The Kamogawa Food Detectives

Image of The Kamogawa Food Detectives (A Kamogawa Food Detectives Novel)
Release Date: 
February 13, 2024
G.P. Putnam's Sons
Reviewed by: 

“Author Hisashi Kashiwai is able to craft beautiful, heartfelt stories for his characters . . .”

In a nondescript building on a nondescript street in Kyoto lies the Kamogawa Diner. It is a place that is not easy to find, and this is by design. But eating a meal is not what instigates a search for this restaurant. Run by former policeman Nagare Kamowaga and his daughter, Koishi, this diner serves its peculiar customers more than food.

The thing that draws people to the Kamogawa Diner is a one-line advertisement in a gourmet food magazine that simply reads, “We Find Your Food.” These cryptic words bring people to the restaurant in order to search for something they’ve lost. They come, not to eat, but to consult with the Kamogawa Food Detectives. The food detectives are not finders of lost articles, persons, or even recipes, but finders of lost memories. They search for a taste from their clients’ pasts that evokes some wordless feeling that their customers want back.

It is not that the food alone is unworthy of the trip. In fact, it is painstakingly prepared in the traditional manner using carefully sourced ingredients. In spite of the high-quality food, owner Nagare shies away from attention. He forbids the editor of the food magazine to give out his address. His reasoning is, “anyone who did find us would be worth knowing.”

And people do find them. People from all over Japan search out and find The Kamogawa Diner. Nagare and Koishi serve them a “fixed menu” and then get down to business. From a young politician who craves the mackerel sushi of his youth because it reminds him of a place he felt kindness, to the woman who wants the napolitan spaghetti she had with her grandfather as a child that made her cry, the food detectives search out and discover more than recipes.

They find the meaning behind the cravings. They help their clients understand the memories and the emotions that smells and tastes recall. And Nagare’s instructions are more about how their past has shaped them and why these foods mean so much, and less about how to replicate a recipe.

The Kamogawa Food Detectives is charming from the start. Told in a series of vignettes, we see how Nagare is able to intuit how to respond to his customers and what they’re really looking for. He is gentle with a woman who has lost her husband, stern with a business executive who had misjudged his past, and persuasive with a politician whose decisions will affect much of the nation. He seems more like a wise sage than a chef, and his deftness at picking up clues leaves his customers awed and surprised.

This book offers more than beautifully crafted stories of life’s challenges and joys. It is filled with glimpses into Japanese culture. We are told by an elderly, kimono-clad woman, “There’s no such thing as ‘dessert’ in Japanese cuisine. The fruit served at the end of the meal is called mizugashi.” Nagare travels throughout Japan to source the ingredients to prepare the dishes his clients crave, and daughter Koishi always calls out to bring back the specialty of the region. We learn that different waters from different places can affect noodles, that each region has its own famous fish or fruit, and that to replicate a taste you must bring back the right thing.

While The Kamogawa Food Detectives may be short, it packs a lot of feeling and knowledge into its pages. Author Hisashi Kashiwai is able to craft beautiful, heartfelt stories for his characters and you walk away from each chapter wondering what will happen next and hoping for their best.

It is the kind of book you pick up and savor every page. A brilliant first installment to a series, it is expertly crafted and leaves you hungry for more.