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Naked Sushi


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Folks, I'm pretty sure now that this fad springs from a literary allusion even if the connection has been lost over time.

I just read a short story that I urge all of you to seek out: "The Gourmet Club" by Juni'ichiro Tanizaki. The tale inspires the title of a collection published in English translation in 2001. Japanese critics use the term ero-guro-nansensu to characterize the intermingling of erotic obsession, the grotesque [quite disgusting at times] and comic obsurdity found in such fiction. Tanizaki was very much a gourmet himself and describes food with meticulous rapture. John Donne in Japanese prose had the poet gone to culinary school instead of being frocked.

Here's the beginning as translated by Paul McCarthy:

"I daresay the members of the Gourmet Club loved the pleasures of the table not a whit less than they loved those of the bedroom.... Whenever they discovered some novel flavor, they took as much pride and pleasure in it as if they'd found a beautiful woman for themselves.... For in their view, cooking was an art...It took them to such giddy heights that it seemed only natural they should think that these epicurean pleasures were as much of the spirit as of the flesh. But the devil, it seems, is as powerful as God, for when any of the sensual pleasures (and not only those of the table) are taken to their furthest point, there is a danger of losing oneself entirely in them...

Thus, as a result of their gormandizing, each and every one of them was afflicted year-round with a large pot-belly. And it was not only their bellies, of course: their bodies brimmed with excess fat; their cheeks and thighs were as plump and oily as the pig's flesh used in making pork belly cooked in soy sauce.

In realizing his dreams of creating dishes of utter novelty, the protagonist Count G. concludes a banquet with an item called "Deep-fried Woman, Korean Style." Not as horrifying as that sounds. For the Japanese aristocrat who reveres Chinese cuisine above all others, "Korean style" refers to tempura. Diners are invited to sit around a table upon which a beautiful Chinese woman lies, seeming dressed in "a delicately patterned white damask" robe. The cloth proves to be deep-fried batter, instead, which members of the Gourmet Club consume to reveal her flesh.

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