Saturday, May 24, 2008

Food on TV - or - Oishi!

October, 2007

I used to think, before I came here, that Japanese TV was head and shoulders above American boob-tubery.

I've been a disciple of the exotic art of Anime ever since 4th or 5th grade, and I have to say its brilliant stuff that I always get excited to see. Except that there isn't really all that much of it on TV here. As a matter of fact, I was actually watching consierably more anime in American than I have in my time here, which probably stands more as testament to my own fanaticism than anything else.

At any rate, what they mostly have on TV here are shows where a number of celebrities eat various types of food and tell each other that its delicious. These shows are terrible and omnipresent and I hate them, by and large.

Not that I don't find the dishes interesting or savory looking, because Lord knows they do, and not that I get sick of seeing the braying stable of groomed talent sputter their inanties, because its rarely thatthat bad and always good Japanese practice.

What turns my stomach is that whatever a peson eats, whoever it is, whatever they are eating, they will taste it, pause for a beat, then exclaim "Delicious!" Invariably, in-fucking-variably.
Variety is clearly not the spice of life in Japan, because otherwise these dishes would not be edible.

What's more, a dish is never simply "Delicious". A person may, in fact, say so but they do their utmost to communicate that they are locked in raptures of joy by this morsel. They pause, go wide-eyed, fan their mouthes, beat the table, whoop and shout without any hint of irony.
The net effect is that it appears these celebrities are on a rocket ride straight to the moon, each and every new taste a previously undreamt of panorama of pleasure. If a celebrity were to eat something and say nothing at all it would be tanamount to direct insult.

One can see how this all got started, with simple, sincere expressions of appeciation (sometime in days long past), but under the unblinking eye of television things have become locked ino a terrifying politeness spiral, climbing ever upwards.

To actually express a lack of pleasure at some morsel, to say you didn't like the taste of something not already couched as outre, is unheard of and, possibly, undreamt.
Yes, a politeness spiral - locked resoultely in place and intransgressible save only by some, perhaps legendary, pesonality yet to come whose mighty charisma will allow him to speak his mind.

Until then, the most interesting part of these shows remains: How will the celebrities express the word "delicious" in a fresh new way this time, and thus avoid appearing non-plussed by whatever cream truffle they were given today. Any number of times I have expected to see someone choke on the spot, but I'll be damned if they don't always manage to pull it off.

There are an enomous number of ways to say "Delicious" in Japanese. I'm not here speaking of synonyms, of which there are surprisingly few - namely oishii for "nice tasting" and umai for "very good" - but of the vast, emphatic range the talent are capable of putting into the word. In fact, it seems to be a sort of prerequsite for the job. If you can't sell the food you're not going to be lasting very long in the celebrity bleachers.

Quiet frankly I'm impressed. I've always enjoyed the subtle shadings and inflections of language, as a conisseur might enjoy cheeses, and the sheer accomplishment of it all leaves me a bit agog. And I can't help but think that I would be amazing at it, if given a shot.

Of course I may never be so lucky, so I have produced some novel and effective ways to express your appreciation of the cuisine, beginning with humor and progressing from there, in the case that you ever become a recurring Japanese-TV celebrity.

For instance:
While seated in the big stadium type studio, sitting in front of some scrumpcious custard, quickly taste the treat then rise to your feet and start taking the puddings from the other celebrity talent in a humorous attempt to get it all for yourself. Make sure not to back down on this until you actually have all the custards. Threaten violence on any hold outs if necessary, jokingly at first then all too seriously. Return to your seat and devour the twenty custards in intense silence.

Inappropriate swearing is always a reliable go to. Into a suitable silence annouce loudly that, "This pie is going to make me shit my pants!"
After the gales of laughter pass, if at all possible, soil youself right then and there in your seat, in the middle of the studio, letting forth with a long, ecstatic cry as you do so.

If you happen to be in the stands when the guest is a female chef be sure to enjoy your meal, engaging jocularly with the other talent, before proposing marriage to the chef. As the laughter subsides, repeat the statement slowly and clearly, as if just realizing yourself that you are entirely serious. As you stand and walk slowly toward the chef, your eyes locked on her face, remove your existing wedding ring.
"Marry me," you will tell the woman, and again, earnestly, all pretense cast aside, "Marry me."
Hold up the old ring bemusedly and tell her that your marriage means nothing (repeat this word angrily) compared to these cheese sticks, then toss the ring to the ground without a second glance.
"Marry me," beg her, falling to your knees at her feet, "Marry me, please," plead, tears falling from your eyes.

At the nearest possible opportunity anull your marriage and follow up on the marriage proposals with all due force and speed by whatever means available. Keep this up until you either gain her hand in marriage, or sufficient restraining orders have been filed.

If you happen to marry this chef, or, failing on that one occasion any successive chef, be sure to have her on hand during another cooking show. After trying the tidbit leave the stage and drag out your new wife by her arm until you stand together, before the new chef and the cameras and angrily denounce your marriage for what it has suddenly become - a meaningless sham.

"I used to love you so much!" exclaim to your shaken wife, as you throw her to the ground and stand over her, weeping profusely. After this, turn to the current chef and proclaim the depth of your new found love for her or, if it is a man, both that and your suddenly discovered homosexuality.

Presuming that this new relationship does not promise to materialize, become crushed by dejection, seize a large plate or tray of food, and return to your seat. Weep and moan with abandon through the mouthfuls of food you shovel in unceasingly.

On some occasion you may be taken to a restraunt to enjoy your meal on the scene. Let us say you have just been served a delicious steak. Take a single bite, chew thoughtfully for a long moment, then in silence devour the rest. In a clear and calm voice call for the waitress and firmly make it clear you would like to see the chef, in person, right now. If the waitress quavers or hesitates at this demand lose it immediately. Explode into a sudden fury, scream your order with as much force as possible and pound the table with your balled fist, but do not rise from your seat.

The moment the chef approaches you spring from your seat and slam bodily into him, pinning him against the nearest wall with both arms. Be sure to leap up with nearly inhuman speed.
Once you have him securely pinned shout into his face from point-blank range in a proper frothing rage. Begin with a garbled shout of incoherent noise before demanding to know what god the man worships. Continue to demand this, shaking him as you do so, until he answers. At this point say, "I swear to f**king (god) that I will personally kill you, kill you and your whole f**king family if you ever stop making this meal. That is a f**king promise."
In the case that the chef does not believe in a diety you can try, "I swear to the monkeys in the f**king trees," or just adlib something suitably foul mouthed. Be sure to make proper eye contact to ensure he belives you. Reitereate the last bit about killing him with a good shake, then calm down a bit, daub your lips, and thank him for the meal.

Make sure to follow up on these threats if the chef ever disobeys you. Of course outright murder might end up putting you in prison and cutting short an otherwise successful career, so instead send a long series of highly publicized but untraceable death threats. The police won't be able to do a thing, but you, the chef, and your adoring public will know the real score.

Of course every successful career, such as yours, has to have an end point and what better time to pull out all the stops?

After taking a bite of your last meal in a fancy restaurant give a rascally glance at the camera and make some clever remark. Except that you choke on the words before you get them out, and fall silent. Pause a beat, then make another attempt. Fall silent again. The silence grows as you stare deeply, endlessly into your soul and the pits of your being. Then, with no warning, explode from your seat and lunge for the nearest steak knife. Move in the shortest line possible, scattering dishes and centerpieces to the floor, your chair skittering out from behind you, as you scramble madly for the knife. Your rush should be panicky and blind enough that you scrabble at the handle of the knife once or twice before managing to get a hold of it. Ideally, you will cut your fingers on the blade a bit as you do so.

With the knife in your grip stagger back a few steps and seize the handle in both hands, pointing it from arms length directly at your throat. There should be one awful second for everyone to realize just what you intend, then jam the knife into your own neck.

Now, by this point in your career you should hopefully have a crew of handlers who are familiar enough with you to expect literally anything and who will tackle you to the ground the moment before you can end your own life. Struggle furiously against these men as you try to bring the knife to bear, screaming all the while, barely on the edge of coherency, that life is no longer worth living if you can not spend every remaining second eating this meal.

After your retirement you can consider death by starvation as you refuse to ever touch any other food again, but I would recommend living, and eating, as well as you please - content in the knowledge that your act brought joy to millions for many long years.