If you’ve spent time in a kitchen (or watched a lot of cooking shows on TV like me), then chances are you’ve heard the adage “You eat first with your eyes.” While many a fine dining restaurant around the world features beautiful plating, it's hard to deny that the true masters of the art of food beautifully arranged are the Japanese.
Moritsuke: The Art of Japanese Plating
Moritsuke (盛り付け), the art of Japanese plating, is part of the dining experience designed to both draw out the hunger of a person, and also to evoke the seasonality of the food. Japanese meals, rather than add everything to a single plate, often use several different ceramics of various sizes (usually 5 to 7 dishes), with each dish chosen specifically for the food being served. This is reflected in the size, color, and shape of the dish, as well as the way the food is presented. On top of these more practical decisions, the current season is considered when choosing a dish for plating.
Seasonality in some ways is the true arbiter of a meal. Ingredients are chosen based on what is freshest and in season, be it vegetables or fish. Plates are chosen not only for what highlights the shape of the ingredients, but also for matching the colors of the season. Usually, you’ll find Japanese tableware in white, black, red, yellow, and blue/green. Warmer color dishes help bring life to meals in the winter, or plates with designs of plum or cherry blossoms in spring or maple motifs in the fall bring the seasons to mind.
Contrast and absence, too, add to the beauty of a Japanese meal. Food is prepared in different methods, emphasizing ingredients that are served best grilled, simmered, fried, steamed, or even raw. Plates are not overloaded either, keeping a balance to the meal (too much of a good thing can be bad!), but also serving to highlight each dish in its own way.
Next time you sit down to a Japanese meal, spare a moment to take in more than just the food. You might find your appreciation (and hunger) growing!
About the author:
Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen. Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!