Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family's Journey Through the Belly of Japan

Not every food writer is willing to massage a cow. But British journalist Michael Booth (The Almost Nearly Perfect People), who has built his career traveling and writing about food and culture with a distinctive, humorous touch, does so happily in Super Sushi Ramen Express: One Family's Journey Through the Belly of Japan.

With his wife and two children, Booth spends three months exploring the country and studying the Japanese diet to learn about the longevity it has boasted. In big cities and small towns, he interviews a varied cast of experts, including food scientists, sumo wrestlers, wasabi growers, fishmongers and beef farmers. He even gains access to restaurants and industries often inaccessible to tourists.

Booth's witty prose radiates excitement even when detailing the fundamentals of soy sauce fermentation or the "bewildering" variety of Japanese noodles. Never pretentious, he exhibits equal parts curiosity and reverence at every gastronomic echelon, enjoying high cuisine one day, street food the next. Many pages yield both salivation and belly laughs. The Le Cordon Bleu-educated Booth, who has cooked in a Michelin-starred Paris restaurant, is not above describing a sauce as "gloopy."

Yet he also writes eloquently of mortality, savoring moments as well as tastes. Early on, he attends a tea ceremony. The host notices Booth's rapt attention, remarking, "You should cherish this moment. The Japanese have a phrase for making the most of fleeting encounters: ichigo ichie. It means 'one encounter, one chance.' " Whether or not Super Sushi Ramen Express is readers' first encounter with Japanese cuisine and culture, it is worth savoring. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

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