The Role of Food in Dramatizing Exoticism

In Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s “The Gourmet Club”, the protagonist, Count G, searches for the next new and exciting delicacy to recommend and share with his fellow food enthusiasts. On his quest, Count G unexpectedly stumbles upon what appears to be a dinner party filled with never before seen Chinese cuisine. Count G then makes it a personal mission to taste the exotic food. Throughout “The Gourmet Club”, food is used to dramatize the idea of “exoticism” by possessing the ability to represent an aspect of a foreign culture and providing an exhilaratingly new adventure, due to the unfamiliarity of the Chinese dishes.

As a native citizen of Japan, the Count has never actually been to China and has only heard about the country and its food. The Count getting insight into an unfamiliar culture is noted in the text, “It was knowing that this club for Chinese from Chechiang Province, that there they were, enjoying real Chinese food as they listened to that intoxicating music, exactly following the customs of their native land-it was this that piqued his interest. As he would have been the first to admit, he’d never tasted real Chinese cooking yet” (111). Because Count G has never visited China and eaten authentic Chinese food, the events at the dinner party along with the food are exotic to the Count. Authentic food from a country that one has never been to can act as a representative symbol of that country. For example, to many non-French people, escargot is an unusual dish, but it is very much associated to France as a country and many do try it despite the peculiarity of it, so that they may have an authentic French cultural experience. In “The Gourmet Club”, the Count eating the authentic Chinese food allows him to have a cultural experience that is exotic to him and would otherwise not be readily available to him on a daily basis. Therefore, for the Count, China is exotic to him which makes his consumption of its delicacies that much more thrilling.

Exoticism can be defined as the condition of being foreign, striking, or unusual. In “The Gourmet Club” the Count and his colleagues specifically look at food as an opportunity to try something enticingly new and, after trying all dishes possible, they attempt to find more riveting and different plates. During the men’s slump in discovering striking food, the narrator notes, “They scoured all the eateries of Tokyo, hoping to impress their fellow members by discovering some wondrous new flavor. They were like curio collectors rummaging about in dubious secondhand shops on the off chance of making an unusual find”(102). The comparison of the men to collectors looking for rare and peculiar collectibles displays how food provides an experience that is rewarding when a new piece can be placed into the gourmet club members’ “collection”, or list of unique foods they have tried. Similar to how thrill-seekers achieve an adrenaline rush by partaking in bigger and even slightly intimidating adventures, Count G and the other men have the goal of discovering grander cuisine to eat.

Exoticism is subjective and is varied from person to person because of personal experience. Ultimately, the unfamiliar Chinese food Count G encounters dramatizes exoticism because it provides a glimpse into a culture that is foreign to him and acts as an adventure, due to the thrill given when the Count is able to try the new cuisine.

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