Category Archives: Japan

Review: Re-Orienting Cuisine

Re-orienting Cuisine: East Asian Foodways in the Twenty-First Century

Kwang Ok Kim , ed. Re-orienting Cuisine: East Asian Foodways in the Twenty-First Century. Berghahn. New York, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-78920-067-6

Richard Zimmer
Sonoma State University

Kwang Ok   Kim has assembled a wonderful collection of studies about what had happened and what is happening in East Asian food.  These studies fall into three main categories: how national and local cuisines define what is traditional in a particular country’s food consumption; how food practices from elsewhere transcend national and cultural boundaries; and, lastly, how people see their own and the cuisine of others addressing well-being, health, and danger.  Moreover, Kim’s introduction and each of the studies situate their discussions in larger academic and global studies about modernism, authenticity, traditionalism, nostalgia, globalism, and food safety.  The studies are particularly germane to students of food, culture, tourism, and politics.

Section I, about national food changes, contains four essays.  The first, by Opkyo Moon, demonstrates how Koreans have created/re-created a royal cuisine from the period before the Japanese colonial control.  This cuisine, coupled with other period practices, is a way that Koreans have established a significant connection to a more illustrious past.  The second, by Hsin-Huang Michael Hsiao and Khay-Thiong Lim, contrasts Malaysian cuisine(s) and Taiwanese cuisine.  They suggest that Malaysia has decided to try to create a national cuisine, bringing together its different ethnic and culinary traditions.  The British, they argue, did not accept any significant foods as part of their occupation.  Taiwan, on the other hand, has “returned” to its pre-Nationalist Chinese occupation past by focusing on dishes from that earlier era.

Jean de Bernanrdi  outlines how tea culture was introduced in Wudang Province in China.  This introduction created a sense of tradition, authenticity, health consciousness, tourism, and international connections to vendors overseas.  Kwang Ok Kim shows how Koreans focused on and “re-invented” rice as central to their identity and their sense of health and well-being.  These practices have extended to Korean restaurants overseas.  In sum, these essays portray cuisine as a something real–something to be consumed and enjoyed, and as symbols of national identity.   Moreover, they also show societies using their cuisines to create and imagine pasts, futures, to portray “authenticity” and to offer food as commodities  to promote  health and tourism .

Section II, about food practices across nations and cultural boundaries, contains six essays.  The first, by Kyung-Hoo Han, traces the recent history of ramen in its many forms, from China to Japan and Korea.  Japanese ramen is much more of a “…fatty and nutritious” dish than earlier domestic soups (p.92) and is served in restaurants.  Korean ramyeon, on the other hand, tends to be an instant quick, fast food version of noodle soup, previously much saltier, and not eaten in restaurants for the most part. David Y. H. Wu follows the path of Japanese cuisine in Taiwan.  Taiwanese see eating Japanese food as a return to the time when the Japanese occupied Taiwan.  Japanese food is considered both comforting, and given Japan’s emergence as a modernizing power, a connection to the larger world of sophistication.,  Moreover, Japanese food has diversified in terms of incorporating Western elements, such as Japanese French pastry, so Taiwanese people can partake of global food trends.

The third essay, by Melissa L. Caldwell, portrays a Russia which has “domesticated” Korean food as part of the larger domestic cuisine. Russia has few Chinese restaurants, values them as particularly special, and also considers the relatively new Japanese food as special.  Moreover, she notes that Chinese restaurants, to compete, have started to offer selected Japanese foods.  The fourth essay, by Yuson Jung, portrays a Bulgaria which, following the collapse of Communism and its associated deprivations, wants to be modern and part of world culture.  To do so, it has integrated Chinese food, often standard dishes with occasional domestic offers such as bread, into its restaurant offerings.  The fifth essay, by Sangmee Bak, offers a picture of a South Korea which wants to eat “globally”.  That means diverse cuisines.  The one featured most is Indian cuisine, which, for the most part appeals to students and take-out clientele.  Following the themes in this volume, Bak notes that their Korean cuisine is being pre-empted by the Japanese, who offer “…Korean food to Westerners…thereby compromising the food’s Korean identity” (p.182.)

One personal note here: in a “reversal,” two of the Japanese restaurants where I live are owned and managed by Koreans. Furthermore, a local Thai restaurant shows the cross-cultural fertilization outside of Asia:  “traditional Thai noodles, curries, and soups are interspersed with surprises such as the Laotian Pork Sausage appetizer and British-inspired curry puffs (spiced potatoes and carrots wrapped in dough that is then fried” Voight (2018: 14 .)  As many of the essays have noted, overseas Asian communities experiment with many kinds of fusion dishes and mixing cuisines.  Often, overseas Asian influences work their way back into national cuisines, as noted above in the ways “Western Japanese” food is an alternative food in Taiwan.

The sixth essay in this section, by Michael Herzfeld, argues that Thai cuisine mirrors themes inside the culture:  It is complex, ambiguous, and often contradictory.  For example, higher and lower class people like very spicy/hot foods, and the ability to eat these foods is seen as a sign of masculinity (p.192 et seq.)

Section III, about well-being and safety, contains four essays.  In the first essay, Young-Kyun Yang portrays a South Korea increasingly concerned with well-being and taking care of one’s body.  Consequently, Chinese food, once favored, is seen as unhealthy because it is considered too greasy and contains too much MSG.  In the second essay, Sidney C.H. Cheung traces the evolution and dispersal of American crayfish in Asia, where each country and cuisine treat it differently, as for example, in China, where some producers make it into “lobster.”  In the third essay, Jakob A. Klein draws a picture of a Chinese population increasingly concerned with the cleanliness and purity of its food.  He notes that as elsewhere in the world, foods often seen as cleaner foods are more expensive and out of the reach of poorer people who both value it and cannot afford it (p.246.)    In the fourth essay, Yunxiang Yan traces food safety concerns in contemporary China.  Originally, people were concerned with food being poisoned, in part because chicken, for one example, was dumped into lower class food stalls and restaurants.  At the time of Mao and even in the present government enforcement has not prevented poisonous additives and materials from entering food.

Taken separately and together, these essays show the interconnections and continuing changes between national identity, politics, culture, the search for well-being, and the concern with food safety, in East Asia.  These changes and concerns also mirror developments around the world.  Jonathan Kauffman shows similar concerns, for example in the origins of “Hippie Food” in the US, including many of its past and continuing connections to developments in Asia (2018).  Jean-Pierre Poulain sees the same trends in the Kim volume occurring in the United States and France and places food studies as central to understanding cultural, economic, political, and medical changes in any country (2017.) Kim’s collection serves as an assessment of current developments on most of these themes and as a marker for future changes as each country defines its identity and concerns in terms of food movements around the world.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

2018

Jonathan Kauffman.  Hippie Food: How Back to the Landers, Longhairs and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat. New York: William Morrow.

2017

Jean-Pierre Poulain.  Translated by Augusta Dior. The Sociology of Food: Eating the Place of Food in Society.  London: Bloomsbury Academic.

2018

Joan Voight. Made Local Magazine. v.6, number 1. pp.12-19.

 

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Residences, Rentals and Redolent Delectables: Women entrepreneurs and the Japanese baking industry

WomenEntrepreneurship

By Annie Sheng, Cornell University

In one baking school in Yokohama, I wait as my bread dough rises. The instructor serves me mochi (pounded rice cake) that she had placed atop an electric furnace and it had expanded, ballooning into a crispy, yet gooey warm snack. We sip tea. She talks to me about the baking instruction business until it is time to pound and shape the dough for Japanese curry bread again. We chat as we work. Then I’m startled – the door opens.

Her kids pop in, coming home from school.

This instructor’s school-home is one of many such establishments started by women entrepreneurs in the food industry. With a hyper-aged population and strict immigration laws, labor is a particularly critical and thorny issue in Japan. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has pushed to increase productivity through the presence of more women in the workforce, using the catchphrase “Womenomics” to promote his policies. As these macroeconomic policies and issues inform, affect and transform the perception of employment in Japan, female agency in food entrepreneurship also operates under these concerns and pressures. These businesses provide ways in which women can traverse the (perhaps fuzzy but albeit socially existent) line between domestic and career endeavors and aspirations.

In my multi-year fieldwork in Japan, I interviewed various actors: wheat farmers, wheat marketers, bakers, bread consumers, and others throughout East Asia and the US as I conducted research touching on critical aspects of food and foodways, such as food safety, trade policies, global economics, gender, nationalism, identity, morality, commensality and social meaning.

In Japan, I traversed residential neighborhoods and walked up stairs to apartments to learn to bake as part of participant observation. These homes-turned-professional-kitchens are cultural spaces of gender reproduction, knowledge dissemination and social gathering. While some of the female baking instructors I’ve encountered teach also male clients, the students are predominantly female. I have met instructors who only cater to female students and do not accept male students into their business-home, creating a specialized women-space for tutelage and food knowledge reproduction. This practice offers a venue where grievances, dreams, goals and news can be voiced in relative ‘comfort’ and ‘openness’ without perceived ‘outside’ judgment—and deepens a sense of empowerment and ‘sisterhood’ across age lines.

The Forbes article, “Why Japanese Girls Want To Be Bread Makers Rather Than Breadwinners” from earlier this year emphasizes the hold that the food and baking business has on young female conceptions: “For Japanese girls, food services (tabemonoya-san/食べ物屋さんsuch as bread-maker and baker remained at number one for the 21st year in a row.” Here the article stresses bread-making and baking—and although that does not encapsulate the whole of the food-purveying industry—it does capture the interest I see among women towards baking in Japan. While charismatic baking masters reaching celebrity status are often the likes of men (a disparity well documented in the chef/cook stereotype, for example see Druckman 2010), female baking enterprises take root regularly in overlooked spaces (—home spaces that remain somewhat hidden, unless one goes searching for them), in jūtakugai (residential) areas and out of foyers or repurposed living rooms. That’s not to say there are no female bakers employed in chain businesses or big bakeries, but rather, here I want to emphasize these smaller enterprises, run by women and too easily missed.

In my fieldwork, I have spoken with informants about how they converted their homes into bakeries and workshops, remodeling their kitchens and domestic spaces to accommodate for their entrepreneur aspirations and career goals. After this conversion, the labor for their profession isn’t over, but remains intensive— for instructors, they must lesson plan, prepare the ingredients, print and distribute recipes and not to mention the rigorousness of the actual class itself. They have to take into consideration mothers bringing their kids (as I saw one accompanying nine-month old tear off a remote-control holder from an electric fan at one bakery school-home)—or they must set up clear guidelines—for example, dictate policies that disallow children. They need to consider how to create clear access to the bathroom, while maintaining privacy for their own personal activities. The nature of their shared space requires them to consider the business and practical aspects of their culinary enterprise.

The first bakery class I mentioned above, the one on curry bread—the baking instructor told me that she has seen a big increase in these baking instruction “salons” operating out of homes. Baking as a pastime, in general, is becoming increasingly popular, and more women are capitalizing off this, contributing to this bakery home-school “boom,” as she calls it.

While I discuss female entrepreneurship in baking instruction and bread—there are many other small-scale food-related enterprises undertaken by female entrepreneurs. For example, I’ve participated in sushi decoration classes (rolling up sushi in a way that creates cartoon and/or designed cross-sections when cut). For these classes, the instructor rented out a part of a café to conduct her business activities. There are many enterprises like this, as these converted and rented spaces mean less initial capital and more flexibility for working women—“salons” where such savvy entrepreneurs can roll out their redolent delectables. For these women, salons provide a space for ‘safe’ and ‘open’ discourse while helping them achieve and bridge domestic and career-oriented ambitions. In Japan, home based entrepreneurship, especially with regard to salons and classes focused on food, an arena readily associated with female production, labor and knowledge, allows women to simultaneously fulfill domestic obligations and also to transcend them.

References

Adelstein, Jake. “Why Japanese Girls Want To Be Bread Makers Rather Than Breadwinners.” Forbes. January 11, 2018. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adelsteinjake/2018/01/11/why-japanese-girls-want-to-be-bread-makers-rather-than-breadwinners/.

Druckman, Charlotte. “Why Are There No Great Women Chefs?” Gastronomica 10, no. 1 (2010): 24–31. https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2010.10.1.24.

Sheng, Annie. “Forging Ahead with Bread: Nationalism, Networks and Narratives of Progress and Modernity in Japan.” In Feeding Japan – The Cultural and Political Issues, by Andreas Niehaus and Tine Walravens, 191–224. Cham, CH: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Tagawa, Miyu. Chīsana pan’yasan, hajimemashita. Tokyo: Raichosha. 2013.

 

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Conference Report: 6th annual Asian Food Study Conference, Kusatsu, Japan

While there are many conferences of potential interest to food anthropologists, last weekend (December 3-4, 2016), I attended a conference that I found particularly useful and inspiring: the 6th annual Asian Food Studies Conference.

This is a conference that attracts historians, nutritionists, anthropologists, and researchers from fields like hospitality and tourism. The diverse presentation topics included these titles: “Chinese Ancient Food Culture Implied in Oracle-bone inscriptions” (Cheng Xuerong), “The Comprehensive Discourse on Edible Flowers in Pre-modern China” (Liu Jun Li), “Plagiarism and Originality: Focused on the Study of Modern Printed Cookbooks in Early 20th Century Korea” (Ra Yeon-jae), “Nutrition Education Affects the Use of an Escalator and Elevator to Reach a Women’s College on a Hilltop” (Ishihara Kengo and Takaishi Tetsuo), and “Beyond the ‘Super Shark’ Myth: Promoting Sustainable Shark Foodways in Japan and Asia” (Akamine Jun).

What really impressed me, however, was the true sense of internationalism evident at the conference. The conference’s venue changes every year. Last year the conference was held in Shangdong, China, this year in Kusatsu, Japan (hosted by Ritsumeikan University), and next year the conference venue will be in Korea. There are presentations in multiple languages (this year: Chinese, Japanese, and English). The first day’s keynote speeches, one in each language, were translated into the other two. But beyond this, the conference theme—Exchange and Dynamism of Food Culture in Asia—encouraged presentations of research that was itself transdisciplinary and transnational, with a mission toward forging connections and sharing knowledge.

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Takagi Hitoshi explaining how the Miskito categorize and use different parts of the sea turtles they hunt.

Let me give some examples. One of the panels on the first day included presenters from Malaysia, the Philippines, the US, Bulgaria, and Korea. All of the research on this panel had an obvious transnational component. A key example of such a project would be Korean scholar Ja Young Choe’s (Hong Kong Polytechnic University) research on the relative popularity of various Asian cuisines (Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian—in that order) in Hong Kong. On the second day Francoise Sabban’s research on the culinary perceptions of French and Chinese diplomats and envoys in the 19th century, Takagi Hitoshi’s observations from fieldwork conducted among the sea turtle hunting Miskito of the Caribbean, and Osawa Yoshimi’s probing of the simultaneous global appeal of umami and distrust of MSG are other examples.

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SAFN member Shingo Hamada describing traditional foodways–fishy and fermented–in Fukui prefecture, Japan.

Representing SAFN at the conference, Shingo Hamada presented new research on obstacles to commoditizing traditional fermented foods in Japan’s contemporary Fukui prefecture and I explained how Kyoto cuisine has benefited from international support (collaborators, promoters, funders) and resources (ingredients, ideas, technology) from far outside of Japan.

Next year, the conference will be hosted in South Korea. I heartily recommend attending to anyone interested in the topics of transnationalism, food, and Asia.

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Naresaba: A Fraught History of Fermented Mackerel Sushi

Shingo Hamada
Osaka Shoin Women’s University

Fermentation is a preservation technology often seen in Southeast Asia and East Asia, including fish sauce and fermented fish. However, naresaba (fermented sushi made with mackerel, also called saba-narezushi) made among households in Tagarasu, my field site in Fukui prefecture, Japan, has one significant difference. While most communities use salted fish for crafting fermented fish, my informants use mackerel that have ‘already’ been fermented (not just salted) as the base of naresaba making. This fermented seafood, however, is now becoming an endangered culinary heritage.

image-1-tagarasu-landscape

Tagarasu is a coastal community with a population of approximately 400, located in Wakasa Bay, Obama City of Fukushima prefecture, Japan

Tagarasu is one of the first places where an advanced purse seine net or kinchaku’ami operation began in Japan in 1909. Commercial purse seine mackerel fishing in Tagarasu was community-based. Over 90 percent of households in Tagarasu were stockholders of their cooperative purse seine fishery, sharing its profit as well as costs for over 80 years. However, inefficient fishing management led to the depletion of mackerel resources, resulting in the closure of the Tagarasu purse seine fishery in 1987.

Fermentation is an adaptive strategy to make the use of over-harvested fish, especially pelagic fish species whose uncertain migratory route and timing often offer unexpectedly successful catches for coastal communities. When cooperative purse seine members had a successful fishing season, they received dozens of surplus mackerel with the allocated share fund.

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The name of municipality where Tagarasu is situated is the same as the name of the president of the United States. Here, a man in classical traveling outfit, wall-painted at a fish market near Obama city fishing port, holding a pack of heshiko mackerel.

A few Tagarasu elders also bring in their seafood products to farming communities. Their parents and ancestors used to barter their seafood for rice and vegetables. Rice received from farmers in fall was used for home consumption but also for naresaba production, and farmers received naresaba in return in early winter. The historical routes for transporting seafood from Wakasa Bay to Kyoto still function as a form of human relations, even long after both Tagarasu and farming communities could purchase food commodities in the supermarkets.

The making of naresaba requires two fermentation processes. They cover and store fat-rich seasonal mackerel with rice-bran between October and March. Mackerel preserved with rice bran spends a hot summer in a barrel for aging and condensing umami flavor. This is how to make heshiko. After about a year of aging heshiko mackerel, Tagarasu people clean them by taking off the salt and thin skins from heshiko mackerel in winter. Those desalted mackerel are then coated with vinegar and stored again for the second process of fermentation, this time for about two weeks with rice and kouji malted rice.

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Preserved mackerel (heshiko) are cleaned and now ready to be for the second fermenting process, with rice, vinegar, and kouji.

Naresaba looks and tastes different from the sushi that most readers are familiar with (a slice of fish over a bite-size rice, or a sushi roll). Simply put, it is not fresh but aged with fermentation. Two-step fermentation removes the fishy smell from the final product while enriching umami flavors. Each household develops its own home recipe and different taste in the degree of creaminess and sourness of stuffed rice and the texture of fermented mackerel. This culinary practice is unique enough for Slow Food Foundation to list it in the Ark of Taste in 2006.

However, being listed on the Ark of Taste means that naresaba is heritage seafood at risk of disappearance. While local production, distribution and consumption of naresaba are still important aspects of regional cultural identity, local mackerel and salt are no longer produced enough for the naresaba production. Instead, Tagarasu people use mackerel caught in the other parts of Japan and imported mackerel, especially from Norway. Commercially they are sold under the same name, masaba (literally ma means real, and saba means mackerel), though the origin of products is labeled respectively by regulation. But, they are different subspecies. The Norwegian fish are Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus) while the Japanese fish are Pacific mackerel (S. japonicaus).

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Close up of naresaba.

Japanese and Atlantic mackerel taste different when used for heshiko and naresaba production at home. Tagarasu people use both domestic and Norwegian mackerel for heshiko, but only domestic mackerel can be used for naresaba. Mr. Ohto, who leads a community organization to revitalize and promote the naresaba culinary tradition, explains that Norwegian mackerel have high fat contents, which make heshiko taste better. Norwegian mackerel contain about twice high fat contents and cost only one-fifth compared to Japanese mackerel. Cheap and rich fat content appealing to the taste of contemporary customers, Norwegian mackerel are now about 90 % of imported mackerel in Japan.

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Some of the local minshuku (inn) in Tagarasu serve homemade naresaba upon request.

However, Norwegian mackerel are too fatty for making naresaba. The high fat content of Norwegian mackerel turn the color of final naresaba products into slight yellowish color, while naresaba made with domestic mackerel turns both fermented fish and covering rice white. The color of food is significant as whiteness symbolizes purity and thus makes naresaba ritual food, shared by family and distributed to relatives and old trading partners in farming communities in the end and beginning of the year. Grilled Norwegian mackerel may be popular at izakaya (Japanese style gastropub) and sold as a ready-to-serve item in the supermarkets. But, they cannot be simply substituted with locally produced mackerel for the maintenance of cultural meanings and social relations that heritage seafood has held for centuries.

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Prepping mackerel for heshiko-making in spring.

It is also becoming difficult to pass down the culinary knowledge and technique of naresaba making to future generations. As the local seafood industry declined with the end of purse seine fishing, young people moved to urban areas, reducing the local population. Elders told me that the trading relations they have kept with farmers could also come to an end unless children learn how to make naresaba and decide to continue the intergenerational food exchange.

Seafood, especially blue fish like mackerel and sardines, is now a global commodity and fetishized as a healthy food. Globalization makes fat-rich Atlantic mackerel available to consumers anywhere in Japan. However, it cannot reverse the social and environmental impact of purse seine fishing and maintain the biocultural diversity that shapes and is shaped by the coastal foodscape in Japan.

Shingo Hamada is a lecturer in the food studies program at Osaka Shoin Women’s University in Osaka, Japan, and also a research associate in the department of anthropology at Indiana University. You can read more about Dr. Hamada and his work here.

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Roundtable Report: “Globalization of Asian Cuisines”

To celebrate the publication of “Globalization of Asian Cuisines: Transnational Networks and Culinary Contact Zones,” three of the edited volume’s authors—Stephanie Assmann, James Farrer, and David Wank—gathered for a roundtable discussion on June 2 at Sophia University, Tokyo. While the book contains chapters that examine different Asian cuisines in different contexts—Sidney Cheung writes about crayfish in China, Krishnendu Ray about “Indian ocean cuisine,” and Keiichi Kawaguchi about Japanese food in Italy, for example—for this roundtable Wank, Farrer, and Assmann chose to talk about globalization and Japanese cuisine, offering insights based on their research in China, the US, and Japan. They observed that the globalization of Japanese cuisine is being led primarily by non-Japanese actors, with the Japanese state trying to shape the process of diffusion.

IMG_5312.jpgChuanfei Wang, who conducts research on Chinese and Japanese wine cultures, introduces the roundtable participants. From left to right: discussant Christian Hess, chair Chuanfei Wang, James Farrer, David Wank, Stephanie Assmann.

James Farrer discussed the globalization of the Japanese culinary field via a case study of Japanese food in Shanghai, where the number of Japanese restaurants surpasses the number of French and Italian restaurants. Interestingly, in Shanghai, the authenticity of Japanese cuisine is important and it is bloggers and Chinese individuals who have tremendous influence in determining what is deemed authentic Japanese cuisine. Shanghai’s chefs and entrepreneurs show great creativity in localizing Japanese cuisine. Farrer gave the memorable example of Anthologia (地球美食劇場 chikyu bishoku gekijo in Japanese), a restaurant-theater in which the entire menu is in Chinese and the dramatically costumed and made-up chef performs not just cuisine but also ikebana (flower arrangement), music, dance, and swordplay in front of eaters. This restaurant has been such a success that a second such restaurant is planned to open in Nagasaki to accommodate demand from Chinese tourists there! In response to a question from discussant Christian Hess about periodization and change in contact zones, Farrer explained that in the late 19th century quite a few Japanese restaurants existed in California and in China but they didn’t last and didn’t create a Japanese food boom. While it might seem odd that Japanese food would enjoy such popularity in China given the political enmity between the two countries, the Chinese divorce politics from cuisine to a great extent. Even though Japanese restaurants were destroyed in protests, for example, the Japanese food scene in China recovered very quickly afterward.

IMG_5316An example of Shanghai’s booming Japanese restaurant culture from Farrer’s presentation.

David Wank’s presentation focused on the role Fujianese chefs and restaurateurs have played in popularizing Japanese cuisine along the East coast of the United States, a phenomenon he refers to as an “ethnic entrepreneurial niche.” He noted the presence of elements of deterritorialization and localization, with sushi now a regular feature of people’s foodscapes even in rural areas without a sizable Japanese or Asian population, and the development of the California roll, inside-outside roll, New York roll (with pastrami), Philly roll (cream cheese), and in Indonesia the gado gado roll. When asked to elaborate upon Fujian innovation in Japanese cuisine as related to localization, Wank gave the example of sauces; there are 5 basic sauces chefs use in Fujian-run Japanese restaurants, but he talked to one chef whose culinary arsenal includes 50 different sauces. This process of innovation within the current Japanese food boom continues—with ramen and izakaya (Japanese gastropubs) among the latest trends.

In her talk, Stephanie Assmann switched the focus to government actors in Japan, analyzing efforts to promote a specific concept of Japanese cuisine domestically and abroad. Through the Organization to Promote Japanese Restaurants Abroad, a revived shokuiku (food education) campaign in schools, and projects encouraging Japanese consumers to purchase Japanese agricultural and food products for health reasons as well as to boost the national self-sufficiency rate for food. She noted a rhetoric of crisis operating in this discourse and perceives it to be a feature of the contemporary neoliberal state confronting globalization in line with national interests.

The roundtable touched upon key themes from the book—the role states play in determining what counts as national cuisines, debates around authenticity, processes of diffusion and change—and concepts such as “culinary fields,” “culinary contact zones,” “culinary infrastructure,” and “culinary capital.” The presentations and the enthused question and answer session that followed makes the edited volume seem well worth checking out.

 

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Curry’s Great Transnational Journey from India to Japan and North Korea

Guest contributor: Markus Bell, Australian National University

I hadn’t been in Japan more than a few weeks before I was hooked on Japanese karē raisu (curryrice/カレーライス). It was the rich, unmistakable smell that seeped under doorways and filled the undercover shopping markets of Osaka that first caught my attention.

I followed the scent down an alley and into a tiny eatery not large enough for more than half a dozen customers. Behind the wooden counter perched two large vats – the source of the seductive aromas. In one, the potbellied chef told me, is spicy curry. In the other is sweet curry. Perhaps noticing my indecisiveness he picked up two small, wooden bowls and dished out a ladle of spicy into one bowl and a ladle of sweet into the other. “Try,” he commanded.

Curry in a pot, Kyoto

Curry in a pot, Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jamie Coates, Waseda University.

Marking the beginnings of a ritual that I would repeat many times over the years, my tastebuds burst into life. Obediently, I took a scoop of the sweet sauce. The velvety texture of the piping hot substance wrapped itself around my tongue and left me wanting more. But I hadn’t finished. Unapologetically licking my spoon clean, I plunged it into the spicy sauce and into my mouth. This time my tongue burnt.

“Is it too much for you?” The smirking chef asked, almost gleefully. “No, no.” I replied, sucking air into my mouth and reaching for a glass of water. “It just took me by surprise.” Without asking, the chef took a larger bowl and filled it with sweet curry, beef, and potatoes. So began my love affair with Japanese karē raisu.

At that time I was carrying out research in Japan on Osaka’s incipient North Korean community. That evening, when I met my North Korean friends for our customary pork barbeque and beer in Korea town, I recounted my midday culinary adventure. “Oh yes,” they agreed. “Japanese curry is good. But until you’ve eaten it on a snowy Pyongyang day, you haven’t lived.”

And there it was. My curiosity was piqued and I had to know: How did curry, ostensibly a product of the Indian Subcontinent, make its way onto tables in the most isolated nation on the planet?

Curryrice with side of miso soup, Kyoto

Curry with a side of miso soup, Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Dr. Jamie Coates, Waseda University.

The story of curry is emblematic of the early days of colonialism, and the beginnings of what we now simply refer to as globalization. Academics claim that people may have been eating curries as far back as 2,500BCE, and that it has addictive properties.

The roots of the word “Curry” are undecided, with some arguing that it comes from the Old English word “Cury,” ostensibly first used in an English cookbook published in 1390. Others contending it is a derivative of the Tamil word, ‘Kari’ (கறி), referring to a dish cooked with vegetables, meat and spices.

The “curry-flavoured” powder that members of the British colonial administration took home from India became popular in 18th century England. Hannah Glasse published the first curry recipe in English in 1747 in The Art of Cookery, Made Plain and Easy. Her interpretation was more of a “gentle, aromatic stew” than a fiery vindaloo, but it featured curry powder as a key ingredient. In 1810, Sake Dean Mahomet opened Britain’s first curry house, the “Hindustan Coffee House”: it was a massive failure, but in the years that followed curry as an English dish re-emerged in restaurants across the United Kingdom. Curry gradually became an accepted part of every British pub menu, perhaps offering balance to an otherwise lackluster English diet.

Anglicized interpretations of Indian cuisines were subsequently taken to Imperial Japan via the Anglo-Indian officers of the Royal Navy and other stalwarts of the British Empire. They were among the first British subjects the Japanese came into contact with, after Commodore Matthew Perry landed his “Black Ships” at Kurihama in 1853. By the late 19th century, the Japanese navy had adapted the British version of curry, just as the English had earlier Anglicized Indian curry.

In 1872, the first karē raisu recipe was published in a Japanese cookbook, and in 1877 a Tokyo restaurant first offered karē raisu on the menu. Just as it had done in England, curry rapidly became a staple of the Japanese diet. Today, Friday nights on-board the vessels of the Japanese navy are still curry nights. A website of the Japanese Self-Defence Force’s “Family Page” lists its most popular curry dishes with recipes for the public to try. These mouth-watering recipes come with step-by-step cooking instructions and pictures of over fifty different curries popular on Japanese military bases.

In 1968, inspired by the Swedish army’s “pouched sausages,” Otsuka Foods Co. launched vacuum-sealed boil-in-a-bag curry. The convenience of these ready-to-eat treats appealed to thrifty students and overworked salarymen. Within a few years Otsuka Foods’ annual sales topped 100 million packets.

In the 1960s, when the Japanese government pressured Koreans, Taiwanese, and Chinese – former subjects of the Japanese Empire to self-deport, curry also followed tens of thousands of repatriating Koreans to North Korea. Family who stayed behind in Japan sent tightly packed parcels crammed full of ready-made karē raisu to loved ones in North Korea.

The North Korean government prohibited repatriates from ever returning to Japan. Immigrants from Japan struggled to survive the often-harsh conditions of North Korea. Access to imported karē raisu and other imported food products became a matter of life and death. They used karē raisu as a currency, trading it for local products – kimchee, rice, and meat – and strategically gifting it to cadre of the Korean Workers’ Party. The more industrious, daring individuals opened black market curry and noodle stalls operating out of their apartments.

Over dinner, my friend Hye-rim Ko, recently escaped from North Korea, explained that during this time, “We native North Koreans tried to mimic immigrants from Japan. We wanted to dress like them and eat the food they had. We were curious. What they ate was better than our food.” “Native” North Koreans, like Hye-rim, had to rely on immigrants from Japan for a regular fix of curry.

In between mouthfuls of fried pork wrapped in perilla leaves, another friend, Sazuka Tanaka, who migrated to North Korea in 1960 told me, “I managed a small restaurant in a northern city of North Korea. We served karē raisu and other dishes from Japan. It was a hugely popular place to eat for North Koreans and I became quite famous for my curry.”

The tastes and smells of curry reminded immigrants from Japan of the home they’d left behind. More importantly, such dishes were a lifeline during the famine that gripped North Korea in the 1990s.

In 2002 Kim Jong-Il admitted that North Korea had kidnapped Japanese citizens. The Japanese government reacted by imposing trade sanctions on the DPRK. These sanctions choked off the supply of curry to North Korea. Consequently, North Koreans living near the Sino-Korean border were forced to import a Chinese version of karē raisu. North Korean defectors I worked with assured me that “fake” karē raisu wasn’t a patch on the real thing. They claimed that it “lacked flavor” and was “made with inferior ingredients.”

Curry is a chameleon of a dish and a well traveled one at that. From India to Pyongyang, to Tokyo, and the NASA space program; in each place it’s traveled to people have adapted and blended it to local tastes, making it one of the world’s most loved cuisines. Perhaps this is why many of my friends and I feel such affection for it: curry, like us, shifts and evolves through its travels, the cultures it passes through, and the people who love and adopt it.

Markus Bell is a Ph.D. candidate at the Australian National University’s anthropology department, researching on North Korean society and North Korean migration. From September 2016 he will take up a lectureship in the University of Sheffield’s School of East Asian Studies. Follow him on Twitter: @mpsbell 

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CFP: Devouring Japan

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The Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Texas at Austin invites paper proposals for “Devouring Japan,” a 2-day interdisciplinary conference on Japanese food and food cultures, to be held in Austin on February 21-22, 2014. Building on growing academic interest in food studies, the conference seeks to explore five themes that will serve as analytical frameworks for the proceedings: Production, Consumption, Circulation, Representation, and Identity. We seek to include innovative research that explores Japanese foods from a variety of perspectives including:  the material culture of cuisine; histories of iconic foods, beverages or key chefs/restaurateurs; ethnographic and ritual practices involving foods; government policy and the regulation of food; representations of food in art, literature and film; globalization and/or transnational hybridization of foods; and how local, regional and national identities are shaped by foods.

The conference will include keynote lectures by Ken Albala (Professor of History, University of the Pacific) and Eric Rath (Professor of History, University of Kansas). It will culminate in a keynote roundtable discussion by Professors Albala and Rath, together with select panelists, to reflect upon the potentials for cross-disciplinary research between Food and Japan Studies.

In addition to presenting original research, invited scholars will be asked to actively participate in panel discussions by acting as respondents and in the culminating roundtable session.  Participants will also be asked to submit a draft (12-15 pages) of their papers by January 25, 2014 for distribution to other conference participants. A select number will be invited to revise their papers by August 31, 2014 for publication in an edited volume.

Thanks to the generous support of the Japan Foundation and the Northeast Asia Council of the Association of Asian Studies, UT will cover all ground transportation, meal and hotel expenses in Austin.  As befits the themes of the conference, participants will have several opportunities to sample some of Austin’s best food offerings.  Invited scholars, particularly junior scholars with little access to travel support,will also have an opportunity to apply for additional travel funding in fall 2013.

Interested scholars are asked to submit a short (max. 3 pages) CV and a paper proposal of max. 400 words to Dr. Nancy Stalker,  nancy.stalker@austin.utexas.edu, by August 15, 2013.

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