Pretty Good Number One bucket list

    Go to Tokyo. Visit the Odaiba Takoyaki Museum. Practise using chopsticks correctly and buy a (few) pairs at Kappabashi. Eat shave ice and watch fireworks (and people) on the Sumida river bank in July. Eat pan-fried soup dumplings in a neighborhood dumpling restaurant in Nakano. Eat “hone” (pronounced |hoh-nay|, meaning: deep-fried sea eel backbone). Stop eating eel because they’re in the red on the Seafood Watch list.

    Thanks to Matthew Amster-Burton’s book, I’ve had the first 7 items on my bucket list figured out (it’s a bucket list, not a to-do list because of the stop-eating-eel thing). I can’t wait to do them (except the stop-eating-eel thing). If a few months ago I was complacent with imaginatively traveling through booksPretty Good Number One throws one delicious, chuckle-inducing paragraph after another to my face and say “go to Tokyo, you lazy donkey”. Just about the most expensive place to visit in the world, thanks, Mr. Amster-Burton. 😉

    Except for the part where he describes Chinese green tea as having “a hint of smoky barbecue” and how red bean paste is an acquired taste for Westerners (because beans are supposed to show up in savory foods, not sweets – hello, pumpkin pie?), Pretty Good Number One is enjoyable every minute of reading.

    The book is short (only 227 pages) in relatively big clear font. It took me a few 10-minute bus rides and one Christmas Eve to finish. It is a good guide for Westerners (and anyone who hasn’t been to Tokyo) and a respectful and honest glimpse into a city in the East. Andrea Nguyen of Viet World Kitchen posted a long wonderful talk with Amster-Burton about the book last year.

    Pictures are available on, but I’m not looking at them too closely in fear of sleepwalkingly booking a Tokyo-bound flight tomorrow. Amster-Burton’s writing is so witty and the stories about his little “hungry monkey” Iris are cheezburger-cat level of adorable!

    Amster-Burton also includes a long list of his recommended readings at the end (some of which he mentions intermittently throughout the book), and I’ve made my first Amazon’s wish list (so many first lists because of Pretty Good Number One!). It is against my traditional Vietnamese culture to outright ask for gifts (man I feel so shameless!), but JUST IN CASE you ever think about supporting Flavor Boulevard… 😉

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    2 comments to Pretty Good Number One bucket list

    • Hello, Mai, and thank you so much for the kind words about my book. I tried hard to avoid the cliches and ethnocentrism that tend to come along with being a non-Asian guy writing about Asia, but for some reason I blew it in the tea chapter, and I apologize.

      I stand by what I said about bean paste, though. 🙂


    • Hi Matthew, thank you for visiting my blog. I’m a fan of your writing ever since I read it in Best Food Writing 2009. Your tea chapter is great, almost everything you say about Japanese green tea is spot-on (I like Japanese tea so much now that I almost forgot my first reaction to it), and I learned a lot from your book. 🙂
      What I appreciate the most from your book was that it doesn’t have the cliches and ethnocentrism that can lead uncomfortably close to cultural appropriation. So thank you. 🙂

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