The Gourmet Club: Exoticism of Food

Exotic is not of the norm. Exotic is foreign and is discovered in distant places. Exotic is beautiful. In Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s literary piece, “The Gourmet Club”, Jun’ichiro describes a small group of five men from Japan that relentlessly search the country for exotic food, and are always ready and willing to venture to far off places in order to taste new flavors. The gluttony of the five men is derived from their everyday quest for exotic food, and they surely do not care how rich or lavish the food is because their sole purpose in life is to eat and feast on the finest cuisine. In fact, throughout the story, Jun’ichiro addresses food in a way that dramatizes the idea of exoticism by describing the food encountered by the five men in great detail. Exoticism encompasses concepts of foreign and rare items that are unusual to one culture, but are authentic and indigenous to the culture of the other. Other concepts that are built within exoticism include beauty through bizarre aesthetic, and extremity through the means of discovering the foreign goods. It is clear throughout Jun’ichiro’s story that food has the ability to express such a profound idea as exoticism, and to do so, Jun’ichiro embeds the text with intriguing examples that illustrate exoticism in a precise manner.
In the beginning section of “The Gourmet Club”, the protagonist and head of the club known as Count G, is always having visions of food, either “asleep or awake” (p. 104). In one instance from pages 104-106, the Count witnesses an array of food and smells the aromas that rise from the dishes, but this event is occurring within a dream. Upon viewing and smelling all the food, the Count focuses on to “the finest, largest shellfish…that the Count had ever seen,” and as he watches the shellfish being prepared, “odd-looking wrinkles” begin to form “on the surface of that vicious white substance” (p. 105). Even though the shellfish was the finest that the Count had ever seen, there was a strange appearance to the shellfish as unusual wrinkles emerged on the meat. This account of the fine shellfish having a strange appearance provides a juxtaposition in regards to beauty, as beauty is characterized by refined and pleasant appearances, while the Count has seen beauty within the bizarre looking shellfish as he is not too concerned with the appearance of the shellfish but rather the beauty of the delicious taste of the shellfish. The beauty seen by the Count in the grotesque shellfish exhibits exoticism as exoticism concerns beauty, but in a subjective manner because to some people, food might not be beautiful, but to the Count and to the remaining members of the club, food is beautiful and is a form of art.
In another section of “The Gourmet Club”, Count G discovers a place in Tokyo that serves Chinese food “for Chinese people only” (p. 113). After talking to a few attendants of the place he manages to make his way inside, and as he tours the facility, he sees “shelf hung chunks of pork loin and pigs’ legs with the skin still on” (p. 114). The shaved skin of the hung meat resembles the skin of a woman, and even a print of a Chinese woman is placed next to the meat. This event exhibits exoticism because Count G discovers authentic Chinese food with the pork loin and pig’s legs, and the cuts of pork are compared metaphorically to the picture of the Chinese woman on the wall which furthers the meats authenticity to the Chinese culture in an sense that can been observed as erotic.
These two examples of food effectively display the view of Exoticism in ways that convey ideas of the subjective beauty of food, and the authenticity of foreign foods. Without exoticism, the food in Jun’ichiro’s work, “The Gourmet Club” would entail no excitement at all, and truly with exoticism, food is glorified and described with immense appreciation which all translates to a magnificent food lovers’ tale.

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