Daily Archives: 24 October 2010

Wordcatcher Tales: Frikadel, Shippoku-dai, Zhuofu

From Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600–1868, by Nishiyama Matsunosuke, trans. and ed. by Gerald Groemer (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), p. 146:

During the early years of the Edo period, Japan engaged in much trade with East Asian countries. As a result, a remarkable amount of foreign cuisine was imported. Unusual ingredients, previously seen but rarely in Japan, were introduced. Their use was at first limited to social or ceremonial events and special banquets, but in time they were consumed by a broad range of the population.

A number of new foods are recorded in contemporary writings: red-and-white hanpen (a cake of pounded fish); yaki-dōfu (broiled bean curd); sarasa-jiru (a soup made with fresh chrysanthemums); a Javanese dish called gōren (“goreng“) made with fried fish; and furugasuteru (“frikadel“), a dish apparently of Dutch provenance in which beef and cabbage were finely minced, combined with egg, seasoned with wine, covered with bread crumbs, and fried.

The spread of such cuisine brings to mind my own experiences as a child. My hometown was in the Kansai area, in a rural area around the city of Akō in Harima. Things may have changed now, but in my childhood we called a dining table a shippoku-dai. Usually everyone ate from individual boxlike trays, but local tradition required the use of a shippoku-dai when guests arrived. The word shippoku, which originates from the Chinese word zhuofu (tablecloth [桌布]), denotes a Chinese-style dining table. But what we called shippoku-dai was a purely Japanese-style table with no hint of Chinese influence. Shippoku cuisine, a Japanese version of Chinese food, is today a specialty of Nagasaki; this cuisine and the shippoku-dai were probably transmitted to Japan in much the same manner. Although shippoku cuisine did not spread to the rural areas, the shippoku-dai, by contrast, spread to every nook and cranny of the Japanese countryside. Many people of the Kansai area must have fond recollections of this kind of table.

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