Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: Caramel Stewed Apples

kinounanitabeta-cover.jpg

[Update] As of March 2014, Kinou Nani Tabeta?, re-titled What Did You Eat Yesterday? is now being released in English by Vertical! Volume 1 is available now (links to Amazon). I am re-featuring this review that I wrote in December 2010 to commemorate this happy news. ^^

While I was in Japan this time around, by sheer chance I came across the first volume of a manga series called Kinou Nani Tabeta? (What did you eat yesterday?) by Fumi Yoshinaga. As soon as it was finished, I picked up the 3 other volumes available as fast as I could. (The story is still being serialized in Morning magazine, and the episodes are collected into volumes later.) Kinou Nani Tabeta? is about a 40-something gay couple: Shiro, a lawyer, and Kenji, a hairdresser. The stories mostly revolve around their domestic life, and each episode features Shiro, or occasionally someone else, planning out dinner and making it, with the recipes to go along. While I was initially drawn to this manga because of the food - the recipes are actually really good, mostly simple, practical Japanese home cooking - I also fell in love with the story itself. It’s one of the nicest depictions of an ordinary middle-aged couple who happen to be gay that I’ve seen anywhere.

The reasons why Shiro, a hardheaded (though hiding a soft heart within) lawyer by day, comes home and cooks their meals every night are threefold. First, he really enjoys cooking - he find it involving and creative, as well as relaxing. Second, Kenji always enjoys his cooking with abandon, telling him how oishii (great tasting) his food is while gobbling it up enthusiastically. Kenji is the type of person who can express his emotions openly and without guile, and Shiro really treasures that in him. But there’s a third, more practical reason. Since they are gay, Shiro knows that there will be no children or grandchildren to take care of them in their old age, so they have to provide for themselves. So he limits their food budget to 25,000 yen per month, approximately 300 US dollars, and saves as much as he can for an uncertain future.

Kenji is openly gay, since his line of work is more permissive, but Shiro is still stuck firmly in the closet at his workplace. (His parents know, and are in a state of semi-denial, though they’ve come to slowly accept the idea that they’ll never have grandchildren, the one thing that really hurts them knowing their only son is gay.) He hasn’t told any of his co-workers, let alone his clients. Coming home to cook for himself and Kenji is his way of unwinding and being himself too.

I can’t say I’m a big fan of BL/yaoi type manga (read on for a definition). Most of the ones I’ve seen just make me feel silly reading them, mainly because they seem so otherworldly and unrealistic. But Kinou Nani Tabata? is quite different. It’s really a very well written domestic story and a well-rounded portrayal of a couple who are essentially married, though they can’t be legally married under Japanese law. Being gay in Japan is not an easy thing at all, especially if one works in a conservative field like the law, or in any corporation. This manga addresses those issues in a gentle way too. One of the subtle yet more chilling scenes is when Shiro is asked for some legal advice an older friend, who is also gay and has been in a relationship for years. He wants to make a will leaving his business to his life partner, and says casually with a smile on his face that he cannot stand the thought of a single yen of his hard earned money going to his parents. The bitterness behind that smile is palpable, even in a manga.

Being the budget-watcher that he is, Shiro loves to get free gifts of food. (When someone gives you a portion of a big gift they’ve received, it’s called osusowake. Since gift-giving is still big in Japan, there’s a lot of osusowake going on, especially at this time of year.) In one episode his boss gets a big shipment of apples from a client in Aomori prefecture, which is renowned as an apple growing area, and gives Shiro a big sackful as osusowake. He turns most of the apples into these stewed apples with caramel sauce, and brings a jar for his boss to thank her. This recipe is adapted from the one in the manga. It’s so simple to make, and yields a potful of softly cooked apples saturated with caramel flavor that are perfect on toast, pancakes, yogurt, and many other things.

Recipe: Caramel Stewed Apples

ringo-kyarameruni2.jpg

(adapted from Kinou Nani Tabeta?)

Makes about 4-5 cups of stewed apple. Use eating apples, not tart cooking apples, for this dish, since not much sugar in proportion to the apples is used. I’ve tried various apple varieties, and so far have liked Gala, Fuji and Gravenstein the best. If you plan to use unpeeled apples, select a rosy-skinned one for the best color.

  • 2 lbs 2 oz / 1 kg crisp, sweet eating apples
  • 5 to 7 oz / 150-200g sugar, more or less to taste. The more tart your apples are, the more sugar you will need, and vice versa.
  • 3 tablespoons butter (optional)

Wash the apples (peel them if you prefer), cut into half and core them, then cut into wedges or slices. Do this as you cook the caramel, if you’re brave. Otherwise deal with the apples in advance so that you can pay full attention to the caramel.

Put the sugar in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over high heat. Heat the pan until the sugar starts to melt. Stir if you see clumps. The sugar will start to caramelize quickly at some point. If it looks like it’s going to turn black, take the pan off the heat for a while to cool it down. Continue melting the sugar until a thick caramel is formed.

Tip all the sliced apples into the pan at once - be careful, the pot might spit at you when the moisture of the apples hits the caramel, and spitting caramel is very painful. Stir to combine the apple and caramel as well as you can - the caramel will stick to the bottom of the pan and your stirring spatula quite a lot, but don’t worry about it. If your spatula gets too caramel-clogged, scrape it off gently with the back of a knife and plop the caramel lump back into the pot. It will melt as the apple cooks down and exudes more moisture.

Lower the heat to low, just high enough so that the pan is barely simmering. Put a lid on, and let it cook, stirring occasionally, for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the apple slices are permeated with caramel color, as in the photo above. At this point add the optional butter and stir it in, though it’s fine to leave it out if you wish.

Let cool thoroughly before packing into jars or plastic containers. Since this doesn’t have the large amount of sugar that jams or preserves do, it needs to be stored in the refrigerator, where it will keep for a couple of weeks, or the freezer, where it should keep for a month or more.

ringo-kyarameruni1.jpg

Eat hot or cold. It’s really nice on pancakes, with or without butter, as well as on oatmeal, yogurt, ice cream, or on its own. In the manga they lightly toast some bread, pile the apple on top with a pat of butter, and toast it again in a toaster oven.

A note about Fumi Yoshinaga

Fumi Yoshinaga is considered to be one of the most important shojo manga authors to emerge in the last couple of decades. Many of her books have been translated to English, so I hope Kinou Nani Tabeta? will be too.

A warning for the those with delicate sensibilities: Fumi Yoshinaga does mostly specialize in yaoi/BL manga, and if it has to be classified, Kinou Nani Tabeta? would fall under the BL umbrella. If you’re unfamiliar with manga, BL, yaoi and sho-nen ai are manga genres written for a female (mostly heterosexual) audience, usually (though not always) by female authors, with gay love as the central theme. It may sound very strange to you, but it’s a long established niche in manga. While some manga in this genre are sexually explicit to varying degrees, Kinou Nani Tabeta? is definitely not, so you can pick it up and enjoy it without worrying about your moral fibre being corrupted in any way. (Unless you think homosexuality in any format, even in a nice domestic drama with lots of yummy recipes, is somehow offensive.)

Volume 1 of What Did You Eat Yesterday? is now available!

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28 comments so far...

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Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Wow that sounds interesting and unique, I would love to read it in english.

anon. | 16 December, 2010 - 18:59

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Excellent! Well the book goes on sale... Today! You can order the English version through Amazon or BN.com.

Vertical | 25 March, 2014 - 18:12

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Oh, you know i just found it translated online, looks like its being updated regularly. woot.

anon. | 16 December, 2010 - 19:26

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Would you mind sharing the link? I would absolutely love to read this!

d/cal | 16 December, 2010 - 23:13

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Try to buy an imported copy if you get a chance, or write a company that's publishing her work in English currently and ask them to bring it over, since she doesn't get any money from fan translations. :)

--
http://www.readableblog.com (for English learners)
http://www.talktotheclouds.com (for teachers)

wintersweet | 16 December, 2010 - 23:52

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

This post really brightened my day; I look forward to the possibility that this manga will be translated into English. Thank you for this open-minded feature that combines two beautiful things: food and love.

J.A. | 16 December, 2010 - 20:09

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Ah, I've read some of this and it's quite good--funny, touching, good in all the ways really good slice-of-life manga can be. She's quite a talented and multi-faceted mangaka! "Not Love but Delicious Foods" has just come out in English here and is getting a lot of attention; it's on my wishlist. I suspect "Kinou nani tabeta?" will be more of a stretch for publishers--too "BL" for conservative readers and too conservative for BL fanatics, but since her "Ooku" has done so well in English (won awards and all), I guess it could happen!

--
http://www.readableblog.com (for English learners)
http://www.talktotheclouds.com (for teachers)

wintersweet | 16 December, 2010 - 23:51

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Oooh, I'm not terribly big on BL/yaoi either, for the same reason, haha, but I read Kitchen Princess a while back and fell in love with it because of the recipes! If you're interested, www.mangafox.com has most of it scanned, along with the recipes. She mostly makes sweets and cute things to help solve her friends' problems.

But this recipe struck me and sucked me in! Caramel apples in America are my favorite part of the fall, so now I'm going to have to try these, and maybe I can even freeze them to have tasty apples all winter long!

n_n
-Pippi

Pippi | 16 December, 2010 - 23:58

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

I'm actually a big fan of BL/yaoi manga BECAUSE it can be so utterly ridiculous! ^_^ However, there are some very beautiful stories out there too and this is one of them. Thanks for sharing!

Those apples look absolutely delicious! I'll definitely be making this recipe!

anon. | 17 December, 2010 - 05:54

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Yoneda Kou wrote/drew a great BL story called どうしても触れたくない. It's not your typical BL story -- the characters are believable and not exaggerated and both the storyline and the people are lovely. There's also a drama CD out for it that is very good as well.

anon. | 17 December, 2010 - 07:11

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

I absolutely love this manga and Yoshinaga Fumi's works in general! Her story telling is always touching. For more food-o-phile goodness, her other series Antique Bakery is a must for mouth watering descriptions of pastries and baked goods. It has some extremely mild BL content and is really more about friendships. Really really great stuff.

khl | 17 December, 2010 - 08:09

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

I am a huge fan of comics, although I admit that since there are so many subspecies and genres, they tend to be perceived by a lot of people like a 'fan-only' or 'nerd' thing.
On the other hand there are often moving, complex and delicate stories out there. The portrait you made, Maki, is really eloquent and I so badly hope I can get an English translation sooner or later - or even an Italian one: in Italy there is a long and interesting comics tradition, and a lot of people read manga as well.

And these apples are sooo yummy..

Caffettiera | 17 December, 2010 - 12:15

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Thanks for the rec and the recipe! I am a big Yoshinaga-sensei fan, so this is great on so many levels!

Riley | 19 December, 2010 - 03:09

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Reading this post made me a little teary eyed since I could relate. I am a semi-closeted American in Japan. The recipe looks delicious. I hope to try it for a party soon.

anon. | 19 December, 2010 - 13:12

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

I'm a great fan of Yoshinaga's work for all the reasons you mentioned above -- low-key drama, mostly believable protagonists, sweet, slice-of-life storylines.

Thanks for the recommendation -- I'll definitely keep my eyes open for this the next time I visit a Japanese bookstore.

Also, the recipe sounds devine, shall try that soon. :)

Billie | 19 December, 2010 - 22:46

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

i know this manga! i like it for the same reasons you do. it's understated and poignant and it really hits you where it counts.

haven't been keeping up, but you've reminded me what a good read it is. will have to pick up the latest volumes next time i'm in kinokuniya. (oof, import fees lol.) thanks for the recipe as well, looks tasty and pretty easy -- something good for breakfast, which is awesome, since breakfast is always difficult for me to figure out what to do with... :)

anon. | 19 December, 2010 - 23:47

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

I've really enjoyed what I've read of this series. I especially love how you can see Shiro's thought process goes as he is planning his meal and the steps he takes (while this is simmering, I'll cut up this type of thing). It makes it much more grounded/real too.

anon. | 20 December, 2010 - 19:59

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Yoshinaga is really a great artist !
By the way I would like o know id he did a mana with European styled characters ?

Florian @ frenchyscuisine.com | 21 December, 2010 - 17:30

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

This is amazing! I have been a fan of this manga and all of Youshinaga sensei's work for a long time and exactly on the day you wrote this post, I had just re-read the manga! life is so interesting this way!

It is one of my all time favorites, not just BL but any manga! Great recipes, lovely story! I actually copies down many of the recipes and saved them on my hard drive. I'll have to try this apple recipe too, it looks 美味しい !

Any yes, Antique Bakery is awesome as well! Love the desserts.

BarbJ | 28 December, 2010 - 04:03

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

THANK YOU for pointing out a manga that I would never otherwise have read. Not only I loved it, but I'm already thinking about reproducing some of the recipes therein, I could hardly stop reading it but at the same time I wanted to move to the kitchen... Hope they'll translate it officially sooner than later.

There's a new manga out about... Bento! Any Japanese speaker (or, actually, reader knows anything about it? The title is: Takasugi-san-ke no Obentou

Paolo | 30 December, 2010 - 06:59

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

I wrote about Takasugi-san chi over on Just Bento a while back ^_^

maki | 30 December, 2010 - 07:32

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

I think Yoshinaga's works are so good the homosexual theme in them is more of an added feature than the actual main attraction of her works. I especially liked Antique Bakery, and while I bought it first because I'd heard it was from the BL genre, it was more slice-of-life with delicious pastries. In the end I didn't care if there was BL in it, because it was irrelevant.

I'm gonna give this a try, seems like a good title.

yaku | 10 January, 2011 - 06:00

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

I started reading the manga at your reccomendation and it is so good! Normally, I am not a reader of BL or anything like that but the cooking aspect got me curious. I was hooked after the first chapter. :) Besides the actual plot and characters, I love the recipes and how varied they are. I think my only problem is that because I'm reading the translated version, sometimes it is hard to follow what is being said, especially cause it is at rapid fire, and you have to search for them. If I had my way, I'd love it if the author gave the full recipes at the end of each chapter.

C | 27 January, 2011 - 10:05

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

I really love this manga and have tried a couple of easier recipes from it!

kp | 24 February, 2011 - 13:56

Fumi Yoshinaga + JustHungry = best of the two worlds

To think that I can't love this site any more than I did... ah was I wrong!

Thanks for this post and recipe Maki - you made my day :-)

chiho & tokiwa | 10 August, 2011 - 14:18

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Hi Maki,

It's been three years since I read this blog post and it still affects me. Mangafox no longer translates Kinou Nani Tabeta and the most I found online only translated up to volume 3. It's really sad because I absolutely loved the recipes in the manga! I just wanted to thank you again for introducing this amazing work to me.

C | 28 May, 2013 - 01:01

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Thank for re-posting this article! I finished Vertical's edition of volume 1 last night and liked it very much. I'm not a Yoshinaga-sensei fan - though I admire her story writing, her drawings leave much to be desired (I'm a fan of the flowery, gorgeous and unrealistic BL, though I haven't been reading much of it lately). What Did You Eat Yesterday is a great slice-of-life series and I really wish there was more food manga published in English. Considering, however, that even Drops of God was not popular enough here to merit more than 10 volumes out of 30+ released, I won't hold my breath if this one is soon cancelled too.

Now I have to go find your article on Takasugi-san's Obento, since that is on my wish list, too.

Forest fairy | 3 April, 2014 - 15:41

Re: Kinou Nani Tabeta? A manga about food and life, plus: ...

Thanks for reposting this, Maki. I just ordered the first volume from The Book Depository. Amazon indicates the translations of the next three will be issued monthly. I've been looking for food-related manga since I came to the end of the Oishinbo collections.

Mooch | 15 April, 2014 - 05:41

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