Miyashin—A Feast for the Eyes

Texture, colour and substance—Tofu 
is the main ingredient.
Presentation Perfect
Since visiting Japan for the first time in 1974, its presence on the world stage has gradually become more prominent.  Back then, however, few members of my family or friends could barely comprehend the merit of such an adventure and some could hardly even point at Japan on a map—“is it part of China?” they would exclaim.  The shadows of an old enemy were also still firmly fixed in some people’s minds, despite the fact that just ten years previously the success of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics had helped to raise the profile of the country enormously.

This gradual change of how Japan is perceived, has had much to do with the increasing number of people who have visited the archipelago.  Tourists and more longterm visitors have returned home, just as I and my wife Lou did, with favourable stories of their experiences, the beautiful places there are to see, the politeness of the Japanese people, the highly civilised bathing arrangements and so much more.  This in turn has encouraged more and more people to visit.  It has even prompted overseas broadcasters to have correspondents stationed there and foreign corporations, too, have found it necessary to strengthen their trading status by having offices in Japan.  Natural disasters aside, the general level of safety in urban Japan in particular has given many people both young and old the confidence to travel there totally unescorted.

And then there is the food.  Forty years ago some people in England would have expressed all that they knew about Japanese cuisine by saying with disdain “they eat raw fish, don’t they?”  That alone was the extent of their knowledge.

A meal setting at Miyashin.  More Wakashima lacquerware to compliment 
the skills of the chef.  A real feast for the eyes.
More recently everybody now knows that sushi is a generic term for a dish, although they would be hard pushed to define it in detail.  Check your dictionary and you are just as likely to find not only sushi but the word sashimi, too, both fully explained.

When we returned to live in the UK in 2000, some of the locals were eager to know how to make sushi and Lou was even commissioned to make some for parties.  The fishmonger in the nearest town sells fish fresh enough for sushi but at a price that makes us think twice about making a purchase.  In London there are a number of fast-food outlets selling “sushi” although it usually falls short of the real thing.  There are even what we used to call guru-guru sushi  bars or conveyor belt sushi restaurants in major cities in the UK.  So there is no doubt that sushi is here to stay.

But what else has happened?  How else have Japanese culinary aesthetics influenced chefs around the world? About twenty-five years ago French cuisine took a new direction—nouvelle cuisine.  This was not only a new approach to the preparation of food but also a very conscious attempt to develop its presentation.  It seems that how Japanese food is presented was particularly influential, especially kaiseki-ryori—a selection of various foods served in order and presented like pieces of art.  Such food is as much a delight to the eye as it is to the palate.  The season of the year may well be reflected in the choice of ingredients and equal importance is given to the selection of the tableware and its grouping.

A picnic-style setting from the far north of Japan on Magnolia obovata leaves.
The development of nouvelle cuisine as well as more direct influences from Japan have had far reaching consequences even in Britain.  Top quality restaurants up and down the country all try to make the food they serve look “well presented”.  In so many cases, however, the whole effect is spoiled by the first lunge with a knife and fork.  A much more elegant, careful selection of individual delicacies from the ensemble with chop-sticks would be so much more appropriate.  Sadly, this is unlikely to catch on.

Large pieces of tuna on a beef steak plant leaf and bed of shredded daiko radish.
If you are lucky enough to go to Wajima and visit Miyashin for a meal, however, there will be much to delight the senses.  Feast your eyes on the arrangement of ingredients as well as the beautiful lacquerware.  It is almost a crime to disturb the composition.  But it must be done.

Sushi and indirectly kaiseki-ryori have played their part in raising people’s awareness of Japanese cuisine.  And they have also influenced the way we perceive food.  What’s next you might say?  Well, at present London is experiencing something of a ramen boom—check the Net.  Suppliers are quick to follow a trend and even the noodles can be bought online.  I, however, make my own.

Miyashin is located close to the City Hall in Wajima.  Meals start from about ¥3,500.  Site in Japanese with some English at:  http://www.wajima.or.jp/miyashin/store/index.html

Bill Tingey Photo © Copyright

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