[Food] Of Japanese cuisine and the law of the universe

Rosanjin Kitaooji [北大路魯山人] (1883-1959)

Rosanjin Kitaooji [北大路魯山人] (1883-1959)

The Japanese gourmet Rosanjin Kitaooji [北大路魯山人] (1883-1959) (actually he is a man of many hats – aesthete, chef, writer, ceramic artist, calligrapher, painter, seal carver, philosopher, entrepreneur, cultural critic, socialite –  but for the purpose of this post let us think of him as gourmet) once wrote about a conversation he had with a guest that is almost like a zen koan of its own:

Guest: Sensei, please tell me about the the essence of cuisine.

Kitaooji: It is something you produce in order to eat.

Guest: So we produce cuisine in order to eat. Then, sensei, what it is that we eat for?

Kitaooji: We eat in order to live.

Guest: Then what do we live for?

Kitaooji: We live in order to die.

If you simplify this into a formula: to cook => to eat => to live => to die. In other words, we cook in order to die.

The reason why I mention him is because he is the one who solved a mystery that has been on my mind for many years – namely, why is cuisine called ryori [料理] in Japanese?

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