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LETTER FROM TOKYO

A wave of “culinary terrorism” has engulfed Japan since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Squeezing through the dead of night in homes, the meshi tero victimized among employees forced to telework and people banned from night outings by government calls to restrict its social activities.

The perpetrators of these “attacks”, in a country home to the largest number of Michelin-starred restaurants and a crowd (140,000 for the Tokyo region alone) of restaurants serving sushi, ramen or even curried rice, hide in the television studios.

Armed with cameras and polished scenarios, often inspired by manga or novels, they follow up series on the theme of taste pleasures, broadcast late in the evening and whose success titillates the palate. “These images are a gastronomic danger that forces you to get up and run into the kitchen or to the corner supermarket to buy food”, notes J: Com Magazine, specializing in television programs. Hence this qualifier of meshi tero.

“The Route of Disappeared Dishes”

Zetsu meshi rodo (“The Route of Disappearing Plates”) is its most recent success. In this soap opera, a somewhat awkward employee in his forties takes advantage of the absences of his wife and daughter – assiduous at concerts by a J-pop group – to escape by car, go to sleep on a car park close to a well-known landscape, such as Mount Fuji, before having lunch in good small popular breweries, difficult to find and having the common point of being threatened with disappearance for lack of a buyer.

The success of this series is due to the locations presented, the main character – the most ordinary antihero – and the theme of the succession of small businesses in an aging country.

Read also “Les Délices de Tokyo”: the intimate cuisine of Naomi Kawase

Food, like the ritual of eating, has always featured prominently on Japanese television. On the bottom, observe Tofugu, specialized site of Japanese culture, “Japanese series express an obsession for the quality of food”. In their form, they are available according to multiple concepts.

The homu dorama, local equivalent of sitcoms, in the 1960s and 1970s included a family meal scene, reflecting the reality of multi-generational households. The 1980s, and particularly those of the bubble, saw the proliferation of restaurant presentation programs. Then followed series where the heroes sought to realize the dream of succeeding in the kitchen. Hunguri (2012) spoke of a young aspiring chef of a French restaurant. Ando Natsu (2008) evoked a woman wishing to succeed in pastry making.

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