Japan’s traditional cuisine, Washoku, is being considered by the United Nations this week as part of the world’s invaluable cultural heritage. But even as the worldwide sushi and sec boom, purists say its subtle points are homegrown candidates. The younger generation is eating crispy cream donuts and McDonald’s, not rice.
Among the cuisines, only French cuisine has been distinguished as a national culinary tradition. Other selections for the UNESCO World Heritage List, such as food from Mexico and Turkey, are more specific foods. Washoku adopts seasonal ingredients, a unique taste, time-consuming preparation and a style of steep eating in the tradition of the century. At its heart is the delicious “Umami”, recognized as the basic taste with sweet, sour, salty and bitter.
“It’s a very delicate taste. But young people can no longer taste it because they are accustomed to spicy oily food, ”said Isao Kumakura, president of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture, which is leading the campaign to recognize Washoku. “It simply came to our notice then. The Japanese should be more proud of Japanese culture.
Kumakura believes that UNESCO recognition will send a global message and intensify efforts to save Washoku, a fight that faces serious challenges.
According to official data, annual rice consumption in Japan has dropped 17 percent in the last 15 years from 9.44 million tons to 7.81 million tons.
Fast-food chains have become ubiquitous in Japan, including Crispy Cream, Domino’s Pizza and perennial favorite McDonald’s. Their reasonable price and quick service are attracting the belly of the short OL of the workholic “Salary” and “Office Lady”.
As Washoku’s popularity declines, the ties it has historically stood for can also be eroded, as is the fear of cooking together for New Year’s and other festivals.
These are traditions closely associated with family relationships that have been defined by home-cooking – almost always the taste of mother’s cooking, or “Ofukuro no Aji,” the Japanese say.
Yasuko Hiramatsu, a mother, housewife and part-time translator, learned how to cook from her mother and grandmother, although she relied on several cookbooks and watched TV shows to make her collection more beautiful.
One of his favorite foods is ground beef and potatoes cooked in soy, soy and sugar, which he says has a reputation as a way to grab a man’s stomach and thus his heart.
Her husband and son both love her “Nikujaga”. But whether that recipe fits the strictest definition of washoku, which is more about fish than meat in general, is an intimate call.
Hiramatsu uses “nuka” or fermented rice bran from his grandmother’s recipe to make sukemono from scratch. He sometimes has no time and brings packaged goods from the supermarket. But it is not ideal.
“Of course, sometimes I eat out and get french fries, but this is the longest time I have eaten,” he said of his home cooking. “It must be something in our blood.”
Washoku is always about rice, miso or soy-bean-paste soup, “sukemono” pickles, and usually three dishes – probably a piece of fried salmon, soup-stewed “nimono” vegetables and boiled vegetables. Umami is based on dried bonito flakes and seaweed, the equivalent flavor of Japanese soup stock.
Also about Washoku design. Fancy ceramic and varnish-pots come in a variety of shapes, textures and shapes. The food is kept in a decorative fashion, sometimes with inedible items for an autumn leaf-like effect.
Pieces of food can be cut into flower shapes or carefully wrapped around other foods, tied like a package with an edible ribbon. Recipes celebrate the season by focusing on fresh ingredients.
Kenji Udha, 47, chief chef at Tokyo restaurant Irimoa Betei, where he cooks rice to make blowfish sashimi and crab, said he was 17 when he decided to dedicate his life to Washoku.
“It’s very nice to see Japanese food,” he said. “But it takes a lot of time. People are working and busy, and there is no such time. “
The exit from Washoku is evident in Taiwa Gakuen, a Kyoto-based school for chefs, where the largest number of students want to learn Italian food, followed by French, and interest in Washoku is growing only among foreign students.
Seji Tanaka, the school’s headmaster, hopes the UNESCO decision expected at this week’s meeting in Azerbaijan will help the Japanese return to tradition.
“It’s endangered,” he said.
Tanaka believes that Washoku’s survival is crucial because it is associated with the spirit of Japan, especially the spirit of the family.
“In Washoku, ‘wa’ means harmony,” he said.
In proper Japanese dining, the phrase “itadakimasu” or “I’m going to take it” is pronounced, especially together, at the beginning of a meal; “Gochisosama,” or “Thanks for the food,” it concludes.
Unlike saying grace, the custom is not only gratitude to the chef but also for the blessing of having food on the table – the grace of nature.
But even washoku experts say you shouldn’t feel guilty for not eating it three times a day.
Kumakura swears to eat with chopsticks – a well-chosen serving for each bite size, never to be pierced – a symbol of Japanese-ness. But he admits he often eats toast and eggs for breakfast.
“Just please try to eat washoku at least once a day,” he said with a smile.