“Midnight Diner” : English translation for the Japanese name Shinya Shokudō.
Genre: the BEST of the BEST mangas
So yep, today we’re talking about a Japanese manga, Midnight Diner by Yarō Abe.
An old-fashioned and somewhat coarse all-night restaurant, run by a middle-aged man with a scar on his face. This simple story has garnered many awards such as the Japan Cartoonists Association Award, and has been acclaimed as “heart-warming and stomach-warming”.
Stomach-warming not as in it makes you want to throw up, but as in satisfying and delicious. The drawings of the food are mouth-watering even in black and white. I hate to say this, but this would be the ultimate food porn, if such a thing exists.
As for heart-warming, it’s not because there’s some east-Asian exoticness about the series. It does not feature geishas in kimonos sipping hot sake and chewing sashimi.
The manga consists of separate little stories that revolves around the customers, told in first-person from the POV of the restaurant owner.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that people who come to eat late at night are usually story-worthy. A married couple who always comes to dine after fighting, a bald guy who only orders eggs and whose round shiny head resembles an egg… As for the restaurant owner, he serves both as an observer, a witty quipper and a thoughtful caretaker in the story.
These mini-stories discuss humanity, and how sometimes people can be brought together by something as simple as steaming tasty food at 1am, when the rest of the city is asleep.
I am reading the series in Mandarin, but English versions should be available online.
Midnight Diner is a huge success on the international level, partly because it found its niche- a manga series about food, and partly because it is selling a whole package of not only ideas and plots, but also feelings.
When you read a Midnight Diner volume, curled up in your bed, your dinner already digested, you get the whole package of texture, style and narrative that comes within the book. Black and white sketches of authentic Japanese food, a very chill guy telling deep stories, and the smell of manga-book paper. Even the pages, a bit rough on your fingertips. It is the quaint craftsmanship, patience and professionalism of Japan coming through.
Then you start feeling hungry, pining for something that’s not only food, but the richness and warmth of humanity.