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Wabi, Sabi, Shibui


Carrot Top
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The word shibui used as a food expression is not the same as "shibui" in a stylistic sense like one would of a cool person. Shibui is an expression of a flavour, a harshness... often used for tea that's been brewed too long, wines that are tannic etc...

I don't think wabi sabi is used as a culinary term, but please correct me if I'm wrong. One would describe a decor of a restaurant or the shape of a vase as wabi sabi but not necessarily food I would think.

ahh where's the button for the fries?

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There is a Japanese restaurant nearby called Wabi Sabi that cooks a certain sort of freestyle Japanese cusine.

But I think the term describes more an aesthetic: a comfort in imperfection; a lack of pretension, even earthiness; and a celebration (quietly) in Nature's processes of birth, growth, death and decay; and also, by extension, the beauty of impermanence.

How fitting then in the restaurant business.

Jamie

PS: Here's a Wabi Sabi site.

Edited by jamiemaw (log)

from the thinly veneered desk of:

Jamie Maw

Food Editor

Vancouver magazine

www.vancouvermagazine.com

Foodblog: In the Belly of the Feast - Eating BC

"Profumo profondo della mia carne"

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I don't think the terms wabi and sabi are used to describe food or dining. They are usually used to describe tea ceremony rooms, tea-making utensils, plates, and so on.

Note that wabi and sabi are both nouns.

Shibui is an adjective having two meanings. One is cool in a subdued manner, and the other is astringent, as in shibui kaki (persimmon) and o-cha (tea). Nigai (bitter) is used to describe the taste of coffee and chocolate.

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If not, are there other terms that might be used intead to give shape to a similar meaning?
I realized that I hadn't answered your question fully. I thought about it, but I just can't come up with a right answer. After all, to my mind, there can be no food or dining that can represent the concept of wabi or sabi.
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Interesting answers.

The first I read of shibui, which generated this question in my mind, was this:

"[. . .] the way of shibui, the design principle that urges a gardener to leave two or three bright, fall-colored leaves behind on an otherwise immaculate surface of raked lawn."

Images of food that would be plated in this way came to my mind. The tension of imbalance - an liveliness of sorts - that creates a focus of interest that the mere rigid form of perfect balance does not.

To extend it into another realm with food, one might think of the unexpected flavor held in a certain ingredient that sparks a dish - something that surprises yet intrigues, removes itself yet blends and supports the whole.

In a brief web-search, I found references mostly to design.

And was also fascinated by the fact that these words used to be used separately, yet are more often used together now (wabi and sabi).

The two meanings of shibui (really there seem to be three?) startled me also.

For no good reason except that one of the meanings seems full of a deeper intent than the other two hold that it surprised me.

It came to me to wonder, if in Japanese, the words used to specifically describe one thing in one specific vocation were shifted over into use for other vocations. In English, we are very free and easy-going with our words - they wander all over the place and are re-shaped often for different uses.

tokyogurumegal notes that shibui is now used to describe a cool person - so maybe this is done in Japanese to some extent.

But still, I wonder if the language that is used to describe food and dining is as mutant or as fickle or as flexible as it is in English (particularly American English).

It seems that this would have some bearing on how one in a culture "thought" or "felt" about food and the things that surround it.

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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Karen,

Here's another good definition of wabi-sabi, which is mostly a visual aesthetic consideration.

Shibui in the design sense (not astringency, like an unripe persimmon) has always struck me as being closest to our meaning of "understated," although it's currently being translated as "chic." For instance, a traditional kimono in muted colors is shibui. A brightly colored kimono is not.

Japanese cooking expert and author Elizabeth Andoh, in her newest book, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen, describes the culinary aesthetic you're seeking, calling it washoku.

The word "washoku" is used to indicate traditional Japanese food, as distinguished from Western food ("youshoku"). The character "wa" is often used as a prefix to designate things indigenous to the Japanese culture. It also is dictionary-defined as meaning "harmony."

Andoh defines washoku as "the harmony of food," writing: "The term describes both a culinary philosophy and the simple, nutritionally balanced food prepared in that spirit."

She describes the philosophy of washoku as embodying five principles of design and aesthetic and nutritional balance: color, flavor palate, cooking method, senses (eg: food must appeal not only to the taste, but to the eye, smell, touch/texture, and even sound), and a spiritual/philosophical principle compelling the diner "to appreciate both human endeavor and the natural foces that provide for us," including seasonal cycles and regional products.

She writes, "Most Japanese today would have a hard time articulating washoku notions, and would not usually discuss among themselves the guidelines for assembling a nutritionally balanced, aesthetically pleasing meal," yet the principles are put to use instinctively on an everyday basis to create culinary harmony.

[edited for spelling]

Edited by SuzySushi (log)

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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Fascinating.

And the book you link to seems to be yet another one I've got to get.

:biggrin:

The only food connection in anything I've read so far with these specific words (wabi, sabi, shibui) seems to be the aesthetic of the tea ceremony.

Yet not so much the tea ceremony itself but one step removed. . .the aesthetic of it.

The culture is so deeply rich in ritual - and the language does not seem to easily float between things such as design and food; or popular culture and food - as English does. That would seem to infer that there is a firmer sense of permanence in how one "thinks" about food - in Japanese. Would this lead to less sense of experimentation with the cookery in general? Would it lead to a deeper sense of internal connection with food in some way when thinking in Japanese?

I'm beginning to "get" wabi and sabi and even wabi-sabi :smile: but shibui still seems to have different meanings and inferences but that might only be the shortness of my mind. :raz:

Well. Whatever it is, I like it, anyway.

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If you ever want to see and experience (and eat) food and dining that embody and represent wabi and sabi in present-day Japan, I would suggest that you go to a traditional Japanese restaurant that serves cha kaiseki dishes. Or, maybe you could make some cha kaiseki dishes by yourself.

Examples of cha kaiseki dishes are http://www2u.biglobe.ne.jp/~kousaian/page64/page.html

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Japanese cooking expert and author Elizabeth Andoh, in her newest book, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen, describes the culinary aesthetic you're seeking, calling it washoku.

The book "Washoku" arrived at my door today and it is truly beautiful. The colors, the photos, the print, the everything! Thank you for the recommendation, Suzy.

It also startles me to discover that there is something about this "cookbook" (for I think it is more than that) that is pulling me to read it, really read it - rather than skim it lightly and transparently which is my usual way with cookbooks.

This is really a treat. Again, thank you.

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Japanese cooking expert and author Elizabeth Andoh, in her newest book, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen, describes the culinary aesthetic you're seeking, calling it washoku.

The book "Washoku" arrived at my door today and it is truly beautiful. The colors, the photos, the print, the everything! Thank you for the recommendation, Suzy.

It also startles me to discover that there is something about this "cookbook" (for I think it is more than that) that is pulling me to read it, really read it - rather than skim it lightly and transparently which is my usual way with cookbooks.

This is really a treat. Again, thank you.

You're very welcome! Elizabeth Andoh is one of my favorite cooking experts and this book is a gem.

SuzySushi

"She sells shiso by the seashore."

My eGullet Foodblog: A Tropical Christmas in the Suburbs

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I'm glad that you got a good book, but what about your initial question? I read the whole thread again, carefully, and I noticed that I still hadn't answered your question fully.

Any native Japanese could easily come up with phrases such as:

Wabi sabi no (of, relating to wabi sabi)

Wabi sabi teki na (same as above)

Wabi sabi teki ni (in a wabi sabi manner)

Wabi sabi-ppoi (wabi sabi-ish)

Wabi sabi no you na (wabi sabi-like)

Wabi sabi no you ni (in a wabi sabi-like manner)

I googled and found that these phrases were hardly used in connection with food.

I think that most traditional (and many contemporary) Japanese dishes are best described by the words assari (bland, light, not fatty, plain, etc.) and sappari (refreshing). The opposite of assari is mattari or mottari, as in mattari shita tonkotsu soup (fatty, rich porkbone soup) and mottari shita cream cheese (thick, heavy cream cheese).

You talked about something about experimentation. The blandness of traditional Japanese dishes does not necessarily mean less experimentation, because the blandness is deliberate, as I suggested in this thread. One of the characteristics of Japanese cuisine is to make the most of the natural flavor of each ingredient. We just can't spoil the flavor of the ingredients with excessive seasoning. Soy sauce has enabled us to establish and follow that tradition because it is such a perfect, all-purpose sauce. What compensates for the blandness, and monotony, is, I think, seasonal emphasis. In Japanese cuisine, the use of seasonal ingredients is required, not optional, just like a haiku requires one seasonal word. Traditional Japanese dishes would be too dull to bear without some seasonal ingredients.

Anyway, I hope that the book you just bought will answer many, if not all, of your questions.

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:biggrin:

The book has used the word "wabi sabi" once, Hiroyuki, and this is in only the first chapter, so it is very likely that by the end of it, there will be more on this - -

as you say, language can be used in many ways and it is fascinating to me to see how different languages "work" and what that says about the culture (and taking that a further step along, about the food. :wink: ).

There are of course, some words and concepts which are not directly translatable from one language/culture to another - and the only way to *really* get a full comprehension of what they mean is to be immersed in the culture for long enough for a new "sense" of things to sink in (or so I believe. . . :smile: ).

I'll read the thread you noted, and think some about it all - and might come back with more questions.

And I've put Japan on my list of Places I Must Visit When These Children Are Older. :biggrin:

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