Jui’ichiro Tanizaki’s The Gourmet Club tells a story of five men who are members of their own club, known as the Gourmet Club, on a quest to discover new and unusual cuisines as part of their hobby. Desperate to find something new, Count G ventures out one night in hopes to find something uncommon that will please his appetite. Stumbling upon a quaint little building known as the Chechiang Hall, his senses were enticed by the aroma coming from the building and is determined to discover what lies inside. The sense of exoticism is illustrated through the comparison of food with a symphony orchestra, and Tanizaki’s presentation of the “other”. These ideas builds up by encouraging the characters and the reader as well to use their imagination to create an internal experience.
In the beginning, Count G compares exotic cuisine with a symphony orchestra. He imagines the hall to have “rows of masterworks…a dazzling artistry of tastes…to the accompaniment of the Chinese violin, a full orchestra of flavors, resonant with luxury and pleasure” (112). This emphasizes the exoticism of Chinese cuisine because it is something out of reach of ordinary people. Usually an orchestra symphony is attended by the higher class, limited to those who are knowledgeable in classical music, and rare for ordinary people who do not have “refined” taste of music to attend. Therefore by having Chinese cuisine compared to a symphony, Tanizaki implies that it is exotic because it is socially-distant on the basis of social class (Johnson & Baumann, 109). Additionally, since this passage is an imagination of Count G, it encourages readers as well to fantasize this place, thus heightening the sense of distance between a real experience and what we dream or expect to experience, making it more exotic to us. Moreover, the obsession of these men have in finding unusual food is intensified when the narrator describes food with music once again as “…once heard, would make men dance madly, dance themselves to death. Food one just had to eat…until at last one’s stomach burst open” (104). This exemplifies the relentless obsession these five men have in food to the point of driving themselves to the extreme, even death. Dancing one’s self to death connotes an unhealthy obsession for perfection just like Count G’s extreme fascination with unconventional food. It is also interesting to note that such comparison between two irreconcilable ideas together such as food and death, draws attention to the thin boundary that separates the two, suggesting that one’s sanity may be on the line when this boundary is crossed.
Another way food is used to dramatize exoticism is through the idea of consuming the “other”. The consumption of the “other” is established in the story when the narrator describes a dished called the “Deep-fried Woman, Korean Style” (138). The narrator describes it as a woman covered in a deep-fried tempura batter, and the members eats this batter off this woman. This literal interpretation of consuming the “other” displays exoticism in a way that it is a woman that is being used. Many times when we think of something exotic, we relate it to women because women exudes beauty. Furthermore, often times exotic cuisine is seen as mysterious and “norm-breaking” (Johnson & Baumann, 108). The fact that the woman is covered in batter is something that breaks the norm because it violates how food are usually served in the mainstream culinary world. Lastly, it exudes a sense of mysteriousness because as the members consume the tempura batter off her, they are slowly uncovering what is underneath. The consumer in this scene, and the reader as well, is using their imagination of what to be discovered after all the batter has been eaten.
Altogether, this produces an internal experience, for both character and the reader, and encourages the use of our senses to fully appreciate such an exotic experience.
Josee Johnston and Shyon Baumann. “The Culinary Other: Seeking Exoticism.” Ch 3 in Foodies: Democracy and Distinction in the Gourmet Foodscape. New York: Routledge, 2010. 97-126. Print.
Tanizaki, Jun’ichiro. “The Gourmet Club.” The Gourmet Club: A Sextet, trans. Ed. Anthony H. Chambers and Paul McCarthy. Tokyo; London: Kodansha, 2001. 99-140. Print.