Yummy… Let’s eat (and eat)

Opinions - December 6th, 2002
Robert J. Collins

by Robert J. Collins

Whether television truly reflects the mood of the masses, or instead directs the “mood” by serving up whatever is com­mercially viable is the subject of another discussion.

In the U.S., for example, programs in the ’50s and ’60s were in the “Leave It To Beaver/Brady Bunch” category supposedly reflecting the core family values deemed important by the post-war crowd settling in to a normal life.

Times changed and a cycle began wherein families became one-parent affairs, and then seriously dysfunctional as core units. Shows then featured indi­viduals doing their things, and then seriously dysfunctional individuals not really capable of doing their things.

Now we have “survivors” locked up in houses or marooned on island beaches. Is TV reflecting the mood or establishing the mood? I dunno. Let’s just live on the edge. (We only go around once.)

What I do know is that Japanese TV, having gone through similar cycles empha­sizing varying lifestyles, has now locked into an old standby— food. What could be more basic? And it probably makes economic sense to producers. Food shows are cheap.

Food in the morning, food at noon, food in the afternoon, food in the evening, food at late night, and food all night long. There is food prepared by celebrities, by genuine chefs, by pretty girls, and by sumo wrestlers. Visitors arriving in Japan from outer space would immediately sense that the Japanese are completely and fanatically obsessed with food.

And I, for one, would think they were not off by that much.

There is food prepared in the wilderness (Yoyogi Park) and in bizarre places like a housewife’s kitchen. There is food one must travel to see pre­pared (countryside inn) and bathe in an onsen with a towel barely (but completely) cover­ing your breast to see prepared (countryside inn). There is even purple food that no one even knows the name of (countryside inn).

So that you can continue to fast-forward through these food shows, I am listing the highlights of some of them just to give you a sense of what’s going on. You can thank me by buying a drink whenever you see me.

Eggs Sucramposu: A great deal of time at the beginning of this lesson is spent admiring the unique shape of a chicken’s egg. It’s not a round ball, you understand, one end is smaller than the other end. It makes laying them easier. (“Ah, so,” everyone says, imagining their own way through the process.)

The eggs are broken and dumped into a bowl. Practice involving several dozen eggs is required to get this accom­plished with one hand and with no shells crackled into the bowl. This done, the scrambling part with chopsticks, is demonstrat­ed. Everyone catches on quickly.

The spatula is introduced. Supasula it is immediately dubbed. The eggs are poured on a hot plate with a little butter (oooh, aaah). The supasula is employed almost continuously (with a great deal of giggling), and within seconds the product is put on little plates. Soy sauce is dribbled on the plates—some use more than others. This is discussed.

Finally the product is tasted. A hush falls over the crowd. The youngest girl usually goes first. She picks up a chopstick load and puts it into her mouth. Her other hand hovers by in case this provokes sudden pro­jectile vomiting. She slowly chews the product, then stops. Her eyes curl to the ceiling and she obviously goes into a thought process of the type used in the past to harness fire or create the wheel. Then it happens. “Oishii,” she screams as if relieved from delivering an egg not tapered at one end. “Oishii, desu,” she says. Reas­sured, everyone else digs in.

The following are meals prepared on these shows. The format and procedures are sim­ilar to those in the scrambled eggs show, but the raw materi­als are wildly different. I am always startled by the diversity.

Soba Dip: The liquid into which we flush the noodles is as important as the noodles themselves. Most chefs have their own unique compositions. One style, it comes from the seaside, is the tennis shoelace elixir. Old shoelaces are collected—the older the better—and they are boiled. We can see it happen­ing. The water darkens, but not as much as you might think.

After the laces are removed, the chef adds soy sauce and a few drops of vinegar. This darkens the fluid. To top that off, the chef adds a few shavings of daikon. Salt, he explains, is not necessary provided the laces were sufficiently old to begin with.

The concoction is served with buckwheat noodles. The noodles are dipped, then con­sumed. Pause, look up at the heavens, then “oishii.” Usually the young talents on these shows look down at their own shoes at this point.

Turkey Sashimi: There is more variety in this than you might think. There is dark meat from the thighs, white meat from the breasts and then vari­ous organs, all supplying the different tastes and textures. I’ll admit to a certain uneasiness in seeing a raw bird being served up on little rice tubes, but I had already watched the following dish being prepared.

Weasel Innards: You peel back the skin from a living weasel and make an incision down by… oops, no more space. This column will be fin­ished sometime in the future.