“Returning home from work, Rinko is shocked to find that her flat is totally empty. Gone are her TV set, fridge and furniture, gone are all her kitchen tools, including the old Meiji mortar she has inherited from her grandmother and the Le Creuset casserole she has bought with her first salary. Gone, above all, is her Indian boyfriend, the maitre d’ of the restaurant next door to the one she works in. She has no choice but to go back to her native village and her mother, on which she turned her back ten years ago as a fifteen-year-old girl.
There she decides to open a very special restaurant, one that serves food for only one couple every day, according to their personal tastes and wishes. A concubine rediscovers her love for life, a girl is able to conquer the heart of her lover, a surly man is transformed into a loveable gentleman – all this happens at The Snail, the magic restaurant whose delicate food can heal any heartache and help its customers find love again.”
The Restaurant of Love Regained by Ito Ogawa, translated by David Karashima (Alma Books, 2008), is a sweet if somewhat quirky story. When Rinko’s heart is broken and she returns home to her mother’s house with hardly a conscious thought and not a single word uttered, it’s hard to imagine how she might find herself (and her voice) again. But everyone has a certain magic inside them, and Rinko’s magic is her ability to cook. She lets out her emotions through her recipes, and begins to affect other people’s lives through her dishes.
Now, this might seem like an odd idea to those of you who don’t cook, but I’ve always been a strong believer in putting the right kinds of emotions into food. Baking, for example, can be very therapeutic, but it’s cakes that are made with love and good will that taste the best. I’m not sure if there is actual magic in food, but I don’t think it’s beyond all realms of possibility, and it’s true that the right combinations of food can certainly change your mood and attitude.
I love food, and it was a delight to read the detailed descriptions of most of the dishes Rinko cooks up in this novel. However, I feel the book should come with a warning – ‘Not suitable for vegetarians’. Towards the end of the story I’m afraid there is rather too much detail about the preparation of a very special meal, which did make me feel a little sick. If you’ve got no problem with meat though, I’m sure it’s fascinating.
One of the themes of the story seemed to be that we should look more closely at what is around us and be thankful for what we’ve got. Rinko finds all the ingredients she needs (and more!) in and around her tiny village, with the help of her friends. She also finds that she has much more at home, with her mother, than she realised, and it is this touching strand of the story that really tugged on my heart-strings.
Don’t be fooled by the cover and title of the book – this is no chick-lit love story. In fact, the one chance at a hint of romance in the story falls rather flat, and much more space is given to food preparation than the details of Rinko’s budding romance, which we are left wondering about.
In 2009 this novel was made into a film called Shokudo katatsumuri (食堂かたつむり), or ‘Rinko’s Restaurant’ to give it its English title. The film certainly looks interesting, and seems to have captured the quirkiness of the book.
Here’s a trailer:
Unfortunately this film doesn’t seem to be available on DVD here in the UK, which is a shame.
For more information about the book The Restaurant of Love Regained, please visit Alma Books.
☆★☆ COMPETITION TIME! ☆★☆
The lovely people at Alma Books have given me two copies of The Restaurant of Love Regained to give away! If you’d like to win one (perhaps for yourself, or even to give away as a Christmas present), all you need to do is leave a comment below answering the following question:
What is your favourite Japanese dish and how does it make you feel when you eat it?
Just leave your answer in the comments section below by 5pm UK time on Saturday 7th December and I will select my favourite two answers and post the books to those people (hopefully in time for Christmas!). When leaving your comment, please make sure to include a valid email address (this will not be published) so I can get in touch with you if you win.
Please note that this competition is only open to people with a UK postal address, and all entries must be received via this blog post before the deadline. Entries via any other means, such as Twitter or Facebook, will not be accepted.