A “mariage” of East and West

April 2nd, 2011

In Japan, alcoholic beverages are never dissociated from food. It is inconceivable for a Japanese to enjoy a beer, spirit or sake without at least a small snack, or otsumami. And yet the concept of pairing food with specific drinks is relatively foreign to traditional Japanese culture.

That is not to say that Japan’s national sake is somehow less suitable to the local cuisine, quite the contrary, but the manner in which the various nuances this refined drink can bring to a dish has not historically been a much discussed topic. In fact, the term used when speaking of food and wine pairing, mariage, is taken directly from the French language, and was imported to Japan along with fine wine culture in the 1970s and 80s.

To this day, while the Japanese have developed a strong interest in the pairing of food and wine (the city of Tokyo has the largest number of sommelier in the world), it is still primarily French and Italian cuisine which benefit from this attention. Local restaurants continue to offer mostly sake or beer, with little regard to how the drink and dish interact.

Is this a cultural divide, or simply due to the fact that differences in sake are less obvious and regionally defined than that of wine, which offers drastically different expressions based on its color, origin, oak maturation, acidity & tannin levels, etc.?

Fusion vs. mariage

But the world is getting smaller, people are traveling more and discovering new cultures and foods. Perhaps it is time to explore the way wine works with Japanese cuisine! Fusion cooking, which takes its inspiration from a variety of international cooking styles, was a defining movement of the 90s and has seeped into all of modern cooking. But does fusion apply to food and wine mariage?

According to the Oxford dictionary, fusion is defined as “the process or result of joining two or more things together to form a single entity.” Indeed, fusion cuisine takes different ingredients to produce a dish which is an entirely new, single creation. But what of the mariage? As a French and Japanese married couple, we live our mariage on a daily basis, and clearly, we have remained two separate individuals with our own unique characters (for better or worse!).

Unlike fusion, mariage conserves the original elements, and what is created is a new bond, or relationship between already existing and well defined identities. Like wine, Japanese cuisine has centuries of history, and  whether it is people or flavors, finding the perfect link between the two isn’t so much of a creative process, but one which relies on experience, compromise and understanding.

2 Responses to “A “mariage” of East and West”

  1. Bonjour,
    Chercheur en géographie de l’alimentation, je prépare une communication sur l’alliance mets-vins au Japon. J’aimerais vous posez quelques questions.
    Merci pour votre site, très complet et très “alléchant”.
    Bien à vous

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