Discover Japan’s Oldest Surviving Cookbook Ryori Monogatari (1643)

Maybe your interest in Japan was first stoked by the story of the seventeenth-century shōgun Tokugawa Ieyasu and his campaign to unify the country. Or maybe it was Japanese food. Either way, culinary and historical subjects have a way of intertwining in every land — not to mention making countless possible literary and cultural connections along the way. For the curious mind, enjoying a Japanese meal may well lead, sooner or later, to reading Japan’s oldest cookbook. Published in 1643, the surviving edition of Ryori Monogatari (variously translated as “Narrative of Actual Food Preparation” or, more simply, “A Tale of Food”) resides at the Tokyo National Museum, but you can read a facsimile at the Tokyo Metropolitan Library.

Translator Joshua L. Badgley did just that in order to produce an online English version of the venerable recipe collection. In an introductory essay, he describes his translation process and offers some historical context as well. Ryori Monogatari was written early in the era of the Tokugawa shogunate, which had been founded by the aforementioned Ieyasu.




“For the previous 120 years, the country had been engulfed in civil wars,” but this “Age of Warring States” also “saw the first major contact with Europeans through the Portuguese, who landed in 1542, and later saw the invasion of Korea.” The foreigners “brought with them new ideas, and access to a new world of food, which continues to this day in the form of things like tempura and kasutera (castella).”

Consolidated by Ieyasu, Japan’s subsequent 250-year-long peace “saw an increased emphasis on scholarship, and many books on the history of Japan were written in this time. In addition, travel journals were becoming popular, indicating various specialties and delicacies in each village.” The now-unknown author of Ryori Monogatari seems to have gone around collecting recipes that had been passed down orally for generations — hence the sometimes vague and approximate instructions. But unusually, note publishers Red Circle, the book also “includes recipes for game at a time when eating meat was viewed by most as a taboo.” In it one finds instructions for preparing venison, hare, boar, and even raccoon dog.

Your fascination with Japan might not have begun with a meal of raccoon dog. But Ryori Monogatari also includes recipes for sashimi, sushi, udon and yakitori, all eaten so widely around the world today that their names no longer merit italics. Taken together, the book’s explanations of its dishes open a window on how the Japanese ate during the Edo period, named for the capital city we now know as Tokyo, which lasted from 1603 to 1863. (In the video just above, Tasting History vlogger Max Miller makes a typical bowl of Edo noodles, based on a recipe from the 1643 cookbook.) “From the mid-Edo period,” says the Tokyo National Museum, “restaurants began to emerge across Japan, reflecting a new trend toward enjoying food as recreation.” By the late Edo period, an era captured by ukiyo-e master Hiroshige, eating out had become a national pastime. And not so long thereafter, going for Japanese food would become a culinary, historical, and cultural treat savored the world over.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

How Ramen Became the Currency of Choice in Prison, Beating Out Cigarettes

The last decade ushered in a slew of traditional Japanese-style ramen restaurants — enough to justify ramen maps to New York CityChicago, and the Bay Area.

Yet most Americans still conceive of ramen as the pack of seasoning and dehydrated instant noodles that have long sustained broke artists and college students.

Add incarcerated persons to the list of packaged ramen’s most ardent consumers.

In the above episode of Vox’s series, The Goods, we learn how those ubiquitous cellophane packages have outstripped cigarettes and postage stamps as the preferred form of prison currency.




Ramen is durable, portable, packaged in standard units, available in the prison commissary, and highly prized by those with a deep need to pad their chow hall meals.

Ramen can be used to pay for clothing and hygiene products, or services like laundry, bunk cleaning, dictation, or custom illustration. Gamblers can use it in lieu of chips.

Ramen’s status as the preferred form of exchange also speaks to a sharp decline in the quantity and quality of food in American penal institutions.

Ethnographer Michael Gibson-Light, who spent a year studying homegrown monetary practices among incarcerated populations, notes that slashed prison budgets have created a culture of “punitive frugality.”

Called upon to model a demonstrably tough on crime stance and cut back on expenditures, the institutions are unofficially shunting many of their traditional costs onto the prisoners themselves.

In response, those on the inside have pivoted to edible currency:

What we are seeing is a collective response — across inmate populations and security levels, across prison cliques and racial groups, and even across states — to changes and cutbacks in prison food services…The form of money is not something that changes often or easily, even in the prison underground economy; it takes a major issue or shock to initiate such a change. The use of cigarettes as money in U.S. prisons happened in American Civil War military prisons and likely far earlier. The fact that this practice has suddenly changed has potentially serious implications.

Ramen may be a relatively new development in the prison landscape, but culinary experimentation behind bars is not. From Pruno prison wine to Martha Stewart’s prison grounds crabapple jelly, it’s a nothing ventured, nothing gained type of deal. Work with what you’ve got.

Gustavo “Goose” Alvarez, who appears in Vox’s video, collected a number of the most adventurous recipes in his book, Prison Ramen: Recipes and Stories from Behind Bars. Anyone can bring some variety on the spur of the moment by sprinkling some of your ramen’s seasoning packet into your drinking water, but amassing the ingredients for an ambitious dish like Orange Porkies — chili ramen plus white rice plus ½ bag of pork skins plus orange-flavored punch — takes patience and perseverance.

Alvarez’s Egg Ramen Salad Sandwich recipe earns praise from actor Shia LeBoeuf, whose time served is both multiple and minimal.

Someone serving a longer sentence has a more compelling reason to search for the ramen-centered sense of harmony and wellbeing on display in Tampopo, the first “ramen western”:

Appreciate its gestalt. Savor the aromas.

Joe Guerrero, host of YouTube’s AfterPrisonShow, is not immune to the pleasures of some of his ramen-based concoctions, below, despite being on the outside for several years now.

You’re free to wrinkle your nose at the thought of snacking on a crumbled brick of uncooked ramen, but Guerrero points out that someone serving a long sentence craves variety in any form they can get. Experiencing it can tap into the same sense of pride as self-governance.

Guerrero’s recipes require a microwave (and a block of ramen).

Even if you’re not particularly keen on eating the finished product, there’s a science project appeal to his Ramen Noodle Cookie. It calls for no additional  ingredients, just ten minutes cooking time, an outrageous prospect in a communal setting with only one microwave.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Tasting History: A Hit YouTube Series Shows How to Cook the Foods of Ancient Greece & Rome, Medieval Europe, and Other Places & Periods

The food of our ancestors has come back into fashion, no matter from where your own ancestors in particular happened to hail. Whether motivated by a desire to avoid the supposedly unhealthy ingredients and processes introduced in modernity, a curiosity about the practices of a culture, or simply a spirit of culinary adventure, the consumption of traditional foods has attained a relatively high profile of late. So, indeed, has their preparation: few of us could think of a more traditional food than bread, the home-baking of which became a sweeping fad in the United States and elsewhere shortly after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Max Miller, for example, has baked more than his own share of bread at home. Like no few media-savvy culinary hobbyists, he’s put the results on Youtube; like those hobbyists who develop an unquenchable thirst for ever-greater depth and breadth (no pun intended) of knowledge about the field, he’s gone well beyond the rudiments.




18th-century Saly Lunn bunsmedieval trencherPompeiian panis quadratus, even the bread of ancient Egypt: he’s gone a long way indeed beyond simple sourdough. But in so doing, he’s learned — and taught — a great deal about the variety of civilizations, all of them heartily food-eating, that led up to ours.

“His show, Tasting History with Max Miller, started in late February,” writes Devan Sauer in a profile last year for the Phoenix New Times. “Since then, Tasting History has drawn more than 470,000 subscribers and 14 million views.” Each of its episodes “has a special segment where Miller explains the history of either the ingredients or the dish’s time period.” These periods come organized into playlists like “Ancient Greek, Roman, & Mesopotamian Recipes,” “The Best of Medieval & Renaissance Recipes,” and “18th/19th Century Recipes.” In his clearly extensive research, “Miller looks to primary accounts, or anecdotal records from the people themselves, rather than historians. He does this so he can get a better glimpse into what life was like during a certain time.”

If past, as L.P. Hartley put it, is a foreign country, then Miller’s historical cookery is a form of not just time travel, but regular travel — exactly what so few of us have been able to do over the past year and a half. And though most of the recipes featured on Tasting History have come from Western, and specifically European cultures, its channel also has a playlist dedicated to non-European foods such as Aztec chocolate; the kingly Indian dessert of payasam; and hwajeon, the Korean “flower pancakes” served in 17th-century snack bars, or eumshik dabang. He’s also prepared the snails served at the thermopolium, the equivalent establishment of the first-century Roman Empire recently featured here on Open Culture. But however impressive Miller’s knowledge, enthusiasm, and skill in the kitchen, he commands just as much respect for having mastered Youtube, the true Forum of early 21st-century civilization.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Largest Free Kitchen in the World: Discover India’s Golden Temple Which Serves 100,000 Free Meals Per Day

If you find yourself hungry in Amritsar, a major city in the Indian state of Punjab, you could do worse than stopping into the Golden Temple, the largest Sikh house of worship in the world. It thus also operates the largest community kitchen, or langar, in the world, which serves more than 100,000 free meals a day, 24 hours a day. Anyone familiar with Sikhism knows that, for its believers, serving food to the hungry constitutes an essential duty: not just to the poor, and certainly not just to fellow Sikhs, but to all comers. Wherever in the world you may live, if there’s a Sikh temple or shrine in the vicinity, there’s quite possibly a langar you can visit as well.

Of course, no other langar matches the scale of the Golden Temple’s. As explained in the Food Insider video above, it operates with a permanent staff of 300 to 350 employees as well as a large number of volunteers, all of whom work in concert with machines around the clock to produce an unending stream of vegetarian meals, which include daal lentil stew and chapati bread. There’s always been a market for free food, but recent years have seen increases in demand great enough to necessitate the construction of additional dining halls, and total operating expenses come to the equivalent of some US$4 million per year. (Every day, $5,000 goes to ghee, or Indian clarified butter, alone.)

Apart from the people of Amritsar and pilgrimage-making devotees, the Golden Temple langar has also drawn the attention of culinarily minded travelers. Take the Canadian Youtuber Trevor James, better known as the Food Ranger, to whose taste for extreme scale and quantity the operation no doubt appeals. His visit also affords him the opportunity, before his meal, to be outfitted in traditional dress, up to and including a Sikh turban. (The Golden Temple requires its diners to wear a head-covering of some kind.) James’ stock of travel-vlogger superlatives is nearly exhausted by the splendor of the temple itself before he steps into the kitchen to observe (and even lend a hand in) the cooking process. “Look at this,” he exclaims upon taking his seat on the floor of the hall with a tray of his own. “This is an almost spiritual meal” — an aura exuded whether you believe in Waheguru, the gods of street food, or anything else besides.

via Metafilter

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

30,000 People Line Up for the First McDonald’s in Moscow, While Grocery Store Shelves Run Empty (1990)

Everyone has waited in a long line — for burgers, Broadway tickets, Black Friday sales… But few us have the notorious queuing resilience of the Soviets. “When the first McDonald’s arrived in Moscow in 1990, the city went mad,” Boris Egorov writes at Russia Beyond. “Thousands of Muscovites flocked to the new burger joint, forming lines several kilometers long in the center of Moscow on Pushkinskaya Square.” On its first day, the restaurant obliterated the previous record for most McDonald’s customers (9,100 in Budapest), serving over 30,000 people, a testament to the fortitude of the employees. The CBC news segment on the opening above quotes a line from Pushkin to set the scene: “a feast in a time of plague.”

Stereotypes of fast food workers as lacking in skill and ambition did not find purchase here. “The first workers,” Egorov notes, “were the crème de la crème of Soviet youth: students from prestigious universities who could speak foreign languages with brilliant customer service skills.” Their cheerfulness so unnerved some customers that they were asked to tone it down for Russians “accustomed to rude, boorish service.”




Customers seemed less awed by the iconography than the “simple sight of polite shop workers,” wrote an American journalist. The restaurant, once a tourist attraction, notes travel site Bridge to Moscow, had “more than 700 seats inside and 200 outside,” and was once the largest McDonald’s in the world.

The Moscow McDonald’s represented more for Russians than an American novelty. Original customer Ksenia Oskina had never heard of McDonald’s before she visited. She later saved her Big Mac box. “I used that Big Mac box for a long time and put my sandwich in there instead of a lunchbox,” she tells The Washington Post. “I’d clean it, dry it on the heater and then use it again.” It wasn’t about brand recognition for many who dutifully lined up to pay half a day’s wages for a couple “thin slabs of meat and sliced vegetables between buns of bread.” (Sorry… “two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, and a sesame seed bun…..”)

What did Soviet Russians, who had not been raised to sing fast food advertising jingles, see in the new restaurant? Capitalism’s promises of abundance. One Soviet journalist wrote of McDonald’s as “the expression of America’s rationalism and pragmatism toward food.” Just months afterward, the first Pizza Hut arrived. As the Soviet Union dissolved less than two years later, the country saw the creation of more desire for high-calorie, ultra-processed foods with Western-style TV ads: most famously a Pizza Hut spot from 1997 featuring the U.S.S.R.’s last premier, Mikhail Gorbachev. (“Because of him, we have Pizza Hut!”)

The politics may have mattered little to the average Muscovite McDonald’s customer in 1990. “Visiting the restaurant was less a political statement than an opportunity to enjoy a small pleasure in a country still reeling from disastrous economic problems and internal political turmoil,” notes History.com. Large, seemingly abstract problems had tangible effects: the empty grocery stores for which the failing empire became famous.

The Moscow McDonald’s was a colorful oasis for its first customers, who had no sentimental associations with burgers and fries. Now, those tastes are nostalgic. “I love it,” said Oskina thirty years later. “For some reason in America, it’s not as tasty as it is here.” Insert your own dated Yakov Smirnoff reference.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch Orson Welles’ Intoxicating Wine Commercials That Became an 80s Cultural Phenomenon

“We will sell no wine before its time”: some Americans respond to this phrase with a chuckle of recognition, others by asking who’ll sell what wine before when. The difference must be generational, since those alive to watch television in the late 1970s and early 80s can’t have avoided hearing those words intoned on a regular basis — and in no less powerful a voice than Orson Welles’. Coming up on forty years after Citizen Kane, the former boy-wonder auteur had fallen on hard times. Struggling to complete his feature The Other Side of the Wind (little knowing that Netflix would eventually do it for him), he relied on acting work to raise professional and personal funds. He’d done it before, but now the productions offering him the most lucrative roles happened to be commercials for cheap wine.

Despite having been cast into the wilderness by Hollywood, if to some degree willingly, Welles still had cultural cachet — exactly what the higher-ups at the mass-market California wine producer Paul Masson thought their brand needed. Making use of Welles’ late-period public image as a Falstaffian gourmand, Paul Masson commissioned a series of television commercials and print advertisements in which he personally endorses a range of their varietals.




In comparing Paul Masson’s “Emerald Dry” to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Gone With the Wind, two works of art known for their prolonged gestation periods, Welles also implicitly acknowledged his own artistic reputation for making films of genius, if films of genius few and far between.

Though Welles balked at the effrontery of a script comparing Paul Masson wine to a Stradivarius violin, he wasn’t without genuine appreciation for the product. “Orson liked Paul Masson’s cabernet,” said John Annarino, the adman at DDB Needham who handled the Paul Masson account. “He often called the ad agency and instructed, ‘Send more red.'” He also happened to be a highly experienced booze salesman: “As early as 1945 he had done a radio spot for Cresta Blanca Wines,” writes Inside Hook’s Aaron Goldfarb. “By 1972 he was doing print work with Jim Beam bourbon. By 1975 he was hawking Carlsberg Lager. That same year, he pitched Domecq Sherry, Sandeman port (in which he portrayed their ‘Sandeman Don’ character) and Nikka Japanese Whiskey, which were a huge hit overseas.”

The campaign got Paul Masson a substantial bump in sales, but it stuck DDB Needham with a somewhat difficult star. This is evidenced not just by anecdotes from the set but surviving footage that shows Welles, far from disdainful of the wine at hand, seemingly too satisfied by it to deliver his lines properly. Much like the string of increasingly bitter complaints captured during the voiceover recording of a Findus frozen peas commercial, Welles’ seemingly drunken takes for Paul Masson — and even the finished spots — have gone viral in the internet age. Racking up millions upon millions of views on Youtube, these videos have begun to bring “We will sell no wine before its time,” a catchphrase much-referenced in the 80s, back into the zeitgeist. But then, don’t some things only improve with age?

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Anthony Bourdain Talks About the Big Break That Changed His Life–at Age 44

In 1999, Anthony Bourdain’s career seemed to have stalled. While his “principal vocation remained his position as executive chef” at New York’s Les Halles, restless intelligence and wanderlust kept him looking for other opportunities. “He was 43 years old, rode hard and put up wet,” writes Elizabeth Nelson at The Ringer, “a recovering addict with a number of debts and a penchant for finding trouble in failing restaurants across the city.” He had fought for and won an undeniable measure of success, but he hardly seemed on the threshold of the major celebrity chefdom he would maintain until his death twenty years later in 2018.

Then, “in the spring of 2000, his sublimated literary ambitions suddenly caught up with and then quickly surpassed his cooking.” Bourdain’s memoir Kitchen Confidential “became an immediate sensation,” introducing his iconoclasm, acerbic wit, and outrageous confessional style to millions of readers, who would soon become viewers of his try-anything travelogue series, A Cook’s Tour, No ReservationsThe Layover, and Parts Unknown, as well as loyal readers of his subsequent books, and even fiction like as Gone Bamboo, a crime novel soon to become a TV series.




How did Bourdain first get his winning personality before the masses? It all started with a 1999 New Yorker article called “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” the predecessor to Kitchen Confidential and an essay that begins with what we might now recognize as a prototypically Bourdainian sentence: “Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay.” In the interview clip above, from Bourdain’s final, 2017 interview with Fast Company, he talks about how the story led to his “huge break” just a couple days after it ran, when a Bloomsbury editor called with an offer of “the staggeringly high price of fifty thousand dollars to write a book.”

Everyone who loves Bourdain’s writing—and who loved his generous, ecumenical culinary spirit—knows why Kitchen Confidential changed his life overnight, as he says. Yes, “food is pain,” as he writes in the book’s “First Course,” but also, “food is sex”—”the delights of Portuguese squid stew, of Wellfleet oysters on the halfshell, New England clam chowder, of greasy, wonderful, fire-red chorizo sausages, kale soup, and a night when the striped bass jumped right out of the water and onto Cape Cod’s dinner tables.” Bourdain’s prose lingers over every delight, preparing us for the escapades to come.

In Kitchen Confidential, the exhaustion, “sheer weirdness,” and constant “threat of disaster,” that attend New York kitchen life (and life “inside the CIA”—the Culinary Institute of America, that is), becomes fleshed out with scenes of culinary decadence the likes of which most readers had never seen, smelled, or tasted. Fans craved more and more from the chef who wrote, in 1999, just before he would become a bestselling household name, “my career has taken an eerily appropriate turn: these days, I’m the chef de cuisine of a much loved, old-school French brasserie/bistro where… every part of the animal—hooves, snout, cheeks, skin, and organs—is avidly and appreciatively prepared and consumed.”

Read Bourdain’s New Yorker essay here and see his full 2017 interview with Fast Company just above.

via @Yoh31

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Life & Death of an Espresso Shot in Super Slow Motion

Some YouTuber posted online a pretty nice clip of an espresso shot being pulled from a La Marzocco FB80 espresso machine at 120 frames per second. They recommend muting the sound, then putting on your own music. I gave it a quick shot with the famous soundtrack for Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. And I’ll be damned, it syncs up pretty well. Have a better soundtrack to recommend? Feel free to let us know in the comments section below.

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