Random thoughts: Osen

The impression left on young Ezaki Yoshio by an elegant Okami awakens in him a yearning to be part of “real cuisine”. As a young man, Ezaki comes to a restaurant called Isshou-an to work under that okami, only to find that she has retired and left Isho-an in the hands of her daughter, Handa Sen. But Ezaki’s first impression of Osen, as she is known, leaves a lot to be desired. How does a young woman who has beer breath in the morning, drinks beer whilst having a bath, and otherwise gives the impression of an air-head, run a restaurant so steeped in culture?

Osen

Osen is actually based on a manga of the same name…but that very character is the one that has been changed the most. Although the great love of alcohol is pretty much the same, Handa Sen in the manga seems a lot more impressive than in the drama. Played by the waiflike Aoi Yuu, she was probably toned down to appear more feminine, in keeping with the idea of the Yamato Nadeshiko (bar the fact that she doens’t follow and obey a patriarchal figure). Her quirks, like spending 2 million yen on a vase whilst paying her employees a pittance (plus live-in costs), were also rendered more disturbing given what they left out from the manga. (Ezaki comes to feel that the bowl she gave him in compensation actually had a fair amount of value, whilst the drama seems to have left that out, IIRC. I did watch this almost a year ago now…)

But another major draw of Osen is, of course, the food, which the drama brings out in greater clarity than a black and white manga can. The story begins with a narrator explaning how any kind of food can be found all over Japan quickly, easily and in large amounts. Even in Okinawa, this is certainly true. And with half-priced bentos to be found at the supermarkets in the evening, it’s usually a lot cheaper than making your own meal from scratch. Osen gives us but a glimpse of the care and love that goes into delicious food. The sight of Handa Sen chanting 「美味しくなれ!美味しくなれ!」 (“Become delicious! Become delicious!” Edit (2009-September): note that this is a quirk that you can experience at a maid cafe…) as she slowly recooked prawn tempura over a makeshift grill may indeed be a bit disconcerting, but the point is obvious: food made with a person in mind is a lot more delicious than something generic, because the maker is considering what the person will want and/or need.

Unfortunately, for most of us common folk, the appreciation of genuine fine dining of the sort served at Isshou-an is perhaps impossible. A friend once bought an expensive brand of rice to see how it compared from the cheaper brands we typically buy (something like 5000yen vs 1200yen for 5kg), and she couldn’t discern any difference. However, going back to Bismarti long grain rice when I went home last December was quite torturous. I knew at once that I preferred the Japanese rice I’d been eating for 15 months. Taste is something that is cultivated, but most of us do not have the access to such high quality ingredients for the length of time needed to develop it.

However, this doesn’t mean that there’s nothing in it for us. The episode that left the deepest impression on me is dedicated to the humble, everyday hamburger. But of course, even starting with mince is a no-go: instead, there is a trip to the butcher to ask for a selection of meat (and organs) to be minced by hand and seasoned with fresh garden ingredients. This is something that everyone can try at home…instead of the traditional BBQ, nabe, sushi or tempura party, maybe we should try a hamburger one!

One day, perhaps, years in the future, I will be ready to try the experiment I’ve joked with a friend about. One day, when I’ve learnt to cook it as properly as you can in a common home, I will start buying an expensive brand of rice, and keep at it for a year or more, to see if I can taste a difference after that. For now, I will keep cooking as a way to relax, stay healthy and experiment in the hope that I will become at least as proficient in Asian cooking as my older brother is in Western styles.

p.s. Oh, and Mukai Okamu-san is incredibly cute. Was half-watching tv whilst I was researching this when I flipped to a random drama. Almost flipped away when I heard a familiar voice…and well…I didn’t think I’d seen enough of him (a small part in Nodame and one episode of Hachikuro) to recognise him based on that! Might check out what that drama was later, as I’ve been on an お笑い since…

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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