Living in the city and working at a restaurant, Rinko’s big dream is to open an eating establishment of her own with her live-in boyfriend, but one day she returns home from work to discover that he has moved out, taking with him all their furniture and joint savings. The shock of being abandoned by her mate and losing everything she owns causes Rinko to lose her voice on top of it all. Although she had left the town where she grew up ten years before in a fit of disgust at her mother, who ran a bar next to their house and was rumored to be carrying on with multiple lovers, Rinko now decides she has no choice but to return to her family home. Still running the same bar, her mother now also keeps a pet pig, and seems to have quite the busy life.
Rinko receives the okay from her mother to remodel an outbuilding into a small restaurant, which she names "The Snail." Her plan is to serve just a single table a day, offering no set menu but rather meeting with each party beforehand to assemble a customized meal just for them. For an elderly customer who has lived bleakly in mourning for many years after the death of the man she loved, Rinko plans a series of courses to enliven the senses and rekindle the joy of living. For a young couple on their first date, she prepares a soothing, warm soup that will go down easy no matter how nervous and tense they may be . . .
Rinko’s ingeniously thought out and lovingly prepared meals gain a reputation for bringing about small miracles, but they also make her the brunt of jealousy. Overcoming this and other trials, she carries on with her tiny restaurant. Then one day her mother reveals that she has been diagnosed with terminal cancer and has only a short time left to live. In the days that follow Rinko learns of the deep love her mother has for her.
To live is to eat. This heartwarming tale deftly explores the relationship between food and the human heart. It has sold 820,000 copies and been made into a film in Japan.