I enjoy food manga in all its forms. I was even quoted on the back of the English release of Sweetness & Lightning Volume 1! But within the Afternoon manga family is another food series I’m enjoying. Called Atari no Kitchen!, it follows a college-aged woman who starts working at a small, family-owned restaurant and helps to inspire dishes that are just right for each customer.
Atari no Kitchen! is very similar to manga such as Bartender and La Sommelière, where the food experts act almost like doctors prescribing particular spirits for each individual’s problems. Where I enjoy Atari no Kitchen! more is in its focus on food instead of alcohol. I have nothing against spirits, but their differences are much more subtle and alien to me, making their assumed effects much less relatable on a personal level. To put it succinctly, I’ve consumed far more food than alcohol in my life, and it makes this series easier to understand.
Because the setting for Atari no Kitchen! is a small restaurant (think of where Soma from Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma comes from), the dishes are not fancy foie gras or blowfish, but foods meant for working-class families to enjoy. For example, one chapter involves trying to find a better menu for the son of the restaurant owner, who’s set to participate in a sports event. Usually, he eats katsu, as a classic pun on the Japanese word for “win,” katsu (勝つ), but Kiyomi reads that katsu is pretty heavy and oily, and so doesn’t digest as efficiently as one might want for physical activity. So, she sets out to make a more balanced menu that still carries the flavor and spirit of pork cutlets. I think this is easy to understand and envision, even if someone’s never eaten a katsu in their life.
Kiyomi herself is also adorable, and I would be lying if I said she didn’t charm the socks off of me. The son, Kiyomasa, is also clearly smitten with her. It’s not exactly a romance series, but the fact that their names are so similar (they even start with the same kanji!) tells me that their feelings will grow as the series continues.
If you can read Japanese, you can find it on sale wherever Japanese books are sold. If not, it is a Kodansha title, so there’s always a chance it’ll get translated someday. Let’s hope!