When we think of food, our stomachs growl and taste buds begin to water. Motojiro, in “Lemon,” however, is able to find satisfaction with a fruit that he purchases without even consuming it. He lifts the lemon to his nose and enjoys its scent, then remarks at how it feels as a weight in his hand, and finally tops off his castle of books with it, possibly in appreciation of its natural beauty, balance, and organic form.
The closest I may remember of having come to a magical “meal” like Motojiro’s may be the oranges and apples my grandmother places on the shrine ever two weeks. These are not magical strictly in the spiritual gifting sense, but also as a form of interior decoration that absorbs space in the living room. That altar would definitely feel empty and lacking if my younger sisters took the oranges for lunch and did not replace them.
In a practice drawing session I conjured a plate of plums for myself and a friend to sketch. Where we differed from Motojiro, unfortunately, was that we had the intention of eating the plums after we were finished using them for an alternate purpose. Nothing shines and reflects light like a freshly picked, juicy, purple plum. And as we observed the mountain of plums, each one was appeared different in a stack of glowing purple orbs. sahdows from one falling onto the other; they “absorbed the colors” of the environment they were in:
“As I stood back to take a look, I realized the lemon was quietly absorbing the melody of the jumbled colors into its spindle-shaped self.” (Motojiro 339)
And who can’t recall a still life that they’ve seen in which the fruit seemed full of life and magic?
“Magic” is generally used to describe supernatural events. In a place lacking in genuine Chinese cuisine, Junichiro Tanizaki thought his accidentally discovered Chinese dishes were “magical” due to their appealing to all senses, not just taste. When food’s primary purpose is to be eaten, it ought to be unusual if one sees and hears something extraordinary; feels something unusually textured; and smells an aroma distinct from food commonly consumed. While Tanizaki’s experience was clearly positive given his yearning for more Chinese food, I have an experience with “magical” food which is not nearly as glowing, and unfortunately not soon to be forgotten.
This past summer, I was granted the opportunity to study abroad in South Korea, for which I am extremely grateful to the USC East Asia Studies Center. The variety of food, and sheer quantity of choices throughout Korea – all of which are extremely cheap relative to American prices – could itself qualify as a magical experience like Tanizaki’s. However, there is one meal I do not miss, but cannot forget. While visiting a village on Jeju Island, I was confronted by a large pot of boiling pillbugs.
Bugs are actually eaten globally, and experts say they actually quite nutritious. However, as bugs are not a part of my diet, it should come as no surprise that this meal “magically” took over my senses. I saw and heard murky, brown liquid boiling, and felt sickened. I smelled something similar to mud, and wanted to hold my nose. Without touching anything, I imagined feeling bugs crawling inside my stomach. I stuck a toothpick through one, and cannot remember if I heard crunchy food or squishy food. I am sure half the senses I remember feeling that day were actually imagined and not real. Regardless, I, like the poor hunters from “The Restaurant of Many Orders”, can remember experiencing something unnatural.
Tanizaki’s Gourmet Club transform an ordinary Chinese dish into something different, something magical. The story’s main character Count G goes through great measures to observe a rather unauthentic Chinese feast when he is rejected by the president of the club to dine with them. Finally he presents this altered Chinese cuisine to his fellow Gourmet Club members whom had grown tired of Japanese food. Count G demonstrates this magical food as food that could generate imaginations, heighten senses and drive the person looking and eating the food into a whole new level of eating.
I have experienced something as magical at member A did when he had a woman’s hand in his mouth but definitely not as odd. As a special treat, my family and I had dinner at The Bazzar. We ordered caprese which as most of you know, tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. However, what came was these little white and red balls with something that resembles tiny cheez-its. Our server quickly told us not to use our forks to puncture those red and white balls. I picked up my spoon and scooped one red and one white ball and a tiny cheez-it. When I put all these items into my mouth and bit into them, all these items burst and became a mixture of the taste of a normal caprese. Turns out the tiny red balls were extremely juicy tomatoes and the white balls were liquid mozzarella. Who would have thought that mozzarella could come in liquid form. So instead of the usual chewiness of mozzarella, I get a burst of mixture of juices that is so refreshing that I could feel it enveloping my entire body. My senses were so heightened at this unexpected taste and texture.
I will always remember this meal as it was nothing that I expected. It was magical and creative and nothing like I have ever had before.
Six years ago my family moved to Japan for several months, during which I recall a surreal experience that arguably bordered on the magical. It began with my dad’s simple craving for spicy food––particularly Thai food. Having begun to miss the Thai restaurants from my Californian hometown, I too felt the craving and we set off on a quest to find the spiciest Thai restaurant in Tokyo.
Over the course of several weeks, we sampled a variety of Thai places. Although we left each place happy and full, they did little to stem our craving and only increase our curiosity on what the city had to offer. My dad learned from a colleague of a low-profile spot in Ginza, a couple blocks south of Yurakucho Station, and we decided to check it out.
We walked up and down the busy street for twenty minutes looking for the place but couldn’t find it. Then, all of a sudden, we could smell the sweet aroma of boiling coconut curry coming from the nondescript stairs leading down to an outdoor basement entrance. As we descended the staircase, we automatically noticed how bizarre it was; towards the bottom, someone had decorated the room with paint and plaster so that it looked like a cave, complete with mine lamps strung along the ceiling. There was a large wooden wall at the end of the room and an elephant mask on the adjacent cave wall with the words “押す” or push under it. So I did.
Immediately the soundproof wooden wall slid back revealing the a loud bustling Thai restaurant with wispy drapes forming canopy-like tents around diners and tables. We ordered up a little bit of everything on the menu. It was very spicy and very tasty––an experience that extended beyond taste and into my other senses as well. Similarly, through Tanizaki’s detailed depiction of sights, sounds, and textures, I view Count G’s episode as extending beyond the mere sense of taste, making his dining experience that much more memorable.
In “The Gourmet Club” Tanizaki illustrates magical food as being something that takes over one’s body. A food or meal that makes you appreciate it with everything inside of you, and with all of your senses. You will taste, smell, feel, see and hear elegance, beauty and perfection.
If there was ever such a meal that I have experienced that I would call “magical”, it would be the exquisite meal that my father prepared on my 17th birthday. It exceeded any and all restaurants that I have been fortunate enough to dine at in New York City, as well as any other home-cooked meal. My father started us off with a lovely french onion soup that he learned how to make during his stay in Belgium. The onions and the cheese worked perfectly in harmony to create a warmth and taste so elegant that you’d never want to stop eating it. The only thing that would make someone want to stop would be seeing the next course. A beautiful filet minion (or several of them, rather) cooked to perfection, where a fork alone would be enough to make it fall apart. But, of course, as we all know, a filet minion without some kind of sauce is only attaining a mere shred of its capacity. He slaved for days reducing a black currant sauce with a wine that brought out its sweetness and gracefulness. The combination of the sauce with the perfectly cooked filet was better than anything I have ever experienced in my life. To finish this amazing experience, he created a salad with all of the colors of the world and the flavors to match. Such a cooling finale was just what was necessary.
If I could eat this meal for every day of my life, I would! It is something that never gets old, something that tastes, looks, feels, and smells so amazing that no human could resist. Out of everything I’ve eaten, this is something I would truly call a “magical” meal.
You can see a trailer of Spirited Away on YouTube, either dubbed into English, or in Japanese, as I pasted below with subs.
It uses “magic” to critique the present, and offer alternatives, in ways that echo with the Tanizaki, Miyazawa and Kajii short stories.If you have the whole DVD, or access to it, you can watch the first 13:00 or so, as we will tomorrow. Unfortunately, Studio Ghibli has pulled all the nice long clips off the web, so you have to acquire it privately to watch.