Jun 30

Pretty Good Number One: An American Family Eats Tokyo (Giveaway!!)

in Book Reviews, Giveaway, Japan

Pretty Good Number One

In 2009 I read these words: “I have a food fantasy.  When Iris is six, I’m going to take her to Tokyo . . . We’ll go to an eel restaurant and eat several courses of eel, my favorite fish . . . We will eat our weight in rice.  We’ll ride the Tokyo subway, perhaps take the bullet train to a ryokan in the country.  We may, possibly, purchase some Hello Kitty merchandise.  We’ll have breakfast at Tsukiji, the wold’s largest fish market.  And we’ll eat plenty of sushi from a conveyor belt.”  This was the dream of one of my favorite authors, Matthew Amster-Burton, in one of my favorite books, Hungry Monkey (p.204).  Matthew made good on that dream  in 2010 when he and Iris did just that.  Then in July of last year, he returned and this time his wife Laurie went with them.  They spent a month vacationing in a 260 square foot apartment in Tokyo, and he wrote a book about the experience.  In his book, Pretty Good Number One, Matthew does what so many authors have done for places like Italy and France, he makes you want to visit Japan and fall in love with it as he has.  He perfectly captures many of my own feelings regarding the country, making me homesick and wanting to return with each word.  Matthew took some time to answer a few questions about his time in Japan and his new book:

Fuji Mama: What got you interested in traveling to Japan?

Matthew: It was a conspiracy between me and my daughter Iris that started when she was two. We bonded over sushi and Japanese potato croquettes and other tasty Japanese dishes, and one day I said, “Hey, if we like Japanese food so much, we should go to Tokyo together.” We talked about it daily for almost four years before we actually did it, just the two of us, for a week in 2010.

We had such a great time that my wife Laurie said she wanted to come along for the next trip, so we rented a tiny apartment in Tokyo last July, and Pretty Good Number One is all about our food adventures that month.

Fuji Mama: What was your motivation/inspiration behind writing Pretty Good Number One?

Matthew: After spending a month eating in Tokyo, I simply couldn’t believe there was no book like A Year in Provence or Under the Tuscan Sun about Tokyo. To me, it combines the best features of all the cities I like: it’s great for walking or cycling, has an amazing train system, world-class shopping, friendly people, and above all, an infinite variety of fantastic food. In a way, I had to write the book to stop myself from grabbing everyone I know by the lapels and saying, “Tokyo! You’ve got to check it out!”

Fuji Mama: What has been your biggest revelation regarding Japanese food?

Matthew: I’m not sure which was the biggest, so here are the top two.

1. Japan’s restaurants offer the highest hit-to-miss ratio of any place I’ve ever been, by far. We ate at chain restaurants, in department store basements, at convenience stores, at $5 noodle shops and fancy multicourse tofu restaurants. And we almost never had a bad meal. One time I was disappointed at some bland noodles. Other than that, I was in nonstop food heaven. You can wander into any restaurant in Tokyo and be confident of getting a good meal, often at an absurdly low price. My favorite dish all summer, a spicy cold udon dish with fresh-squeezed sudachi (like a Japanese key lime) juice, came from a chain restaurant and cost $5.

2. Japanese cuisine is far more diverse than you’d ever know from eating in Japanese restaurants in the West or even from a brief visit to Japan. Even by the end of the month, we kept running across tiny restaurants specializing in a single dish we’d never even heard of. These tiny single-dish restaurants are one of the best things about dining in Japan. They’re the equivalent of American food trucks: one cook, getting a little better every day at cooking one dish. It could be tempura, skewered eel, sushi, mixed rice, or a hundred other possibilities.

Fuji Mama: What, in your opinion, is the one food someone traveling to Japan must not miss?

Matthew: Tempura, by the piece, cooked to order at a bar. I’ve never been to a place outside Japan that serves tempura this way, and it’s a delight. You sit at the bar, order drinks, and just call out what you want the chef to fry: a small whole fish, lotus root, leeks, mushrooms, green pepper, eel, baby sardines. Everything is impeccably fresh and perfectly fried, and you get to enjoy an informal, personal interaction with the chef. If I were ever to open a restaurant, which I wouldn’t, it would be a tempura bar.

Fuji Mama: Is there a food you could do without?

Matthew: One of the most popular genres of food in Japan is yoshoku, which is Japanese interpretations of Western food. I find yoshoku classics like
omuraisu (a fried rice omelet topped with ketchup) and hambaagu (salisbury steak with brown sauce) hard to appreciate, because they remind me too much of the kind of food I was trying to leave behind in America. Whenever I saw a plastic food display outside a yoshoku restaurant, I could almost visualize the Stouffer’s frozen entree box it came out of.

Fuji Mama: When are you going to write the sequel?

Matthew: Well, I hate to preannounce anything, but let me say this: I’m going back to Japan later this year and I’m bringing my laptop.


Although I think everyone should buy their own copy, Matthew has generously offered the chance for 3 of you to win an e-book version of Pretty Good Number One!  There will be three (3) lucky winners who will receive an ebook copy of Matthew’s book, Pretty Good Number One!

Rules: The giveaway will close Sunday, July 7, 2013 at 12:00 am PST. The giveaway is open to all readers. The winners will be chosen randomly and notified by email. The winners will have 48 hours to respond before another winner is chosen. To enter, please follow the steps below. Good luck!!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 30, 2013 at 3:37 pm

This sounds like a really fun — and tasty — read! I want to visit Tokyo after reading the interview alone!


Doris June 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm

Sounds really good. My daugher is in Japan right now and revisited a tofu restaurant in Kyoto.


Megan June 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm

It has been too long! Every time I read anything (especially about food) about Japan I just long to go back there.


May June 30, 2013 at 6:50 pm

Very interesting!!! I’m Japanese, married to an Italian-American, would LOVE to read this!!!


Fuji Nana June 30, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Eating your cooking is the next best thing to being there, but this books sounds really fun. I would love a copy.


Therese June 30, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I hope to get to Japan and try the authentic cuisine!


Tara June 30, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Sounds like a great read. I would love a copy. I hope I can take my son to Japan someday.


Jayne June 30, 2013 at 7:44 pm

I’ve been listening to Spilled Milk Podcast for about a year, and following up on their archives. I think I probably listened to every single one already. This giveaway makes me so so excited because I really love Matthew and Molly so very much. :-)


Urban Wife June 30, 2013 at 7:50 pm

Interesting interview! The book sounds like it would be a great read.


Ron June 30, 2013 at 11:33 pm

This makes me want to go to Tokyo and eat everything in sight! Sounds like a great read.


Debbie M July 1, 2013 at 7:08 am

I loved living in Japan. I loved A Year In Provence. I love your opinions. I’m sure I’ll love this book.


Ilana July 1, 2013 at 8:29 am

This book sounds fascinating and enjoyable. I’ve been wanting to eat in Japan since seeing the movie, Jiro Dreams of Sushi.


Mikey July 1, 2013 at 8:47 am

A journey back to Japan via another great experience of a distant traveler, sounds like a fun read and a trip down memory lane for me as well.


Mika July 1, 2013 at 8:56 am

Sounds like an amazingly (and drooling) read!


Jennifer S. July 1, 2013 at 10:11 am

This book is already on my wishlist. I lived in Japan for 5 years and miss the food sooooo much!


lauren fasceski July 2, 2013 at 5:50 am

I am so looking forward to going back to Japan, and this book sounds like the best companion. I agree that it is hard to have a bad meal there–everything is so tasty!


Susana I. July 2, 2013 at 8:43 am

The book seams interesting, just reading about it makes me want to go back to japan and EAT :)


Jan R July 2, 2013 at 9:00 am

I would love to go to Japan…tempura bar…oh yah!


PJ July 2, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Getting ready for a trip to Japan later this month! Can’t wait to eat our way around Japan. Loved seeing the You Tube video that Matthew and Iris did. Thanks for the book review and interview on your site.


Michelle July 2, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Wouldn’t this book be the ideal guide for a trip to Tokyo! I didn’t know about the book, and it sounds like a fun read. Thanks for the interesting interview, and giveaway.


Nessa July 2, 2013 at 6:38 pm

Cool post!


thu July 3, 2013 at 1:01 am

i would love to travel to japan and try everything!


Mayu July 3, 2013 at 7:32 am

I just got back from a two week visit to Japan and am itching to get back. Thanks for the book review. Sounds like a great read!


Kenny July 3, 2013 at 8:18 pm

Sounds like such a fun book. I would love to read this!


Kiley July 4, 2013 at 5:59 am

Thank you to Matthew for generously giving away 3 copies – this sounds really interesting! I can’t wait to relive my sadly short trip to Tokyo with this!


Sara July 4, 2013 at 5:00 pm

This book sounds right up my alley, I will have to try and find it locally!


Dwight July 5, 2013 at 8:48 am

Love your website


Firda July 5, 2013 at 10:18 am

Love your giveaway.. ^ ^ Wish me luck


Katja July 6, 2013 at 1:21 pm

I’m in! I would love to read this book :)


Mateja July 6, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Sounds like an amazingly read!



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