The A la Carte volumes draw from the entire back catalog of Oishinbo adventures, and thus can be read in any order, which is how “Vegetables” came to be the final volume that I read. And it’s a personal shame, because the vegetable volume is probably the weakest of the entire series as released in English.
Many of the stories presented in Oishinbo have a very technical minded focus—how to cut, season, boil, grill, and so forth—with the stated intent to bring the best flavor out of the ingredients. With a lot of the food presented, the flavor and texture were often dependent on well each dish was prepared. This was especially prominent in the volumes on fish (including sushi and sashimi), rice, and sake. But with vegetables, the emphasis switches more to the quality of the ingredients. It’s not that the quality didn’t matter before, but here it is paramount and almost a given. As long as the vegetables are native to the area and not treated with pesticides and herbicides—a point hammered forth repeatedly in this volume—the vegetables will be delicious, and the characters must learn to appreciate that. Most of the stories are about how the goodness and purity of vegetables will bring people together and solve their problems. That’s fine in small doses, but in succession it can get boring.
The best story in A la Carte Vegetables is an installment of the ongoing Ultimate Menu vs. Supreme Menu battle, where Yamaoka and Kaibara Yūzan do battle with cabbages and turnips. The battles are some of the most exciting parts of Oishinbo, so it’s good that they included one here. But even that story comes down to the goodness and purity of vegetables, and the way Yamaoka is always missing or misunderstanding some key ingredient has become rather formulaic after reading seven (much less a hundred) volumes.
Even with that repetition I still find the series an enjoyable read, and am sad to see the English-speaking world denied any further volumes of this addictive and mouthwatering manga.
Oishinbo A la Carte: Vegetables
story by Tetsu Kariya
art by Akira Hanasaki
translated by Tetsuchiro Miyaki
edited by Leyla Aker and Jonathan Tarbox
published by Viz Signature (San Francisco, 2009)