What is OBANZAI? A Study Report (2/4)
2. The structure in Obanzai
Obanzai, born through daily domestic livings, is prepared at a kitchen and consumed at a dining room. Thus, Obanzai entails the two processes, namely, the cooking and eating. Those who prepare Obanzai are usually also eaters and knowledgeable about the eaters including family members, who usually have full trust in the cook.
(1)The preparing of Obanzai
The preparing of Obanzai consists of several processes, which are related to each other and constitute a series of cooking performances. To every process a custom or routine is attached. These customs all together have been inherited, though with gradual alterations, over the time, and come to shape Kyoto’s unique cuisine culture.
The process of preparing Obanzai
1) Planning menu
Obanzai menu are, though with some variations, conditioned according to seasonality, ceremonial events and customs, and created taking into consideration nutritional values of ingredients. While a combination of one soup and three courses is the most common in an Obanzai meal, that pattern is not decisive—note that the past literature does not necessarily mention the one-soup-three-courses combination as an established cuisine style of Obanzai.
2) Procuring ingredients
Traditionally, ingredients, cooking tools and kitchenware for Obanzai would be procured through negotiations among local people. Major ingredients Obanzai include seasonal vegetables produced in Kyoto as well as soy bean products. Whereas salted dried saltwater seafood and freshwater fish were common Obanzai’s ingredients, nowadays fresh seawater fish is frequently used in Obanzai dishes as the cold-chain distribution system has been developed and improved.
The core of the Obanzai cooking comprises preparing broth with subtle flavors and stewing ingredients in the broth with soft water, which derives flavors from the ingredients, although other techniques, such as grilling, sautéing, frying, and steaming, are frequently employed. In addition, a variety of seasonings, and Kyoto’s traditional fermented condiments, including Shiro-miso (white soy bean paste) and Usukuchi-shoyu (light-colored soy sauce), add distinctive flavors to the ingredients, creating the uniqueness of Obanzai as a cuisine culture.
4) Plating up
In Obanzai, the simplicity characterizes plating of dishes, except when special meals are prepared for special occasions. Nonetheless, even everyday Obanzai dishes are aesthetically plated, considering layout and colors of ingredients and tableware, so that seasonal changes are reflected in the meal.
5) Serving and eating
Many Obanzai dishes, once prepared, can be stored, reheated and repeatedly served so that people can save the time for meal preparation. Usually in an Obanzai meal, those who prepare dishes and the eaters, sitting together at the dining table, share the dishes. Eating the same dishes together has educational and cultural values, such as preservation of traditions, and even can serve to strengthen solidarity of families or communities.
6) Cleaning and restoring
After the meal, tableware are cleaned and restored to the shelves so that the next Obanzai can be prepared smoothly. It is common that those who share the dishes also share this post-meal task.
In Obanzai exist certain mental elements, or mentality, of the people of Kyoto, which serve as guiding principles in their daily life and value judgments. The mental elements in Obanzai have hardly been altered over generations and had little correlation with social changes, thereby contributed to establishing Obanzai’s identity. Following are examples representing the essential mentalities of Obanzai.
This word denotes “from the beginning to the end,” thus signifies “using every part of ingredients without wasting them.” Shimatsu, oftentimes echoing with Mottainai, a word advising not to waste resources, implies not a stringent or pathetic attitude; but rather, it relates to spirits and prides alive in the people of Kyoto.
The word denotes that two different characters, objects, or themes encounter so that they create a new identity. Deaimon means pursuing something novel from a happenstance. In Obanzai, Deaimon can ensue not only when different ingredients are combined or an ingredient is combined with a new cooking method, but also when different people or people and the environment come across.
The word signifies the authentic product, material, object, or character. In pursuing the best quality in cuisine, Honmamon is sought. A Honmamon is expensive, thus, Shimatsu of it becomes crucial.
Kokorozukai refers to being considerate to others. Meals can make the relationship between eaters and those who prepare fonder and stronger, and at the basis of the relationship always lies Kokorozukai. In Japan, expressing the appreciation to a meal by saying Itadakimasu (before eating) or Gochisousama (after eating) also indicates Kokorozukai to those who made the eating possible.
Ambai is an act of mind finding a good balance between, or taking a comfortable distance from, things. Ambai, grown through urban lifecycles in Kyoto as the historic capital, can be found all over the place and occasions, including the cuisine culture.