The Reputation and Commonplace of Authentic Chinese Dining

Jun’ichiro Tanizaki’s The Gourmet Club, a striking food-driven short story featured in The Gourmet Club: A Sextet, follows a group of five gluttonous Japanese men and their indulgence in bizarre delicacies. While fleeing from their banquet of typical Chinese dishes, the Count, the head of the Gourmet Club, discovered an unfamiliar Chinese restaurant called Chechiang Hall. To adhere to the audience’s senses and familiarity of the dishes, word choice and figurative language heightens the experience of the Count’s visit at Chechiang Hall in order to exemplify the exoticism found in this eccentric Chinese cuisine.

By describing the atmosphere of the banquet at Chechiang Hall, the use of word choice enhances the written words in order to emphasize the reputable reputation of the exotic dishes served. At one of the tables at the banquet, the main dish served was situated in a “great big beauty of a bowl.” (Tanizaki 116) By utilizing a series of rudimentary words to define the bowl, the bowl is used as a prop to house the amazing dish contained in its deep interior. To illustrate the consumption of the main dish, the author uses powerful words such as “assault” and “thrusting” to describe how the bowl of food was consumed fiercely and rapidly due to its delicious and admirable nature. (Tanizaki 116) When a popular appetizing dish is served in front of a large group of people, the contents tend to diminish quickly since everyone would want a hefty serving of it on their plate.

Although the Chinese dishes served at Chechiang Hall seem foreign to the Japanese, Tanizaki uses figurative language to compare the texture of the exotic dishes to common food from Japan.  During the banquet, the Count laid his eyes one of the exotic dishes served at the table, a thick and heavy soup with a boiled unborn piglet. Beneath the skin of the boiled unborn piglet, the author describes the texture as “something soft and spongy, rather like boiled fishcake and quite unlike cooked pork.” (Tanizaki 116) Fishcake and pork are common staples of popular Japanese dishes, such as ramen and udon. Even though this delicacy remains unusual to the typical Japanese consumer, the familiarity of the texture of the meal provides a sense of commonplace. Furthermore, the skin and the contents of the piglet were described as being “as soft as jelly.” (Tanizaki 116) From eating it as a snack to adding it to a dessert, jelly remains as a widespread foodstuff across Japan. The soft, semisolid consistency is well known to the average Japanese person; therefore, the texture of the piglet’s skin and contents are considered to be recognizable.

From the meticulous choice of words to the comparative use of figurative language, Jun’ichiro Tanizaki displays the high regard and commonplace of the exotic cuisine served at Chechiang Hall. With the use of these devices, the ambiance of exoticism in Chinese cuisine comes to life for the audience with experience and regard to Japanese cuisine.

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