This is a thought that my dear friend Lisa’s sister, Erika, brought to my attention and it’s been making its impression on the crevices of my brain ever since.
I had always taken note of the fact that the Japanese have a huge respect for their food. It’s presented well, it’s often healthy and the portions are well-thought out. The first time this struck me was when I first visited the States at the tender age of 11. We were in Vegas and I saw a teenage boy with an ice cream the size of my arse. I could have comfortably sat in his ice cream cup and easily accommodate my little sister aswell (which shows how big it was because at that age I hated sharing anything with the little sis). I had spotted the best thing to have ever graced my visual senses. I had to have one.
At the age of 11 you only see the icecream. You don’t see the consequences of such indulgent habits in the form of the spotty-faced fattie clutching the icrecream eating himself towards diabetes type 7.
I ordered a medium mint icecream with crushed M&Ms; and was lulled into a peaceful frozen creamy heavenly state of munching for all of five minutes.
It was too sweet. My 11 year old taste buds had hit a sugar overload and given up on me. So the inevitable happened…
This was the moment I realised that almost every meal that had been put in front of me on this trip had been taken back to the kitchen only half eaten. It wasn’t because I was a kid that I couldn’t finish my meals, I was supposed to be growing, after all. It was because the portions were gargantuan. To top it off, the food wasn’t tasty enough for me to want to engage in any further than usual munching of it.
In Japan, the portions, as I mentioned above, are just big enough for you to feel satisfied rather than stuffed. The joy of being satisfied rather than saturated is that you can look back on your food with nostalgia and fondness rather than curse it for making you feel like you’ve just fast forwarded to the third trimester of pregnancy. When you’re stuffed, you almost resent the food that got you to this level of discomfort. You’ll leave a restaurant saying, “wow, I’m SOOO full,” rather than, “oh my, didn’t that tuna just melt in your mouth?”. Tuna melting in your mouth is supposed to be a positive comment, just so you know.
It’s not just after the meal, but also during the meal that the food is showered in praise. All throughout a gastronomic experience the average Japanese person will make 10-15 appreciative onomatopoeic noises.
“Mmmmmmm, ooooooooo, ahhhhhh”…
“kore oishiiiiii!” or “kore yabai, tabetemi!!” (“this is delicious!” or “This is unbelievable, try it!”)
The hara hachibunnme (80% full) way of life means that food is meant to be enjoyed; there is just enough in front of you to allow you to enjoy every mouthful rather than so much that your meal becomes boring and monotonous.
1000 things about Japan can vouch for me on this one. She also mentions the Japanese past time of trying to eat 30 different things each day. If the ideal way to balance your diet is to have 30 different components to your daily food intake, then your portions have to be small or you’ll balloon to the size of Godzilla in no time. Again, this shows how the Japanese like to savour their food and enjoy a variety of flavours and health benefits rather than shovel down a barrel full of the same tasteless rubbish a la sausage and mash.
I think there is an inverse correlation between the level of real enjoyment one derives from food and their waistlines. The more you respect and appreciate each and every mouthful, the more likely you are to naturally seek food that satisfies and benefits your mind and body.
On a final note, I also think that the Japanese have a more practical approach to food as well.
When I moved to England one of the things that struck me was people’s willingness to just throw away their leftovers. I had always been taught to try and eat as much as I can and that it’s particularly rude to leave rice because there was a scarcity during WW2 and we have to be grateful for the current abundance. If I cook too much food, I portion it and freeze it. What I saw some people do is eat as much as they can and then bin the rest because it was no longer quite a portion. For me this is verging on blasphemy; not only because I love food and not because I’m cheap, but because I just can’t treat food like that. When I do have to throw something away because it’s been in my fridge for too long, I feel a huge pang of guilt and vow not to overbuy next time.
How do people regard food in your country? What do you think is a healthy attitude to have towards food?