Eric Rath, "Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan" (U California Press, 2010)


Cuisine in early modern Japan was experienced and negotiated through literature and ritual, and the uneaten or inedible was often as important as what was actually consumed. Eric Rath's recent book Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Japan (University of California Press, 2010) is a rich study of the culture, practices, performance, and literature of food in early modern Japan. Rath takes us from medieval culinary manuscripts penned by men of the knife, all the way to sukiyaki recipes clipped from newspapers in 1950s America. Focusing on late medieval culinary manuscripts and early modern printed cookbooks, Rath shows that cuisine in pre-modern Japan blended the edible with the uneaten, puns with pickles, and rituals with rice cakes. This is a wonderfully written account of the history of food in its many spaces: on the page, on the cutting board, on the tray, in the kitchen, and in transit. In the course of our interview we talked about the practical challenges of researching the history of cuisine in early modern Japan, the theater of slicing up carp, the Iberian roots of tempura, and the proper way to eat a flying quail food display.

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