The global popularity of Japanese food has never been greater, as underscored by the recent decision of the United Nations’ cultural agency, UNESCO, to add traditional Japanese cuisine to its “intangible world heritage” list. It’s easy to think that the Japanese cuisine we know and enjoy today has an ancient, dynamic, and delicious history and that Japan has always been a nation of foodies.
In reality, for much of Japan’s history, Japanese food wasn’t that good (unremarkable if not downright awful, in fact) and there wasn’t much of it to go around. That’s one of the central insights of “Slurp: A Social and Culinary History of Ramen – Japan’s Favorite Noodle Soup” by historian Barak Kushner of the University of Cambridge. While Japan’s iconic noodle dish is certainly the centerpiece of this book (it begins with a recounting of Kushner’s first trip to an Ichiran ramen shop), “Slurp” is a broader exploration of the history and dramatic evolution of Japanese cuisine and food culture into the phenomenon that we see today.