Second Draft

Sengoku Jidai Munchies

Posted in Food,Research by Jill Snider Lum on Friday, February 19, 2010

I like writing about food, historical food included.  It’s not been easy, getting a lot of details about what people ate in the Sengoku period during which Demon Gate is set.  When you think of Japanese food, what do you think of?  Sushi?  It dates back to the Edo period; too late.  Tempura?  Also later than our story — the practice of deep-frying food in batter was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese.  Even rice wasn’t commonly eaten by ordinary people during our time period.  It was reserved for the higher classes, while the workers and peasants and shopkeepers ate millet.  If you were a peasant growing rice, most of it went for taxes.

But we know that people ate a lot of seafood, fish, and vegetables.  Lots of vegetables.  Cabbages, cucumbers, sweet potatoes, eggplants, mushrooms, daikon radishes, snow peas, and all sorts of things without English equivalents, fresh and pickled.  Buddhists weren’t people to eat meat, so things like beef and pork weren’t on the menu.  But Japanese udon noodles date back to the 13th century, well before our story begins, and certainly everyone ate fruit — grapes, oranges, plums, pears, even the occasional watermelon.

Visiting Japan we discovered one reason why obesity isn’t common in that part of the world:  it’s hot.  September in Kyoto is hotter, and much more humid, than July and August are in Toronto, which takes some doing.  In the morning we’d have a light breakfast and some green tea, then spend the day exploring, sometimes stopping for a small lunch — lunch was almost unknown in the Sengoku Jidai, unless you were a soldier.  By four o’clock we’d be so hot and exhausted that the idea of eating an actual dinner didn’t appeal to any of us.  So we’d stop at a convenience store and get a few snacks, and some beer, and bring them home to our guest house to nibble away at during an evening of writing and chat.

Convenience store supper. The basil potato chips were addictive.

It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if our Samurai characters found themselves doing the 1506 equivalent, noshing on a small bowl of udon and a few pickles in the evening, rather than a full spread of broiled fish and boiled millet and stir-fried sweet potatoes with mushrooms and onions.  It’s too bad they didn’t have ice cream in those days; it would have made life a lot easier.

The big one was called "Sumo Special".


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