Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan

Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan

Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan

Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan

Synopsis

How did one dine with a shogun? Or make solid gold soup, sculpt with a fish, or turn seaweed into a symbol of happiness? In this fresh look at Japanese culinary history, Eric C. Rath delves into the writings of medieval and early modern Japanese chefs to answer these and other provocative questions, and to trace the development of Japanese cuisine from 1400 to 1868. Rath shows how medieval "fantasy food" rituals--where food was revered as symbol rather than consumed--were continued by early modern writers. The book offers the first extensive introduction to Japanese cookbooks, recipe collections, and gastronomic writings of the period and traces the origins of dishes like tempura, sushi, and sashimi while documenting Japanese cooking styles and dining customs.

Excerpt

One of my challenges in studying cuisine in early modern Japan has been to develop a strategy for reading centuries-old cookbooks. Mastering arcane vocabulary was only the beginning of that task. Another task was to enter both the world of the medieval chef—who recorded details about feasts and the ceremonial uses for food for a select audience of professionals accustomed to terse notes jotted down one after another—and the world of early modern food writers, who wrote extensively about banquets and recorded recipes for a popular audience that was not necessarily concerned with how to cook. Fortunately, I discovered something in my own family archives that helped me interpret far older Japanese texts.

My grandfather kept two binders of recipes he clipped from newspapers and other places, but the outer covers of the brown volumes do not offer any clues to their contents. He wrote “Appetizers, Soups, Chowders, Casseroles, Meats” on the inside cover of one book, and the organization of the first sections follows this format, each part separated by typed labels he inserted into colorful plastic tabs. Other plastic tabs divide later sections of the book into poultry, eggs/cheese, fish/shellfish, and pasta/pizza recipes. He organized his second book in the same way, but instead of a table of contents on the inside cover of that volume, I found a clipping listing “America’s Star-Spangled Cooking,” a top-ten list that begins with Philadelphia Pepperpot (no. 1) and ends with Lady Baltimore Cake (no. 10). He cropped the recipes in these binders narrowly, making . . .

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