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Untangling My Chopsticks: A Culinary Sojourn in Kyoto    by Victoria Abbott Riccardi order for
Untangling My Chopsticks
by Victoria Abbott Riccardi
Order:  USA  Can
Broadway, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Untangling My Chopsticks is the first culinary travel book that I have encountered and it made me salivate on almost every page. I have been to Kyoto, visited temples and monasteries, even stayed at a traditional ryokan, but I did not glimpse the city that Victoria Abbott Riccardi (a freelance food, nutrition, and travel writer) grew to know so well.

Riccardi arrived in Kyoto in 1986. She worked there as an English teacher, lived for a while with the family of her Japanese friend Tomiko, and studied 'tea kaiseki' (her primary reason for the trip). Many will have heard of the Japanese tea ceremony (or read of it in Shogun) but few know of 'chakaiseki (tea kaiseki), a highly ritualized cuisine that accompanies the formal tea ceremony.' The author shares her love for the city of Kyoto and its lifestyle, and her appreciation of Japanese cuisine in general, and of the 'spiritual ballet' of tea kaiseki in particular. Most chapters end with a set of recipes for food mentioned in the text.

Riccardi tells us 'what is so bewitching about Japan: things seem so easy until you try to understand them' and that 'draw the curtain aside, learn the language, and you face a web of complicated mazes', a culture that is essentially impenetrable by gaijin (outsiders). Sharing the author's account of her life in Kyoto, I learned a great deal about customs (that I wish I had known while in Japan) - for example expectations regarding gift giving - and enjoyed reading about details such as those involved in Japanese New Year celebrations. I recommend Untangling My Chopsticks as a must read for anyone planning to visit, or live in, Japan.

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