Have you ever wondered what secret lies behind the subtle charm of a Japanese dish? Well, the intricate art of Japanese food presentation or “Moritsuke” deserves an in-depth explanation to do it justice. In this article, we will venture to cut this long story short and explore how this appetizing art leads a diner to “Me de Taberu” – a Japanese term, meaning “to eat food with eyes”.
What it Takes to Create a Perfect Meal
As a major characteristic of Japanese food culture, “Moritsuke” focuses on colour variations, asymmetry, seasonality, serveware, and empty space to bring out the best of a served food item. The combination of the 5 colours, red, green, black, white, and yellow is unique in Japanese cuisine. This combination not only pleases the eyes, but also guarantees the balance of nutrition. The five servings, the most common number of servings on a Japanese food table, consist of the five tastes – sweet, sour, savoury, salty and bitter balancing the overall taste in the dining experience. Compared to a symmetrical arrangement, often found in Western cuisine, the asymmetrical arrangement in Japanese food presentation is rather unpredictable with an askew outline. This acts as an element of surprise combined with unique arrangement styles such as Hiramori (food of similar sizes and colours arranged on a flat plane), Tenmori (final touch of flavour and appearance), Yamano Katachi (arrangement in the shape of a mountain), and Kasane-mori (stacked arrangement) to name a few. The presentation is further enhanced by arranging for empty spaces on the vessels. Leaving a little space on the plate empty is essential in Japanese cuisine. A minimalist concept, commonly referred to as “ma”, can also be traced in other aesthetics of Japanese culture. This emanates that the surrounding empty space paradoxically draws the viewer’s attention to the key element presented, in this case – food.
Table setting that incorporates the four seasons
Seasonal changes in Japan imply a significant visual influence on its food culture, where food of different colours symbolises each season. For instance, a pink colour dish would dominate a Japanese food table in Spring, symbolising the cherry blossom coming into life. While summer is represented by dishes in red, green, and blue colours, white characterises winter. The foliage of Autumn, translated as “Koyo” in Japanese, is attributed by the food presentation mainly in red and gold colours during Autumn. The fact that raw food changes their colour, taste, and texture within each season is encapsulated in the Japanese terms Hashiri, Shun and Nagori which also marks the beginning, climax and fading away of a season as well as food. The serveware is also replaced in each season, accentuating the dish it serves. This compliments practicality too whereas for instance, using lacquerware with a wooden base in winter helps keep food warm throughout the dining experience.
“Washoku” is the Japanese term for Japanese food, in which “wa” represents “Japan” or “harmony” while “shoku” represents “food”, implying the meaning “harmony of food”. From preparation and presentation to dining, Japanese food culture is based on creating harmony. The sincere approach with dedication that creates a harmonious dining experience for the guest is enveloped in the term “Omotenashi”, meaning to serve wholeheartedly without any expectation. It leads the guest to take time and appreciate detailed servings with a sense of calmness and mindfulness, which is articulated as “itadakimasu”, uttered before a meal. Literally translated as “I humbly receive”, it is an expression of gratitude to everyone, and everything involved in the process of preparing food including farmers, animals, and plants too. The end of the meal is marked by the expression “gochisosamadeshita” as a way of thanking again for the delightful meal.
Table Setting Ideas – Japanese style
We are putting together a list of table setting ideas using Japanese tableware. We hope it will be a good inspiration for you.