Biodiversity as Edible Art

Wed, 04/11/2009 – Jude Fanton

The Japanese are masters at eating diversely. One of our first interns, Masami Sakaban told me that her grandmother’s advice to her was to eat at least thirty ingredients a day.

Often since then I have contemplated that her grandmother must have the same kind of gardens as we have. Gardens where harvests are not huge but diverse in the extreme.

What Masami didn’t prepare me for was how artistic Japanese meals are routinely. Even the lowliest of lunch boxes (bento) for sale is prettily arranged with a garnish flourish.

  And that is the way I like food. Arty and full of little surprises.

Here are two examples

1. Bento box from Tokyo Station

“Autumn vegetables” $12

31 ingredients including asparagus, bean, cucumber, pumpkin, capsicum, eggplant, daikon, carrot, lettuce, shiso, shungiku and mustard leaves, sweet potato, taro, yam, plums, lotus root, gingko seeds, three types of mushrooms, sesame seeds, walnuts and chestnuts.

IMAGE Bento box

2. Dinner at a ryokan, a traditional hotel run by a family.

23/10/2009 in Kanazawa, “little Kyoto”. Served in a private tatami room by our smiling hostess, Kuniko, and a smiling waitress. $30 per person.

Orange plate ·

  • Steamed asparagus with moromi (like natto), that is fermented wheat grains, red in colour

  • Gingko seeds (2) on skewers

  • A chestnut boiled, rolled in sesame seeds

  • A block of something white with brown aerial yam balls in it

  • Block of sushi rice with a skin of moonflower fruit and leaf of a relative of rose, peppery mix set in that skin

  • Tiny block of tofu fermented in miso, wrapped in fine hairs of bonito flakes2 pieces of dried sardine

Yellow bowl

  • Block of tofu made with walnuts

  • Fresh carrot block wrapped in transparent ham

  • Dob of wasabi

Beige plate

  • Soft-shelled crab, mashed flesh and covered with gratinee, deep-fried with a covering of bread crumbs

  • The shape of autumn symbols: gluten deep-fried as a maple leaf, red and green; sweet potato as a gingko leaf, green capsicum as an asparagus

  • Soup of bonito flakes, soy sauce and sugar

Deep beige bowl

  • Thin slice of cucumber with swirl of paste of salmon and of daikon

  • Ball of mashed yam with topping of cod roe flavoured with chilli

  • Sauce of soy and thin ginger slices

Elevated purple and orangey-red plate

  • Warm smoked and grilled silver cod (local)

  • Walnut roasted in bonito flakes

  • Long thin stick of ginger, half of it dyed with natural red dye

  • On a fancily cut bamboo leaf

Green bowl

  • Croquette of mashed lotus root, stuffed with eel paste

  • Soup of soy sauce and crysanthemum petals

Blue bowl

  • On ice, sashimi of slices of tuna and local schnapper, two river prawns (creamy), shiso leaf, shredded daikon, shoots of red shiso

  • As garnish: a small yellow crysanthemum, dob of wasabi and curly strip of carrot

Pink bowl

  • Block of dry-frozen tofu and mashed fish

  • Slice of lotus root

  • Oyster mushroom, soft

  • Block of purple gluten

  • Slice of soft beef

  • Big prawn

  • Cedar leaf, tiny

Lacquer bowl

  • Miso soup with swordfish pieces

Black lacquer pot

  • Rice with powder of red shiso leaf

Blue and white bowl

  • Skemono of cucumber dyed with red, mustard leaf and daikon radish

IMAGE Breakfast in Kanazawa Ryokan