Shared Taste

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A cultural history of chopsticks



‘With these two sticks, the Japanese are able to fill their mouths with marvelous swiftness and agility. They can pick up any piece of food, no matter how tiny it is, without ever soiling their hands’.

This is an observation made by Francesco Carletti, a Florentine merchant, who set out from Seville in the late sixteenth century, on what would become an eight-year journey across the world that included Japan. He was not the first European (more…)

A Shared Taste?

Teawares and the material culture of early exchange between China and Korea

These green-glazed bowls were made in Korea in the late twelfth century. China’s prowess in making fine ceramics is perhaps better known than Korea’s tradition, but the quality of these beautiful bowls serves to illustrate the unfairness of that difference in global fame. But were the two traditions entirely unrelated, or is there a connection between them? Is there, perhaps, even a ‘shared taste’ between the two? Let’s trace their story from their arrival in Europe.

In 1912 Francis Bernard Aubrey Le Blond (1869–1951) travelled by boat to China, Korea and Japan, and returned to Europe by Trans-Siberian Railway via Russia [1]. His pioneer wife, the mountaineer and photographer Elizabeth Alice Frances Le Blond (1860–1934), accompanied him [2]. (more…)

‘The whole world is into tea’

ChigusaToday, March 20, 2015, Anne Gerritsen is featured in het Leidsch Dagblad, De hele wereld drinkt thee, in an interview by Wilfred Simons.

[in Dutch]

Thee – dat is een moment voor jezelf of voor elkaar. Wie thee drinkt, doet dat niet alleen om zijn dorst te lessen. Theedrinken is een ritueel of, zoals Anne Gerritsen zegt, ‘een moment van afscheiding’. Wie thee drinkt, gunt zichzelf rust, al is het maar voor even. De relatie tussen thee en ritueel heeft altijd bestaan.

Uitvinding van Boeddhistische monniken verspreid over alle landen en culturen

Anne Gerritsen is één dag per week verbonden aan de Universiteit Leiden als Kikkoman hoogleraar op het gebied van de uitwisselingen tussen Azië en Europa, met speciale aandacht voor de materiële cultuur. Daarnaast is ze docent aan de opleiding geschiedenis van de Universiteit van Warwick in Engeland. Het leven tussen twee culturen ‘bevalt haar’, zegt ze. Een keerzijde is wel dat ze veel in vliegtuigen zit. (more…)

Soya sauce on Mount Fuji?

Mount Fuji

Gallery 203 in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is part of the Asian Art Department, and is devoted to Chinese ceramics. In particular, the porcelains presented here reveal ‘the interchanges between Chinese ceramics and those in other parts of the world’ [1]. One of the selected items is this small dish (25.1 cm wide, and 28.5 cm long).

Dish in the shape of Mount Fuji with a design of horses and deer, Ming dynasty ca. 1620–30. Metropolitan Museum (Purchase, Barbara and William Karatz Gift, Gift of C. T. Loo and Company, by exchange and Rogers Fund, by exchange, 2010 (2010.206)

It is made from porcelain, using the characteristic white clay found near the southern Chinese kiln town of Jingdezhen. It has been decorated with blue designs, brushed onto the clay surface before the object was glazed and then fired at high temperature. During the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), hundreds of thousands of such so-called ‘blue-and-white’ porcelains were produced in Jingdezhen, so that in itself does not explain the choice of the Metropolitan Museum of Art to select it for display in Gallery 203. The shape, however, does explain the choice. The shallow dish (5.3 cm in height) is wide on one side and narrow on the other, with rounded edges on either side of the design in the middle. Instead of laying the dish flat, one could stand it up on its wider side, with the narrow shape at the top, to reveal a shape not unlike that of the famous Mount Fuji in Japan. (more…)

‘A viscous savoury juice’

In the second half of the eighteenth century, the botanist Martinus (Martin) Houttuyn described Japanese soy as follows: ‘een Lijmerig en niet onaangenaam ziltig Sap, dat in Flesschen overkomt, en, in plaats van Vleesch-Sap of Sjeu, over Erwten en andere Spyzen gegeten wordt om den Appetyt te verwekken’ (1). Roughly translated into English, the statement reads: ‘Japanese soya is a viscous and not unpleasantly savoury juice, which arrives in bottles, and is consumed instead of meat-juice or gravy with pulses and other dishes, to raise one’s appetite’.

The passage was included in the section on herbs (kruiden) in a multi-volume study entitled ‘Natural history’ or ‘Extensive description of the animals, plants and minerals, according to the system of Linnaeus’ (Natuurlyke Historie of uitvoerige beschryving der dieren, planten en mineraalen, volgens het samenstel van Linnaeus). (more…)

The global lives of food and material culture

Shared Taste? The global lives of food and material culture, 1500 to the present

This multi-facetted research project explores the emergence and development of shared tastes as food and material culture were exchanged throughout the world between 1500 and the present. Food, material culture and social life are inextricably connected, in today’s world as much as in the remote past.

From 1500 onwards, those connections gained global dimensions: food and material culture began to be exchanged (more…)