The Japanese art of fake food

0

Look, but don’t eat.

It’s the best way to consume the plentiful displays like nigiri, curry, and tempura displayed in the windows and at the tables of so many casual Japanese restaurants. Known in Japan as “shokuhin sampuru” (食品サンプル), food models are often made of plastic or wax and mimic the look, texture, and shape of meals. They were first used by restaurants in the days before color photography as a way to show consumers what items were available.

This sampuru image shows the whistles of natto beans and illustrates how the best designs highlight the attention to detail and precision in crafted items. DigiPub/Getty Images

Today, their function has evolved into an art form. On the streets of Japan and those belonging to diaspora communities outside the country, you will find sampuru attracting potential diners to restaurants and shops. The faux and sparkly treats double as travel mementos as well as ephemera of times gone by.

As the best of food-related inventions, many have claimed to be the original masterminds of food patterns.

In an interview with TODAY Food, Samuel H. Yamashita, a history professor at Pomona College with expertise in Japanese and Pacific Rim cuisines, said the culinary history of sampuru has three different theories of origin.

A tempura food pattern details everything to expect on a plate, including a lemon wedge and mung bean sprouts.
A tempura food pattern details everything to expect on a plate, including a lemon wedge and mung bean sprouts. LA Japan House

“One theory is that they originated in Kyoto in 1917 and were invented by a man named Soujiro Nishio,” Yamashita explained, adding that the craftsman was an employee of the Shimazu Corporation, a manufacturer that made plant models.

Marbled beef, food pattern
A food template highlights a restaurant’s Kobe beef menu item by displaying its marbling.DigiPub/Getty Images

Nishio is said to have made the first food models in November 1917 and eventually formed Nishio Production Company, which made the first food models. According to legend, it wasn’t until a department store in Okayama approached Nishio for food replicas that the models really took off.

Another theory credits Shirokiya Department Store as the first Japanese department store to have a cafeteria offering waxy delicacies. The historic department store dates back to 1662, but it wasn’t until more than 200 years later that displaying items on their menus became part of the store’s marketing approach.

A nigiri and makizushi display showcases everything from tamago (egg) nigiri to tuna maki.
A nigiri and makizushi display showcases everything from tamago (egg) nigiri to tuna maki.LA Japan House

“They came up with the idea of ​​displaying a portion of each dish,” says an article about sampuru published by Tofugu, a blog about Japanese culture and language. “But real food could attract insects and become sad in other ways at the end of the day, and preparing food and throwing it away every day was not without cost.” With this dilemma, the department store called on Tsutomu Sudo, an anatomical maker of human and animal body parts.

Omelet food pattern
The first sampuru is theorized to have been an omelet and created by Takizo Iwasaki.DigiPub/Getty Images

A third theory cites Takizo Iwasaki, a man who ran a bento shop in Osaka, as having become the first sampuru maker. According to Yamashita, Iwasaki made bento lunches and, after some trial and error, created an omelet model so realistic when he showed it to his wife that she couldn’t make out the egg dish. real fluffy. thing.

Known today as the “father of the dummy food model industry”, Iwasaki’s company – formerly the Iwasaki Group, now known as Iwasaki Be-I – is said to account for 60% of the current Japanese sampuru market. .

Funny to think that this model of beef in sauce and vegetables on the side started in a silicone mold.
Funny to think that this model of beef in sauce and vegetables on the side started in a silicone mold.LA Japan House

These early models were made of wax, but today’s models are made of plastic.

Although the valuation of sampuru is high, most of its makers still largely make the models by hand. The handmade process of the food models is one of the smallest details and craftsmanship.

A restaurant soliciting replicas of its menu items will typically freeze its items so that a maker can begin the process of creating a casting mold.

For his approach to building food replicas, Iwasaki Be-I states on his site that he follows a “little-known” step-by-step process. Starting from the creation of a mold made by duplicating the rough surfaces of a food, the manufacturer then slowly fills the mold with silicone and a colored resin. After heating the material in an oven, the silicone is removed from the model and then painted with airbrushes and brushes.

It doesn’t end there, however. After all, the key to any dish is presentation. Whether it’s how your side of fries will sit next to a stacked burger with toppings, or how unagi looks lacquered on top of a bowl of rice, food patterns are set to reproduce the way a dish will be served.

cheeseburger food pattern
Iwasaki Mokei CEO Seigo Kozakai says he believes sampuru is no longer just seen as an imitation food, but rather recognized for its unique quality that goes beyond the real thing. “It has become an art form, and sampuru accessories bring joy to people all over the world,” he told TODAY.DigiPub/Getty Images

Beyond whetting appetites, food patterns have also fostered cultural exchange and expansion across the world.

In an interview with TODAY, Seigo Kozakai, CEO of Iwasaki Mokei (not to be confused with Iwasaki Be-I) highlighted the impact sampuru has had on culinary expansion and collaboration around the world. “Sampurus has grown in line with the growth and development of Japanese restaurants,” Kozakai remarked. “After the 1940s, when Western food culture came to Japan, these sampurus provided visual reassurance to Japanese people who had never seen many of these dishes before. Since then it was recognized that sampurus were effective and became what is known today.

Prawns al ajillo, food pattern
Sampuru may have Japanese roots, but its usefulness is appreciated around the world. In Tokyo, Japan, a food pattern features the Spanish dish, camarones al ajillo (garlic prawns).DigiPub/Getty Images

Beyond expanding American palates, sampuru played an important role in conveying an understanding of food as an art form in itself. A 1985 article published in The New York Times described the sampuru as an example of “pure Tokyo style of traditional craftsmanship” which had so fascinated the art world that it was included in an exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum. from London. An anecdote from the piece recalled that a visitor to the museum had discovered a piece of fur on a plastic kiwi which the visitor had taken to be “very real”. Years later, in 1990, examples of Japanese food samples were part of a permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And the fascination with food replicas as the art continues. In mid-May, Japan House Los Angeles hosted Seigo Kozakai for a presentation on the craftsmanship and trade of these food replicas.

The next time you walk the streets of a bustling city, take a closer look at the restaurants around you to see if you spot a food pattern.
The next time you walk the streets of a bustling city, take a closer look at the restaurants around you to see if you spot a food pattern.LA Japan House

With its ability to visually communicate the texture and flavor profile of foods, sampuru has long served as an ambassador of new culinary experiences for consumers around the world. Today, they give children and non-verbal people the opportunity to communicate their desires, offer tourists the chance to venture outside of their cultural comforts, and with their many window displays light up the streets of our world.


Source link

Share.

About Author

Comments are closed.