Food and Exoticism – A Pathway to Intercultural Influence

 

In Junichiro Tanizaki’s Gourmet Club, the plot revolves around a group of “gastronomers” and their quest for the ultimate dining experience, one that would put “poetry, music, and painting in the shade” (99). The members of this club are true connoisseurs of food; they spend every day attempting to find the most unique foods that would quell the boredom they find in the foods found in Tokyo and the surrounding areas. Their “tongues lost all taste for the usual ‘fine cuisine’; lick and slurp as they might, they could no longer discover the excitement and joy in eating that they demanded” (102) and thus, “driven by their gluttony” (103), they created a contest to see who could discover or create the most delectable and exotic dish.

The leader of this club, Count G., takes it upon himself to find the dish that would blow the minds of his comrades. He wanted to discover “foods whose flavors would make the flesh melt and raise the soul to heaven” (104), ones that would be so unique that it would be virtually unfathomable to the rest of the club. He begins his journey into the depths of Tokyo within an inclination that he would discover his the winning prize. He travels deep into the depths of Tokyo, ignoring the major restaurants and stopping to test out the smaller, less well-known eateries. He finally discovers a building in a back alleyway that seems as if it holds the answers to his quest. He is fascinated by the fact that it is a “three-story wooden house of Western style” (108) with just the name Chanchiang Hall written on a sign by the locked door. The music that comes from the third floor stirs up images of food within the Count, instantly igniting his already roaring appetite. Tanizaki states that, “from the moment he realized it was not a restaurant, his desire to sample the food here had burned all the more fiercely” (111). The building itself and his realization that within laid a genuine Chinese club with traditional Chinese food, could perhaps “be the grail that he’d been seeking” (112).  Within the club, he encounters an environment that overwhelms him. The hazy atmosphere combined with the smells and sights that he is unaccustomed to make his experience all the more intense. He meets the president of this club and is dismayed at his rejection from this exclusive Chinese dining club. He states “I’ve been longing to encounter a man like that-the ultimate connoisseur” (126), a man whose food surpasses even that seen in Count G.’s dreams.

Through sheer persistence, the Count is able to convince a member to let him secretly observe the meals in the club and from this he gains his inspiration for the ultimate dining experience. He brings this inspiration and creates dishes that electrify and stupefy the rest of his club. His dishes are far more exotic than the other members could have imagined. With names like “Pigeon-Egg Hot Springs”, the Count was able to create a dining experience that was unbeknownst previously. He states “in order to provide ourselves with other satisfying tastes, we must both greatly expand the range of that ‘cuisine’ and also diversify as much as possible the senses we use in enjoying it” (137).  This last statement epitomizes the idea of exoticism and its connection to food. The concept of exoticism is something that is attractively strange or remarkably unusual. The Chinese restaurant is familiar and fashionable to the Count but at the same time, it is different and strange, thus peaking his interest and creating the sense of exoticism that he desires. Exoticism exists in the folds between notions of inside and outside; these “exotic foods” desired by the club are connected to the mainstream market, but still maintain themselves as separate from mainstream culture. The Chinese club serves as the inspiration for the Gourmet Club, it serves as the representation of one culture for the consumption of the other; in other words, it is exotic. 

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