Archive for May, 2009

“SNOW COUNTRY” by Yasunari Kawabata

May 30, 2009

“A girl of twelve or thirteen stood knitting apart from the rest, her back against a stone wall. Under the baggy ‘mountain trousers’,  her feet were bare but for sandals, and Shimamura could see that the soles were red and cracked from the cold. A girl of perhaps two stood on a bundle of firewood beside her patiently holding a ball of yarn.”

“Following a stream, the train came out on the plain. A mountain, cut at the top in curious notches and spires, fell off in a graceful sweep to the far skirts. Over it the moon was rising. The solid, integral shape of the mountain, taking up the whole of the evening landscape there  at the end of the plain, was set off in a deep purple against the pale light of the sky. The moon was no longer an afternoon white, but, faintly coloured, it had not yet taken on the clear coldness of the winter night. There was not a bird in the sky. Nothing broke the lines of the wide skirts to the right and the left. Where the mountain swept down to meet the river, a stark white building, a hydroelectric plant perhaps, stood out sharply from the withered scene the train window framed, one last spot saved from the night.
The window began to steam over. Tha landscape outside was dusky, and the figures of the passangers floated up half-transparent.”

“If Komako was the man’s fiancee, and Yoko was his new lover, and the man was going to die – the expression ‘wasted effort’ again came into Shimamura’s mind. For Komako thus to guard her promise to the end, for her even to sell herself to pay doctors’ bills – what was it if not wasted effort?”

” ‘I can’t complain. After all, only women are able really to love.’ She flushed a little and looked at the floor.
‘In the world as it is,’ he murmured, chilled at the sterility of the words even as he spoke.
But Komako only replied: ‘As it always has been’. She raised her head and added absent-mindedly: ‘You didn’t know that?’ ”

Yasunari Kawabata, the 1968 Nobel Prize winner, committed suicide in 1972 at the age of 73.



May 12, 2009

I’m not going to write here about tofu ice-cream or coffee pasta or bean jam or bee larvae or baguettes with soba and mayo because these belong to a different kind of surprises – the most straightforward kind – it had simply never crossed my mind that people eat such things and I was delighted to learn that they do (never shocked – oh, no – I’m not easily shocked). This post shall be about, let’s say, certain culinary misconceptions – things that surprised me because I’d already had a concept in my head.

First, two things from Chinese cuisine: 6-month eggs and bird nests. 6-month eggs look different but, surprisingly, taste the same – the idea behind them was not to achieve some stunning gastronomic effect but simply to have fresh eggs half a year later. As to nests, I thought they are just ordinary nests – disorderly looking little bowls made of twigs and stuff – served whole on a plate, boiled or maybe even raw – that was the image in my head. I forgot that, first of all, they are swallow nests (some Chinese counterpart of a swallow to be exact) and so they consist mainly of sticky saliva, which might sound pretty disgusting but is at least easier to chew and digest than a bunch of twigs. And anyway they are served in very thin slices and those slices are further basically dissolved to make a half-liquid jelly. You drink it when you feel under the weather.

Japanese cuisine is also less exotic than it seems to be, at least for people who come from countries where you eat pickles, steamed yeast dumplings, breaded pork loin cutlets and cabbage leaves with rice-based fillings. I have a feeling too that most of what we consider to be traditionally Japanese food is in fact a modern invention.  All Japanese meat dishes, for example, from yakitori to sukiyaki, cannot be traditional because it was not allowed to eat meat in Japan until the second half of the 19th century. Okonomiyaki is a result of second world war food shortages. The niku jaga recipe started to appear in cookery books as late as the 1970s and uramakizushi was created to hid nori when sushi was deliberately imported to the US in 1972.

Another funny thing is that in Europe a kaitenzushi place is where you take your boyfriend / business partner for a posh lunch (and where prices are ridiculously high), while in Japan it’s cheap fast food.

 Last but not least – sake. Sake is technically… beer, as it’s neither distilled nor fermented but brewed. But what is sake exactly? I mean, for a Japanese. Because my dictionary says it’s ‘an alcoholic drink’. So is any alcohol sake in Japanese? But alcohol is arukoru (in katakana, so it’s a borrowing). And rice wine is nihonshu. Where nihon is ‘Japan’ and shu is… ‘alcoholik drink’. And… ‘a person’. And I’m surprised again.

Moje nazwisko panu nic nie powie...

Moje nazwisko panu nic nie powie...