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November 22, 2014
Monday, December 9, 2013

Japan food seeks heritage gong as young spurn rice

By Pablo Toledo
For the Herald
Washoku, the traditional cuisine (1) of Japan, is being considered for designation as part of the world's priceless cultural heritage by the UN. But even as sushi and sake booms worldwide, purists say its finer points are candidates for the endangered list at home. The younger generation is increasingly eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts and McDonald's, not rice.
Among cuisines, only French cooking has been distinguished as a national culinary tradition. Washoku embraces seasonal ingredients, a unique taste, time consuming preparation and a style of eating steeped (2) in centuries of tradition. At its heart is savory "umami," recognized as a fundamental taste along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
"That's a delicate subtle taste. But younger people can't even taste it any more because they're too used to spicy oily food," said Isao Kumakura, president of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture, who is leading the drive (3) to get washoku recognized. "It's Westernization."
Annual rice consumption in Japan has fallen 17 percent over the last 15 years. Fast-food chains have become ubiquitous (4). Their reasonable prices and fast service are attracting the stomachs of the workaholic "salaryman" and OL, short for "office lady."
Washoku is always about rice, miso or soy-bean-paste soup, "tsukemono" pickles, and usually three dishes — perhaps a slice of grilled salmon, broth-stewed "nimono" vegetables and boiled greens. Umami is based on flavour from dried bonito flakes and seaweed.
Washoku is also about design. Fancy ceramic and lacquer-ware come in varying sizes, textures and shapes. Food is placed in a decorative fashion.
The exodus from washoku is apparent (5) at Taiwa Gakuen, a Kyoto-based school for chefs, where the biggest number of students wants to learn Italian cuisine and interest in washoku is growing only among overseas (6) students.
But even washoku experts say you shouldn't feel guilty about not eating it three times a day.
Kumakura swears eating with chopsticks is a symbol of Japanese-ness. But he acknowledges he often has toast and eggs for breakfast.
"Just please try to have washoku at least once a day," he said with a laugh.
Adapted from an article by Laurie Wiegler in Slate


Cuisine (1)

Like many food words in English, this one comes from France. Cuisine identifies a style of cooking – a nationality (Japanese cuisine), a set of ingredients (vegetarian cuisine), etc.

Steeped (2)

When something is steeped in another thing, it has a lot of that quality. Speaking of food, you can also steep food in a liquid (leave it inside the liquid for so long it soaks up the flavour).

Drive (3)

In this context, a drive is an organized effort to achieve a goal.

Ubiquitous (4)

When something is ubiquitous, it seems to be everywhere.

Apparent (5)

Remember false friends? Here's one! When something is apparent, it is easy to see or understand – not like the Spanish aparente!

Overseas (6)

“Overseas” is used to refer to other countries, especially (but not exclusively) those separated by water.

 

Friends from abroad

A very obvious feature of this fascinating article is that it has a number of Japanese words in it: umami, washoku, miso and tsukemono, to name but a few. The reason is apparent – Japanese cuisine is quite unique, and the words used to describe it and its ingredients or elements do not have equivalents in English for the simple reason that those elements do not exist in the English tradition!

But other words in the article have origins which are just as foreign: cuisine comes from France, apparent and exodus hail from Latin, bonito started out a Spanish word, and so on.

Many people (especially the French and our friends at the Real Academia) complain about English “colonizing” other languages, but the truth is that languages blend, borrow and steal from each other when they need to, and whenever people cone in contact. There is a political edge to this process, but food is an excellent example of how you don't need an army for a word to start walking in foreign territory!

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