Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 428 - Traditions

I am a creature of habit. I like the tried and tested, I like the proven and I favour continuity. That doesn't mean that I'm not in favour of adaptation and growth, as long as the changes are for the better and growth takes place in a positive way.

Lets face it, nothing stays exactly as it is/was forever. Imagine still walking the Camino in Spain as pilgrims did a thousand years ago. Your basic gear would consist of a wide leather hat, a short leather cape, a leather bag and a very long walking stick. The walking stick would have to be chosen with care as you'd have to be able to balance a hollow pumpkin on the top of it whilst walking. If you were a particularly conservative pilgrim, your pumpkin would be filled with water but you could also choose to use it as a vessel for carrying your supply of wine on the route.

Most pilgrims of old seemed to have preferred the latter and hence the saying: 'With bread and wine the El Camino is walked.' This saying apparently rhymes when said in Spanish - I know in Portuguese 'vinho' rhymes with 'camino' and I'm sure there's a tune in there somewhere!

In all my research I am yet to see a picture of a modern day pilgrim walking with a pumpkin on a stick but the tradition of enjoying bread and 'vinho' on the Camino certainly has survived!

So where, you might wonder, does a picture of sushi fit into all of this. Even I know that the Spanish are not known for their sushi making skills! I find myself intrigued by the story behind such a wonderful tradition though and thought that in the spirit of writing about things traditional, I'd share a bit of dentotaki with you today!

In Japanese, the word dentotaki means traditional or traditionally. More specifically, in the art of sushi-making the word refers to the preservation of some things and the constant innovation in others. Continuity with tradition is extremely important in Japanese food and even though the modern day sushi that we are all familiar with is the most popular, the ancient art of Funa sushi, for example, still exists.

The art of sushi making as we know it dates back to the early 1800's. In the 1300's you might have turned up your nose to this delicacy as Funa sushi was prepared, and still is by a few masters today, in the following way. Fresh water Karp is packed in wooden barrels with cooked rice, weighed down with heavy stones and left to ferment for two years. After two years the fish is washed and repacked with a fresh batch of rice. After another two months of fermentation the fish is washed again and eaten. Can you imagine!

According to an American food anthropologist Dr Merry White: 'Japanese food is not just about the freshest ingredients or the perfect technique, it is the invention behind every act!'

I just love the fact that most of the great sushi masters train their sons in the traditions of preparing sushi. Hence the art, and it really is an art, remains alive and vibrant, a tradition that the Japanese can truly call their own today, even though the Chinese were the first to introduce it to the world.

Just as walking across Spain has become a tradition because of the establishment of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, sushi has created a similar tradition in Japan. The big difference is that in Japan you won't have to walk but you can hop on a train and literally eat your way through the country as you follow the tradition of discovering the magical contents of the famous 'Ekibento sushi boxes',  served at certain stations along the routes. The Ekibento station lunch boxes consist of a variety of sushi and each station is known for its particular delicacies.

So, if walking for 780 kilometres with a pumpkin on a stick doesn't sound appealing to you, get yourself a pair of chopsticks and hop on a train in Japan - sounds like just as much fun to me!


  1. Funny, but the other thing that strikes me is both cultures have a reverence for food. Spain has their perfect delicious little bits. I think this is something just beginning to be appreciated here in the US. Until very recently, portions just kept getting bigger and bigger, not necessarily better! Perhaps we need to re-examine our form of food art!! Thanks for a tasty morsel to examine and think about and digest!! :-)

  2. Pleasure! I agree with you about the size of portions - as far as I'm concerned smaller but tastier is definitely the way to go!

  3. wow...that was all very Interesting. Yikes, I can't imagine eating fish that has fermented for 2 years.
    But...I LOVE SUSHI, if it is fresh
    and the "art" of putting it together is really fun to watch

    so??? walking...or eating.......think I'll have to pick eating, my friend

  4. Hopefully in Spain the hours of walking will lead to good eating at the end of every day!!


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