The characters in Tanizaki Jun’ichirō’s short story “The Gourmet Club” absolutely adore and crave food, but apparently not so much as the idea of something different. They have become bored to death of the food that once excited them greatly, complaining “No matter what we eat, it’s all the same – no improvement” (p. 103). This dissatisfaction with existing foods that they thought they loved so well shows that it is really not food they love, it is the exoticism associated with foreign foods that entices them. “The Gourmet Club” depicts the concept of exoticism initially through this club of foodies’ love of foreign food before expanding to exotic senses, ways of eating, and unearthly methods of presentation that change “exotic” from being foreign to being surrealistically enthralling.
Before setting out on his quest to find new foods, the Count dreams about a giant mouth eating and salivating highly detailed food. In the dream sequence, the focus is on the look of the food and how appetizing and delicious the appearance of food cooking and being prepared is. “Odd-looking wrinkles began to appear on the surface of that viscous white substance. At first they were like the wrinkles on a dried plum; then gradually they got deeper, until finally the entire mollusk became hard, like a piece of paper that has been chewed on and spat out”(p. 105). The senses appealed to are initially scent and sight, but the latter quickly rises to prominence. This paints food as being appetizing through its appearance and the salivating that comes from seeing a familiar food and remember its taste and scent.
However, gradually the story reveals that the characters’ love of food is really a love of exoticism. The count becomes interested in the Chinese club because he smells rich Chinese food. This interest turns to lust and hunger when he sees the exclusivity and unearthly nature of the foods. For example, they serve “unborn piglet, boiled whole” (p. 116). This delicacy “preserved the original form of the animal, but what emerged from beneath the skin was … quite unlike cooked pork” (p. 116). The food is not normal or even apparently natural at all. Of the men eating the food, the Count reflected that “he had never yet known the grand satisfaction that was evident on [their] faces” (p. 117). Despite all that the Count had eaten in his life, he had yet to be that content.
When the Count brings his newfound Chinese food preparation to the Gourmet Club, the meals are given plain and common name, but their presentation is anything but. Instead of appealing to sight and smell like the Count’s dream, of the look and aromas of the food, they are served with no visual pretense at all. One meal is presented as a “wonderfully hot broth – thick [and] opaque” (p. 129) where the taste is not actually from the broth but from the belch it produces in the eater. The bok choi is presented in a pitch black room as what appears to be a dainty woman’s fingers in the patron’s mouth. The feast, and this meal in particular, plays upon the familiarity of the taste of food, but unfamiliarity of presentation that associates food with exoticism and sates the club’s seemingly endless appetite.