In “The Gourmet Club,” Jun’ichiro Tanizaki depicts a gluttonous group of men who desire to eat the most delicious and exotic foods in Japan. Their leader, Count G, tired of the ordinary Japanese and pseudo-Chinese food, eventually discovers an authentic Chinese restaurant called Chechiang Hall and adopts their techniques into the Gourmet Club’s own feasts. Tanizaki utilizes food to dramatize the idea of exoticism in regards to two aspects: the undercurrent of eroticism in exoticism and viewing exoticism in terms of sensory experience instead of distance.
As a decadent novelist, Tanizaki often acknowledges the perverse connection between food and sexuality. In the beginning, Tanizaki introduces this connection through the comparison of paying a “genius of a cook” the same wages as one would pay to “monopolize a first-class geisha” (99). In the Gourmet Club’s eyes, these epicurean pleasures are synonymous with pleasures of the flesh. Accordingly, whenever Tanizaki is describing the food of Chechiang Hall, he uses extremely erotic and feminine language. The first sight of the Chinese food that the Count sees was pigs’ legs, “soft, white and luscious as any woman’s” (114). The erotic language serves to emphasize the extent that that Count lusts and desires the idealized, exotic Chinese cuisine.
Furthermore, one of the major examples of the sexualization of food occurs in the description of the Ham with Chinese Cabbage. Tanizaki personifies the dish with feminine imagery like the “sensuous swish of silk” and the suffocating “smells of hair oil and perfume” (132-133). The woman’s fingers begin to sensuously massage the diner’s lips, giving sexual pleasure as well as increasing the anticipation of the consumption of food. Tanizaki portrays the men’s appetite as aroused, cleverly hinting at the double entendre of sexual arousal and epicurean arousal. The explicit sexual imagery of licking and sucking the fluid-emitting “bok choi fingers” serves to enhance the connection that eroticism has to exoticism (136). The taboo nature of the cannibalistic consumption of the woman’s fingers augments the concept of exoticism. The exotic foods of Chechiang Hall satisfy both the men’s hunger and sexual drive.
In addition, food is also used to dramatize the idea of exoticism in that it clarifies the concept of viewing exoticism in terms of imagination and experience instead of geographical distance. When an object or experience is described as exotic, it usually means that it originates from a culture that exists far away from your homeland. However, in the story, the authentic Chinese food of Chechiang Hall is perceived as exotic, yet it is not geographically distant from Japan. Tanizaki instead emphasizes how distinct and magical the Chinese food is when compared to the Japanese and fake Chinese food they had grown tired of. The cuisine of Chechiang Hall was the “product of utterly different tastes and conception” (131). Because the experience of food is so bizarre and unique, one can consider it to be exotic. In order to truly savor these eccentric foods, the narrator claims that “every part of them had to become a tongue” (131). Tanizaki’s technique of surreal hyper-focalization to describe these sensory experiences stresses the exoticism that is inherent in these types of dishes.