Chinese Cultural Forms in “The Gourmet Club”

Throughout “The Gourmet Club”, authentic Chinese food is presented as exotic cuisine that the main character, Count G, cannot resist tasting. To further emphasize the idea of exoticism surrounding the food, classical Chinese cultural forms are displayed throughout the text. These forms play a key role in developing the imagery and aesthetics of “The Gourmet Club”. Specifically, the Chinese cultural forms contribute to a distinctly foreign, yet authentic image in the story.

Readers learn that Count G and his comrades have only had the experience of eating the Japanese version of Chinese food, which is why actual Chinese food is so enticing and different. The author asserts this theme of uniqueness about the cuisine by employing Chinese cultural forms. For example, the text states, “but at the instant they passed, a whiff of shao-hsing rice wine reached his nostrils”(107). Shao-hsing rice wine is exclusive to China. The presence of an item that is difficult to encounter outside of China results in a sense of allurement. Using “shao-sing rice wine” in particular, rather than simply “rice wine” categorizes the wine as something directly from China, and something that is usually not common in Japan. This illustrates the story as possessing images of exoticism.

Another instance in which Chinese cultural forms are utilized to give a sense of foreignness is seen when the gourmet club members are trying to decipher what dish they are eating. One member thinks, “Yes, it definitely tastes like ham-and in particular, Chinese-style ham”(135). The member’s thought indicates that there is an obvious difference between what is considered “normal” ham to him and the “Chinese-style” ham. Describing the food as having a Chinese cooking style or approach lends to a feeling of specialty and unusualness. The feelings of specialty and unusualness relates to the general idea of exoticism.

Lastly, bok choi is a heavily attributed to China and the description of it continues to give a sense of uniqueness in “The Gourmet Club”. The taste-tester of the gourmet club notes, “Moreover, it was a tender sort of bok choi, like a well-boiled giant radish, sweeter and moister than anything he’d had before”(136). The intricate detailing of the texture and taste of bok choi creates a peculiar perspective on the Chinese dish, since the gourmet club member who is eating the vegetable is not very familiar with it. The excitement of consuming a foreign meal for the first time is heightened by the unconventional description. The unconventionality further supports a general feeling of exoticism to the story.

The foreignness and exoticism of the delicacies brings feelings of enticement and curiosity that are clearly displayed in the characters’ attitude and desires to taste the meals. The classical Chinese cultural forms themselves give a sense of authenticity to the food because it makes a connection to China. Tanizaki Jun’ichiro ultimately utilizes Chinese cultural forms to show a story of foreignness and exoticism. The Chinese cultural forms are mainly applied to authentic Chinese food and food becomes the aspect that emphasizes the above ideas.

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