Ramen, Japan’s noodle soup, is a microcosm of Japan and its historical relations with China. The long evolution of ramen helps us enter the history of cuisine in Japan, charting how food and politics combined as a force within Sino-Japan relations. Cuisine in East Asia plays a significant political role, at times also philosophical, economic, and social. Ramen is a symbol of the relationship between the two major forces in East Asia – what started as a Chinese food product ended up almost 1,000 years later as the emblem of modern Japanese cuisine. This book explains that history – from myths about food in ancient East Asia to the transfer of medieval food technology to Japan, to today’s ramen “popular culture.”
Barak Kushner, PhD (2002), teaches Japanese history at the University of Cambridge. The Thought War, his first book, delves into the history of wartime Japanese propaganda. He is finishing a third book on Japanese war crimes in China. For more: (www.barakkushner.net).
"... In delving into the history of ramen, Kushner throws light on many interesting aspects of Japanese social and political history as well as on Japan's lengthy and complex relationship with China..." - Hugh Cortazzi, in: The Japan Times ONLINE (21 October, 2012) [Review link]
"... A new book, Slurp! A Social and Culinary History of Ramen by Dr Barak Kushner, who teaches modern Japanese history at Cambridge, both contextualises the soup and hints at some of the reasons behind its global spread. Kushner explains how noodles entered Japan from China and how they evolved in Japanese cuisine in a way that reflected the prevailing feelings of Japan towards its neighbour..." - Tim Hayward, in: ft.com (19 October, 2012) [Review link]
"Those long nights when sleep evades you and the mind runs along less tranquil corridors of the mind, one room repeatedly visited is full of books I should have published. This is one of them. It is most excellent (with a tiny proviso as to price). The history of ramen is a beacon to guide us through an appreciation of change in Japanese taste and cooking; to understand what Japanese food was like a long time ago; to how regional tastes have affected the development of Japanese cooking; to see how war has left its mark on all aspects of the Japanese table; to wonder at the depth of foreign influence on Japanese cooking (where silly old me had thought they were an isolated people). I could go on and on. Mr Kushner writes clearly, thankfully with no jargon, and entertainingly. His illustrations are intriguing, his reading is wide. The book has footnotes. Emphatic recommendation." - Tom Jaine, in: Petits Propos Culinaires (PPC), 97 (January 2013)
"Ramen has become a ubiquitous presence globally, from chic Japanese Asian noodle restaurants to cheap student sustenance. Historian Kushner (Cambridge) targets the general audience wanting to know more about the noodle dish with Chinese origins that has become a Japanese national food of sorts. Written in an unapologetically pop style, Kushner's work spans premodern origins in China to contemporary Japanese ramen comics, museums, and pop songs. Within that time frame, the author talks about a lot more than ramen. He covers food in general in Japan as a backdrop for politics and the place of ramen within it. Some might criticize his at times wandering too far from the topic, but providing the broad context is part of Kushner's strategy. One part of the context that he ignores is that of gender. Indeed, Japan is a man's world: ramen chefs are almost exclusively men; even ramen consumption is more of a man's activity than that of women, although both slurp their fair share. Rich with tidbits culled from personal experience, Kushner's book is a welcome addition to the bookshelves of those interested in Japan, food, and pop culture. Summing Up: Highly recommended. General, public, and undergraduate libraries." - C.R. Yano, University of Hawai'i, in: Choice, 50 no. 10 (June 2013) [Review link]
INTERVIEW with the author: Where would Japan be without China's culinary contribution? - Asia & Japan Watch [Interview link]
INTERVIEW with the author in the Japanese TV program "Channel JAPAN": "The Project Japan": Promoting the Attractions of Japan ahead of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Channel JAPAN #37, on 16 December 2014 [Interview link]. Dr. Barak Kushner appears from 5’49’’; Slurp presented at 8’29’’
INTERVIEW with the author: "An Illustrated History of Ramen" [Review link]
All those interested in food history, Japan, East Asian culinary history, ramen, popular culture, the history of Sino-Japan relations, China, East Asian history, and noodles.