Saturday, January 27, 2024

Weekend Cooking: The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai

Do you have memories of a dish that was just so delicious that it lives on in your memory, and whenever you try to recreate that same dish it just isn't quite the same? It just never quite lives up to the memory no matter how often you try? I do. One of my own examples is a garlic prawns dish that I had in the early 1990s in Perth, or more precisely Fremantle. From memory it didn't look flash but it was the perfect ratio of prawns, garlic and rice. Now, I have tried garlic prawns in restaurants many times but it has never quite reached the same level of enjoyment as that one dish. Who knows if it was really that good, but it is in my memory.

Welcome to the Kamogawa Diner. There is no sign over the door, and the only advertising is a vague one line ad in a gourmet magazine. But this is no ordinary diner. Whilst they do serve food and have some regular customers, they also have a side business as food detectives. 

What you may ask is a food detective? In this case, it is a former police detective, Nagare Kamogawa, and his daughter Koishi. If their potential clients can find them, they share their story of that one dish with Koishi. Her father does whatever it takes to be able to recreate the dish when the client returns two weeks later, and hope that the dish illicits the correct memories.

This book has has a similar structure to other books like Before the Coffee Gets Cold. There are episodes where we meet each new client, learn their story and then hear the outcomes. Another comparison would be the TV show Midnight Diner, which has a similar structure with the clients coming and telling their story and going again. It seems that these styles of stories are the Japanese books that are coming across my radar because I have read a couple of others this month which have a similar structure

Because food, like music, can be such a trigger for memories, a lot of the stories in this book are about the people who we have lost.The first story is about a man called Hideji, who is a former colleague of Nagare. They had worked together as police officers. He is now trying to track down exactly what made his deceased wife's version of nabeyaki- udon so special. He has moved on and now has a new relationship but her nabeyaki-udon just isn't the same!

Other stories include woman looking to recreate a beef stew that she was eating when she received quite a shock, a man looking to recreate a mackerel sushi he ate 50 years ago, a woman looking to recreate a Napolitan Spaghetti dish she shared with her grandfather, a woman looking for a tonkatsu and a man looking for the recipe for nikujaga which his mother used to make.

There is so much food in this book! So much! One of the enjoyable things is that often Nagare has to travel to different areas in order to learn more of each client's origins and as a result we get to see food from those various areas.  But we also get glimpses of life in Kyoto which is where the diner is. We also get some insights into some food culture. For example, there is a particular character who has a very strong opinion on the use of the word dessert.

"There's also dessert - sorry, I mean the mizugashi course. So please take your time," said Koishi, shrugging her shoulders.

"That's right, Koishi. There's no such thing as "dessert" in Japanese cuisine. The fruit served at the end of the meal is called mizugashi. We're not in France, after all!" said Tae, her nostrils flaring.

"Really, Tae, you never change, do you? Always fussing over the strangest things.....I'm not sure it really matters," said Nobuku, setting down her bowl.

"No, it does matter. If you mess around with language like that, it's culture that suffers. Traditional Japanese sweet dishes are in decline precisely because people insist on calling them English words like "dessert"!"

I really enjoyed this book, and yes, the cat on the cover plays a role!

We have recently booked a trip to Japan next year, and we will be stopping by Kyoto for a day. Maybe I could stop in at the Kamogawa Diner and see if they can figure out the secret to my garlic prawn dilemna and try some mizugashi?

I am sharing this review with the Books in Translation challenge, the Japanese Literature challenge, and  Foodies Read.

Weekly meals

Saturday -  
Sunday -  
Monday - chicken thingy
Tuesday - Smash burger
Wednesday - bacon pasta
Thursday - takeaway
Friday - Pork chop and salad

Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book reviews (novel, nonfiction), cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs, restaurant reviews, travel information, or fun food facts. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page


  1. What a fun and interesting book!Thanks for the review and hosting!

  2. Super topic for a series, I think we all have a dish or two! While Japan is not on my list, I can't wait to see your travelogue once you return.

  3. I love the concept! Hopefully will be able to get a copy from the library. We've been to Japan a few times and always want to go back! Enjoy your trip.

    1. This will be my first time, unless you count 6 hours layover at the airport in Tokyo

  4. OMG, enjoy your trip to Japan.
    This book sounds so good, I'll read it, at least for the food. I love Japanese food. made my first red bean Mochi around Christmas, and they were delicious I have to say.
    What you say at the beginning made me think of art. When I do art (painting on rocks for instance), it's also so much nicer in my head than the final product.
    I'm often also very critical of the result of my cooking projects. Good, but always better or nicer in my head.

    1. We are all our own worst critics I think. I certainly am when it comes to bakes and blog posts!

  5. Sounds like a fun, easy read. I'm so jealous of your trip to Japan. How exciting for you.

  6. Have fun in Japan, especially sampling all the delicious food! My mouth is watering...

    1. I am looking forward to it Marina Sofia!

  7. I just heard about this book and was able to receive a copy of it. I can't wait to read it now. Your post makes it sounds like such a delicious read :) Have a wonderful time in Japan and I hope you have find those garlic prawns!

  8. I love this idea! Thanks for linking to my Books in Translation Challenge. Have a fantastic time in Japan!

  9. This sounds like such a fun book! Enjoy your trip to Japan!