Culinary Chronicles of the Court Flower, Vol. 1

By Miri Mikawa and Kasumi Nagi. Released in Japan as “Ikka Kōkyū Ryōrichō” by Kadokawa Beans Bunko. Released in North America digitally by J-Novel Club. Translated by afm.

It is somewhat hard not to start reading this and not think of The Apothecary Diaries, which also features a young woman arriving at the Emperor’s palace and featuring a number of young women who are there to be his courtesans, as well as a eunuch who is rumored not to be. Oh yes, and clearly based on Chinese rather than Japanese tropes. That said, the two series end up going in a slightly different direction, as Maomao’s one smart cookie who’s there to be a Jessica Fletcher sort. Meanwhile, all poor Rimi wants is somewhere to prepare delicious food and a sense that she belongs. Unfortunately, getting either of those proves difficult. Despite almost immediately running into most of the “very handsome men” part of the inner palace, she finds her homemade fermented rice in danger, the other women of the palace bully her tremendously, and, oh yes, the Emperor takes one look at the gifts her nation sent along with her and decides to have her executed. How can she make dashi like this?

Rimi can be a hard character to get a hold of. At first I thought she was a “fluffhead” sort of character, but that’s less due to her natural state of mind and more due to her spending most of her life as an extraneous extra. For the last ten years she’s lived with only one other person, her older sister, and cooking was essentially her entire life. Most of the decisions she’s made over the course of her life have involved “I’ll do this so that they don’t worry about me”. Now she’s having severe culture shock (much of the novel is about the differences between this “not-China” that she lives in now and the “not-Japan” she was born in), can’t even really speak the language very well (the translator does a good job of showing off how her attempts to speak to the emperor or Shusei can occasionally be incredibly blunt or even coarse), and, of course, has been threatened with execution multiple times. She faints more than once here, but she certainly earns them.

As for the men, well, this is a reverse harem series, so they’re all very pretty. I’m guessing the main love interest is Shusei, the self-styled culinary scientist, whose attempts at healthy food are not well-loved. He bonds with Rimi over food, and seems pretty smitten with her by the end of the book, though of course he has no idea what that feeling is. The Emperor may threaten to cut off her head multiple times, but shows himself to be a big softie when presented with food he doesn’t hate – which is to say, food in the proper environment. As for the food itself, well, given the ingredients are clearly meant to be the fantasy equivalent of kombu and katsuobushi, we can guess why she’s so desperately pointing out that they are not “planks of wood”. There is much here to interest a foodie, especially if you like discussing the difference between Chinese and Japanese cuisine.

This is 11 volumes total in Japan, so we’ve clearly got a ways to go. but it’s a very good start, and if you like plucky heroines, handsome bishonen, and a LOT of talk about dashi, this is a winner.

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