The Meeting of Spanish and Japanese Tastes

Society Culture

Spanish Chocolate and the Taste of Japan

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, lots of people will be shopping for chocolates. The original roots of chocolate lie in the pre-Hispanic civilizations of Mesoamerica. After conquering the Aztec Empire, Cortés took the cocoa bean back to with him Spain, after which it spread to the rest of Europe.

In recent years, increasing numbers of women in Japan have been indulging in luxury chocolates as a little treat to themselves. Alongside chocolates from France and Belgium, Spanish chocolates have also been making inroads into the Japanese market. Chocolate from Spain comes in a wide range of varieties, from crunchy chocolates reminiscent of cheap old-fashioned Japanese sweets, to confectionary flavored with curry, saffron, black truffles, and tequila. Some even incorporate Japanese flavors like soy sauce and wasabi.

The Spanish Encounter with Japanese Flavors

It is not just in the world of chocolate that Spanish people have been inspired by their encounters with Japanese flavors. Feran Adrià, the celebrity head chef at El Bulli, the Costa Brava restaurant that had a huge impact on chefs and food-lovers around the world, was inspired on his trips to Japan by ingredients such as yuzu (a kind of citrus fruit) and kudzu (arrowroot), as well as Japanese sweets like the famous ningyō-yaki molded cakes that are a popular Tokyo souvenir. Back home in Barcelona, Adrià used the techniques and ingredients of Japanese cuisine along with washi paper and other Japanese materials, to create dishes to delight all the senses: sight, smell, and touch (the divine textures of well-made food). In July last year, he worked with a Japanese food coordinator to develop a new series of dishes using ingredients from the disaster-affected Tōhoku region, including such as ice cream made with sake lees from Iwate and marrons glacés made with black Aomori garlic.

Aspiring chefs from all over the world come to learn their trade at El Bulli(*1). Feran Adrià is famous as an exponent of “molecular gastronomy” and his kitchen, somewhat reminiscent of a chemical laboratory, has featured as the subject of a German documentary film. As the influence of Adrià’s culinary experiments has spread, new dishes inspired by Japanese cuisine are being offered around the world.

Cultural Exchange Based on the Five Senses

Adrià believes that the ability to discover new textures and tastes is not something you can teach. In other words, it is impossible to create delicious food without developing your palate first. Conversely, people with refined palates will readily embrace even unfamiliar ingredients and welcome them into their world.

Now as in the past, Spanish people have the adventurous spirit to try unfamiliar flavors and introduce them to the rest of the world. The world-renowned Spanish cellist, Pablo Casals, said that sophisticated music imbued with the tastes and flavors of its native land could transcend national borders and be heard across the world. The same goes for food.

One of the characteristics of Japanese cuisine is the savory umami flavor that comes from stock made with kombu seaweed, bonito flakes, or shiitake mushrooms. The Japanese must traditionally have had the ability to perceive textures and tastes. There is much more to Japanese cuisine than sushi and sukiyaki. The subtleties of Japanese cuisine appeal to refined palates and sensibilities. How good it would be if Japanese cuisine were to become better appreciated throughout to the world as a result of its popularity among people with refined palates. (January 31, 2012)

(Originally written in Japanese.)

(*1) ^ El Bulli closed in July 2011, and is scheduled to re-open in 2014 as El Bulli Foundation—Ed.

food Spain Hosoda Haruko Japanese cuisine Valentine’s Day chocolate Cortés cocoa El Bulli Ferran Adrià taste umami fusion