In honour of our upcoming World Pasta Day, and subsequent week of gastronomic getaways, we’ve taken the opportunity to dive into the culinary pasts of each of our chosen cuisines to bring you a cultural banquet of these rich histories.
In 2013, just as the year was coming to a close, UNESCO - The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation - inscribed washoku, or traditional Japanese cuisine, on its ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ list. Indeed, every nation has its own gastronomic traditions worth preserving, yet, it is a testament to the culinary richness of washoku that it has cemented its place as only the fifth food culture in possession of this accolade. Represented as 和食 in Kanji, the character 和 means harmony, aptly conveying the island nation’s attitude towards its cuisine. Even linguistically, washoku is beautifully representative of Japan’s entire culinary consciousness; so much more than just a collection of dishes or kitchen practices, food for Japan is both a philosophy and a way of life.
The Land of the Rising Sun: A Brief Culinary History
The sea-girt Japanese archipelago spans over 3,000 miles, encompassing within its reach the northernmost reaches of Bentenjima and the southernmost point of Okinotorishima. From the mountains, seas and villages, Japanese food culture is deeply rooted in its surrounding environment and alters month on month, as with every passing season.
The country’s rice-centred food culture evolved following the advent of wet rice cultivation from Asia over 2,000 years ago. Interestingly, the word for cooked rice in Japanese is gohan, which translates to ‘meal’ in English. There is something poetic about the way in which the Japanese language is an extension of its culinary practices, and rather fitting, given just how important rice turned out to be. Still the vibrant core of the nation’s cuisine today, this ubiquitous grain reached a highly sophisticated form of production in the Edo period, more than 400 years ago.
Half a millennia after the country’s transition to an agricultural lifestyle, Chinese culture was introduced to Japanese society. In an act of imitation of Tang Dynasty practices, Emperor Temmu of Japan issued an imperial edict that eliminated the consumption of nearly all animal products. Following the introduction of Buddhism in the 6th century, the vegetarian style of cooking, shojin ryori, became widespread, and, by the late 15th century, many of the foods now eaten in modern Japan had already come to the fore, including miso, tofu, and other products made from soybeans.
A Melting Pot of Culture & Cuisine
With the reopening of Japan to the occident in the 1800s, many new culinary customs were imported into the country, the most important of which was the resurgence of meat into the Japanese diet. One of the most common dishes - tonkatsu, deep-fried breaded pork cutlets - retains its popularity even in the 20th century.
Due to the varied regionality of ingredients, a Japanese home cooked meal could contain influences from a whole gamut of other national origins. However, traditional Japanese food, founded on the customs of thousands of years of history, still remains the most popular form of food. It is generally common practice to find white rice, pickles, miso and other fermented products around the dinner table of most Japanese households.
Our Take on Japan
Given the rich diversity of the island nation’s cuisine and the impact that external influences have had on its cooking practices, we’ve created our own pasta dish, reminiscent of Japan’s heritage, of course, with an Italian twist:
日本 🇯🇵 | Pici 'Noodles' with Wagyu Beef Brisket Ragù
For our Japanese-inspired dish we’ve carefully selected the finest cuts of Wagyu beef for our sumptuous ragù. Not just because “Wagyu ragù” is amusing to say but also due to the uniqueness of this Japanese ingredient. ‘Wagyu’, literally meaning ‘Japanese cattle’, were originally raised for labour in agriculture and thus developed high energy & endurance capabilities, particularly during periods of drought, which ultimately contributed to the superiority of the meats’ quality & tasting experience. Traditionally fed through grazing in large, pastured areas, products such as rice straw and alfalfa helped the cattle to develop the marbling of fat that is signature of Wagyu meat.
Until the 1970s, Wagyu cattle were considered a ‘national treasure’ in Japan and so were blocked by the Japanese government from being exported. As a result, Wagyu beef is comparatively new to the global gastronomic scene.
We’ve paired this extraordinary meat with pici pasta, a Tuscan variety made using only semolina flour and water. This shape seemed fitting as its thick strands are charmingly reminiscent of Japanese udon noodles. Why not try it as part of our limited menu this week?
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