Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Green Tea Over Rice

The Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice is the title of one film by Ozu Yasujiro, the translation of Ochazuke no Aji. Normally, at meal time, Japanese eat three bowls of rice with okazu, the term inaccurately translated as side dish. Everything other than white rice on the table is okazu, which may be fish or meat (but never both) and vegetables, all seasoned (predominantly with soy sauce). When you have eaten all the okazu and still have some rice left in the third bowl, you pour green tea and maybe have a pickle and finish the rice, slurping it with the rim of the bowl on the lips, though this is considered bad manners. This is ochazuke, literally .  It cleanses the palate as the dessert is designed to do in European dinners.  Sometimes, instead of tea, leftover soup might be poured on the rice. The lower social crust, constrained economically, is not generous with okazu as the upper crust, and this, combined with the slurping, explains the ochazuke as "gauche." Ochazuke is a matter at the familial table; tea is never poured over rice in any formal dinner or at the table with invited guests.  Rice bowl is held in one hand (left) and eaten with chopsticks in the other hand (right); if you are left-handed, you are corrected from the time a child starts using chopsticks.  We learn the word right and left as the chopstick hand and bowl hand.  Noodles are meant to be slurped; it is a fast food of old times, popularized by workers on the run, like firefighters, messengers, construction workers, etc.  So, it is viewed as ridiculous if noodles are not swallowed fast.  Itami Juzo's early film Tanpopo (just before A Taxing Woman has scenes that have to do with the right way of eating noodles.  In a book of essays, he, a gourmet and a great chef himself, talks how Japanese cook spaghetti like udon (far beyond al dente).  I wrote this in response to a friend’s query on the title of the Ozu film. 


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