Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Japanese Traditional Food

I am reading a wonderful and fascinating book: The Folk Art of Japanese Country Cooking: A Traditional Diet for Today's World by Gaku Homma. The book was published in 1991, and is now out of print -- too bad, I think it should be a classic.

Homma grew up in the Japanese countryside after World War II, experiencing the last phase of real folk life in Japan. He has worked in a museum of folk art, practiced and taught Aikido, and ran a Japanese restaurant in Colorado. The book systematically covers food traditions from Japanese history, explaining the origins of many Japanese products and how farmers processed them. The author is very opinionated on the problems caused by civilization, and I think he overgeneralizes on the bad habits of Americans, but the information in the book is fantastic.

The descriptions of food preparation and life in the Japanese countryside make very good reading. Here's a sample passage:
"Preserving the vegetables of autumn harvest is a very important task in rural Japan. As previously mentioned, some vegetables are dried or buried in holes lined with rice straw, but mostly the vegetables are pickled.

"In autumn during October and November, about the time the persimmons turn red and ripe, the work in the rice fields is almost completed. If you took a walk through the countryside at this time of year, you could see the farming women down at the creekside, each with hundreds of daikon (Japanese white radishes) piled by their sides. ... These women, armed only with a brush made of rice straw, wash each daikon in the icy waters of the creek.

"The daikon were usually dried before pickling. The radishes were tied into groups with rice-staw rope... and dried on large scaffolds....

"Because the autumn leaves had already fallen, the countryside was painted with only the colors of the red persimmons and the walls of hanging white daikon. This image heralded the coming of winter." (p. 65)


Jen said...

This is really interesting to me. There was nothing more important in rural life (or I guess city life, either) than preserving and making sure there were enough foodstuffs for winter in places that are not tropical. This summer I was doing a lot of that, and even with modern methods I was amazed by how much time it took out of my routines and life. I'm really pondering all of this and wondering whether many of the changes we've made are actually good ones.

Mae Travels said...

This book includes really fascinating detail about why and how various food preparation details originated. It's very different from the American frontier or Europe.

Wildcat Ray said...

I love this book too. There's this story in there about 'monkey wine' that's so hardcore that I still can't wrap my mind around the practice.
And there's even a recipe for Natto which Mr. Homma learned from an old Japanese woman who was making it in styrofoam cups.