I consider myself a very lucky girl because my mom is an outstanding cook with a diverse range of foods in her repertoire, but if there’s one thing that’s special about the evenings she makes Japanese food, it’s that the meal is always served with our collection of beautiful Japanese dishes, bowls and utensils. I learned from a young age the importance of presentation when it came to Japanese cuisine. So since we’re feasting on a delicious Japanese lunch this Friday, how about a little food presentation 101! Let’s take a look at a few of the traditions.
The Secret Ingredient
In traditional Japanese cuisine, visual presentation is as much a part of the dining experience as the taste of the food itself, so beauty is always an essential ingredient in any Japanese meal. The Japanese firmly believe that you eat with your eyes first. Presentation is truly an art form and great attention is paid to everything from the arrangement of the food and garnishes to the dishes upon which each component of the meal is served. Nothing is accidental as every choice is made with the intention of enhancing the dining experience.
Balance and Harmony
An aerial view of a typical Japanese dish will show you a calculated asymmetry in the placement of the food framed in the backdrop of a beautiful dish, creating a peaceful yet striking balance and harmony, soothing in its quiet starkness but inviting with its lively colors and sharp angles. There is a strong emphasis on invoking the sensual experience of eating not just in the way of taste, touch and smell, but also sight. Gorgeous Japanese presentation is a true feast for the eyes and when the chef’s artistry is at its best, the meal becomes a work of art that’s almost too beautiful to sink your chopsticks into.
But the purpose of the presentation is to share something of yourself through the food you prepare. And as with any art form, there is no right or wrong way to create, so let your instinct guide you as you arrange your dish. In Japanese food presentation, minimalism is generally the word of the day. When in doubt, less is usually more. Space on a clean, white dish can be as beautiful as the cucumber you, or maybe Morimoto, skillfully crafts into a delicate rose garnish.
Portions are small and food rarely fills the whole dish but instead sits delicately in the center. Fish should be placed facing to the left with the tail slightly away from the diner. Simmered foods are placed with the largest item to the back of the dish. Platters of foods including tempura and sushi are arranged with each type of food grouped together.
The Influence of the Season
Japan has four very clearly defined seasons and the cuisine reflects that not only in the ingredients used, but also in the tableware chosen to present the food. In the spring, sashimi is served on beautiful dishes formed into a miniature landscape. In the fall, a red and gold leaf may be used as a plate to give a seasonal touch. Noodles are served in big bowls in the winter and chilled in a bamboo basket in the hot summer. Certain colors are typically associated with specific seasons such as white for winter, pink and green for spring, red and green for summer, and orange and yellow for fall. Vegetables are cut and colored to form garnishes that give a dish an added seasonal touch.
The Final Touch
Some form of garnish is almost always present in a Japanese dish helping to add contrast in the taste, texture and color of the food. Grated daikon, thinly sliced ginger, or a sprinkling of sesame seeds are very common garnishes while vegetables fashioned into flowers and other shapes add a special touch. Again, minimalism is key, but a small touch of decoration will round off your beautifully prepared dish with an artistic accent.
Always remember, the goal of Japanese food presentation is harmony. If for a moment as you look at your completed creation, you feel quiet, still, balanced and peaceful, you have elevated yourself from chef to artist!
Photos from here.