Purlewe's Reviews > Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto

Untangling My Chopsticks by Victoria Abbott Riccardi
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Mar 11, 09

bookshelves: food, travel
Read in February, 2007

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 Market in S. Philly. I just know the time and preparation it takes to make these dishes, and when it is cold I am just not in the mood to take several hours to make certain foods. I have satisfied some of my hungers by going to the Korean place for lunch this week. But that only means I have held the Japanese food hunger at bay. I will definitely have to try out the recipes in this book and see if they taste as good as they sound.

I loved her descriptions about Japan. I loved hearing about her relationships with Kyoto and the people there. I really enjoyed hearing about the tea ceremony and some of the other rituals that are becoming mechanized in Japanese society. Plenty of old ways are being lost in every culture and I respect her for following and learning a lost art and tradition. Making mochi sounds alot more interesting and tasty doing it the old way than making it in a factory. (I read yesterday that people in India are finding ways to worship online instead of doing things through the local temple b'c it "takes too much time." Old ways being lost and new ways being discovered, every day.)

I will admit though, as a person who has lived in another country and as someone who stayed in an asian country with a local family, I can say I don't always agree with her. She states that it is zen that made the time complete in Kyoto. But she never visited the zen buddhist version (in a monastary) of tea kaiseki until after she had been away from Japan for many years. She says everything in her life during that time was controlled by zen. She makes comments about how the Japanese do things that I have personally experienced and would disagree with. Maybe it is because as an outsider she never was a full part of the culture. Let's face it, if you aren't Japanese, you are never part of the culture. I respect the reasons and the points she makes about what she has learned, but perhaps if she had someone in her life on the inside of that culture she would learned some things differently than she did.

I loved reading about Stephen and his partner and how they had tea ceremonies in their home for guests and visitors. I enjoyed hearing all about how things are placed together in a tea ceremony and why. I felt that the spare lines in her story accented the way life in Japan is lived. But I also felt like there was so much she left out and so much I missed. Perhaps this comes because she wrote it long after she had returned. Perhaps it is because so much in Kyoto society is private and she felt the need to translate that into the book. I will say that the book left me wanting more, much like the tea ceremony is supposed to leave you slightly hungry, making you look forward to the next time you return.
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