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Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto
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Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto

3.59  ·  Rating Details ·  546 Ratings  ·  67 Reviews
Two years out of college and with a degree from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Victoria Riccardi left a boyfriend, a rent-controlled New York City apartment, and a plum job in advertising to move to Kyoto to study kaiseki, the exquisitely refined form of cooking that accompanies the formal Japanese tea ceremony. She arrived in Kyoto, a city she had dreamed about but never seen, ...more
ebook, 304 pages
Published December 18th 2008 by Broadway Books (first published 2003)
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Ever since I read this book, I have wanted to eat a kaiseki meal. That desire is still unfulfilled. There was a kaiseki restaurant in Vancouver when I was there five years ago, but my then-boyfriend had no interest and I did not want to go by myself.

The narrator in this book is young, so while she seems to be a lovely person, her voice is not the most compelling. In some ways, this is a coming-of-age novel, which is not my favorite genre. She is, however, a keen observer of a world I will probab
Mar 11, 2009 Purlewe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food, travel
Untangling my Chopsticks, by Victoria Abbott Ricardi is a delightful book. It made me hungry just reading it. I wanted to change the way I read books (right before bed) so I could actually try and eat after I finished a chapter. I never did change my reading habits, but I will admit to some mightly fine food dreams.

I have not tried any of the recipes she posts at the end of each chapter. It isn't hard for me. I know I could cook some of this stuff. Plus I live right beside the First Oriental Ma
Aug 05, 2012 Alee rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I started to read this book before my first trip to Japan but ran out of time. Then I finished it after my return. Because I love to make things out of cookbooks, and this book is basically a biography/cookbook, I thought I'd try two items from the book. You can see my posting with pictures of the recipes I made at:

Bottom line: I thought the book was a good characterization about how difficult it is to travel to a completely different culture and try to f
I really enjoyed this book although it made me regret being so busy with work when I lived in Japan that I didn't concentrate enough time on learning about food. She gives some amazing details that would, no doubt, bore someone who is not completely into Japanese food or culture. Her focus is on tea kaiseki, which is the food that is based around one of the many types of tea ceremony. Since I'm obsessed with tea...uh...and with food, I thought this was great. But, like Fuschia Dunlop's book Shar ...more
Victoria Abbott Riccardi wrote Untangling my Chopsticks – A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto after spending time in Kyoto learning how to prepare chakaiseki (tea kaiseki) with one of the three traditional tea houses in Kyoto. I read the book in preparation for our trip to Kyoto. The writing style is easy to read and Victoria does not big-note herself or inject herself unnecessarily into the account of her time in Kyoto. I was a little concerned when Victoria said that tea is grown on a plant related to ...more
Jul 27, 2011 Tricia rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This reads like a report. Not much use of narrative devices to make it interesting to read. It's a report about the day-to-dayness of living in Japan. Speaking of living in Japan, Riccardi went to Japan to learn about a specific tea ceremony, and I just don't get it. Why? So what? I'd be bored to death sitting through that type of tea ceremony, probably because I just don't get it. According to Riccardi, the tea ceremony is important because men in Japan "pursue the way of tea as a spiritual art ...more
Monica Williams
May 11, 2014 Monica Williams rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To be honest when I first started this book I wasn't sure if I would make it all the way through, but it held my attention. I read this book in just over 1 day. It is well written and well paced. Victoria Riccardi’s love affair with Japan started young. Her grandparents frequently visited Japan and brought back souvenirs and stories. In 1991 Riccardi finally got her wish. She was off to Kyoto to study tea kaiseki for a year. Different from the tea ceremony (yes I actually know about that- thank ...more
May 15, 2015 Jess rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a Japanophile and a foodie, I enjoyed the way this book helped me recall memories from my own travels in Japan and how it provided recipes to try at home.

Personally, I felt that the writing style was often a little too flowery for my tastes and read like prose; e.g. "The sushi gleamed like little gems" or "the night sky was opalescent." I suppose it was meant to be like a love poem to the experience it is describing. If you've never been to Japan though and/or if you're not into poetry, this
Nov 28, 2009 David rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have always thought that writing about food is one of the most challenging descriptive undertakings. Words for other sensory perceptions seem to abound, but describing taste experiences vividly (see? "vividly" is a visual word) requires work and creativity. Japanese arguably provides more taste-sensitive words than English. Riccardi is one of the few writers who describes food tastes and textures with mouthwatering clarity. The cultural underpinnings and meanings of the traditional tea kaiseki ...more
Jan 02, 2014 Sweetmongoose rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People who love Japan, tea ceremony, culinary arts
Most of the action of the book takes place in the 80's in Kyoto. The descriptions of food are wonderful, as are the descriptions of the city. I learned a lot about the meals that accompany tea ceremony and the traditional reasons behind choices in preparation. There is a lot about Japanese culture here, which I found fascinating, but when I read a description of manga loosely grouped as a kind of porn, I had to question the accuracy of some of the information. The prose is sometimes not that gre ...more
Jan 22, 2014 Katie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting book either for foodies or those interested in Japanese culture, because there's lots about both but not much else. This is a memoir about a woman who spends some time in Japan getting a culinary education in the "tea kaiseki" ceremony, which is a series of specialized dishes served very ritually and ceremonially during the serving of tea. There are different types of tea kaiseki and she learns all about them and how to execute them.

The dishes are described in detail and it is very
Quite entertaining and perceptive. The author undertakes to learn traditional kaiseki, the refined cuisine of Japanese tea ceremonies. She takes the reader along as she becomes immersed in Japanese culture. This is a highly personal account that reads like a memoir overlaid with cultural observations -- a nice blend.

I read this book before taking a two-week trip to Kyoto, and it provided some helpful insights into this very traditional city. In particular, it made me determined to seek out some
Aug 20, 2008 Stephanie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: food
It was slightly ironic that I read this book right after I finished The Omnivore's Dilemma. One of the dilemmas that American Omnivores face is that we do not have a strong food culture. We are pummeled with dietary fads and opposing nutritional information. At the same time, we are able to choose from most any kind of cuisine we feel like eating (depending, of course, on where one lives).
This book goes into rich detail on the symbolism and ritual of the Tea Kaiseki in Japan. Fascinating descrip
Ms. Riccardi's descriptions were vivid. That was what allowed me to get into this book. The food, the scenery, the people... it all jumped out of the page.

Truth be told, it doesn't exactly follow a steady line of narration and there is no real "story" to tell, no climax, no resolution. It's mostly her life in Kyoto in the 90's, her friends, and how she learned the art of tea kaiseki. There were times where I felt I was reading a school book on Kyoto. Her voice wasn't very present when she wanted
Apr 11, 2007 Lisa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who like memoirs, travel writing or japanese food
Recommended to Lisa by: Lisa McIntire
I read this book over several days, and each time I sat down it was like a little journey overseas. Riccardi writes sensitively and sincerely about her sojourn to Japan to learn about tea and food culture. Unlike so many other travel and food writers, she doesn't gush, and I don't find that she romanticizes either. I've since encountered her articles in food magazines and have enjoyed all those as well. She has convinced me of her integrity!
Jun 06, 2008 Leslie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Saw this many moons ago in ASH and I finally broke down and bought it when I couldn't find it in my libraries.

Worth it - especially the recipes. I may finally try to make oyako donburi which I adore. A nice compact look at one woman's adventures abroad. Gilbert should have read this before trying Eat Pray Love - it might have improved it!
Sep 14, 2009 Lea rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is a must-read for Japan-obsessed people like myself! At first I thought this book would be a rather boring read, but the author's vivid descriptions and funny narratives made this a book I could barely put down! This book tells the story of the author's journey to Japan to learn the art of Tea Ceremony. Along with her story, the author also tells a lot about Japan's food, customs, and history. Excellent book all around.
Oct 04, 2014 Marcia rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The intricate detail and history of Japanese tea keiseki is explored in this year-abroad memoir/cookbook. The author spent a year in Kyoto
learning the art of tea keiseki- the amazingly intricate food that is served in a tea house. The attention to detail, symbolism, and Japanese culture is explored and refreshingly shared through the eyes of a young woman. Now, I'm anxious to go back to Japan, with Kyoto as my first stop!
Dec 05, 2009 Andrea rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
As I read this book more and more, I become increasingly dissatisfied by the author's voice. One the one hand, she writes beautifully of food and of the kaiseki culture. On the other hand, I find her attitudes and perspectives of Japanese people and gay characters in her memoir, to be more than a little disquieting. I skip her observations of and interactions with people and go straight to the good parts about meals and cooking.
Feb 06, 2014 Trudi rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Non-fiction. An American woman spends a year or more in Kyoto for the purpose of studying kaiseki, the cooking that accompanies the formal tea ceremony. And through this pursuit, she learns a great deal about Japanese cooking, culture, history, language, etc. She also makes good friends while in Kyoto. I knew I had missed much on my recent trip to Japan, and this book confirms that for me.
Lindsey Whyte
Jun 06, 2013 Lindsey Whyte rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I read this on my way to and during a trip to Japan. it was a really great way to gain an better understanding of Japanese gastronomy and culture which, contrary to popular opinion, is not centered simply around sushi and noodle soup. I highly recommend it for those contemplating a trip and those who are interested in food and Japanese culture.
May 28, 2015 Alison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked it a lot - set in Kyoto and all about food - including recipes which I will probably never make. But it did make me want to go back to Kyoto and also to go to a Japanese restaurant. Towards the end, I got a bit tired of all the adjectives describing each food item, but that is a small quibble.
Lisa Eirene
I really enjoyed this book. It was a fast read and her writing style was beautiful--sometimes like poetry. She reminded me a little of Anthony Bourdain. I enjoyed the Japanese culture. I didn't give it 4 stars because the premise was that she had this "life changing" experience in Japan learning the cuisine and culture and I just didn't get that from the book.
I have mixed feeling about this book. Some aspects of it I really enjoyed, the descriptions of Kyoto and the food, but somehow it feels a bit disappointing. Maybe it's that the author moved to Japan, learned the language, fitted into the culture (as best as an expat can manage), and then chose to give it all up. It's like she threw away a pearl somehow.
Oct 20, 2009 Nicole rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Entertaining. I liked the focus on food rather than on the tea ceremony, and reading about the author's experiences adjusting to Japanese culture was interesting as well. I thought she managed not to romanticize it nearly as much as some of the other travel books I've read.

I haven't tried any of the recipes yet, but many of them look good.
Helen Dunn
I have a fascination with Japanese culture and I am also interested in food so I thought I would love this book. Unfortuntely, after a solid opening chapter it just turned in to a hum-drum book for me. It was OK but I wasn't excited to come back to reading it when I took a break and overall found it all rather dull.
My favorite type of book -- a woman taking off to try something different just for the heck of it. I ended up buying some of the Japanese cookbooks she used in Kyoto although I have yet to build up the patience to try them out. Her descriptions of preparing the food made the whole process seem too intimidating. Just happy to read about her mastering the cuisine.
Dec 29, 2007 Melanie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a great easy, descriptive read about a woman's trip to Kyoto to learn the art of "kaiseki, a highly ritualized form of cooking that accompanies the formal tea ceremony." I'm currently obsessed with Japan and this was a very informative book on Japanese culture, especially food, and has recipes!
Jun 04, 2011 Jennifer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. The author spends a year in Japan to learn about the tea kaiseki ceremony. I might not have enjoyed this book as much if I had not traveled to Kyoto a few years ago. The book is mostly about food related to tea kaiseki, but of course also includes insights into Japanese culture and being a foreigner in Japan.
Feb 29, 2008 Lori rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I had to buy it because I own so many chopsticks myself. Thinking it was a cookbook or a group of short stories interspersed with recipes, I was surprised to read a lovely story of a girl’s journey into culture and life in beautiful Kyoto, Japan. Very enjoyable.
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