Right, here’s yet another Japanese TV show that I’ve been watching that I can definitely recommend. This one is Lunch ON!, an NHK World television show that is the English translation version of a NHK television show called Salameshi, dealing with the subject of lunches eaten by the working man/woman.

And yes, weekday lunches in Japan are just as exciting as you’d expect them to be. There are no sad sandwiches to be seen here; instead, there are noodles and dishes with rice and onigiri and, of course, bento. Oh, how I wish our work cafeterias served the dishes that I have seen on this show! Of course, it’s more likely that more unusual or quirky lunches and lunch traditions and customs are featured on the programme but it’s still a good insight into the country. Not so cool is the waking up an extra hour early to put together that bento, or in some cases, the making of many bentos for others. Just as interesting are the different jobs they cover, from various salespeople to archaeologists to scientists to shopkeepers, etc. Also of interest to me were the clearly delineated gender roles in Japan and it was heartening to see some men subverting these roles, making their own bento.

I’m not going to lie – the narrator’s voice is infuriatingly grating. I just sucked it up and watched everything I could though…my interest in the subject trumped her voice. I’m mentioning it here so you can’t say I didn’t warn you!

Here’s one example episode on Youtube. Others can be found by searching for ‘Lunch On NHK’ on Youtube. Sadly, I’ve watched all that I could find already and I hope to catch new episodes on the NHK World app.

Lately I’ve been watching a Japanese television series that has the same plotline (if you can even call it that) for every episode and has been running for four seasons already. It’s Kodoku no Gurume, or the Solitary Gourmet, originally a manga series about a travelling salesman, where each chapter covers a particular restaurant somewhere in Japan at which he dines. And that’s the main thing in the television series too – his eating.

Every episode is our protagonist Goro having some client meeting somewhere in Japan and post-meeting, his having some crisis of empty stomach that needs rectifying. He goes in search of a restaurant that satisfies his criteria of a good restaurant (not necessarily expensive but with good homey food) and then we spend at least half the episode watching him order and eat the food. And damn, do I get hungry watching his ridiculously expressive face while eating. It can get a little slow going – I mean, he is actually eating and chewing the food in real-time – but his thoughts are going on as he chews and whatnot.

And here’s the best part too – every one of the restaurants he eats at is real and actually exists in Japan! At the end of each episode, Masayuki Kusumi, the original writer of the manga series, visits the restaurant and tries the food and interacts with the real owners and staff (the staff at the restaurants are replaced with actors in the series).

But don’t just listen to me – go and watch it – Umamimart has links to the episodes with English subtitles. It really is absolutely brilliant. You might get hooked (and if you do, ….uh, don’t blame me).

As an aside, I do wish I saw this programme before visiting Japan as it’s a great way of learning about the food and restaurant culture of the country!

Now a television series. The short ten-episode 2009 Japanese series Osen has kept me busy for a couple weeks earlier this year. It’s the story of a very traditional Japanese restaurant in Tokyo and its charismatic proprietress and a young man wanting to learn traditional Japanese cuisine.

Here’s the first episode, with English subtitles, on YouTube:

All the episodes are available on YouTube and make for some addictive watching, even with the over-the-top ways in which the food is proclaimed delicious! Each episode focuses on one particular Japanese dish and they prepare it with enough detail in the show that you feel like you can put together a similar version at home. Hambagu, here I come!