Macrobiotics add yin and yang to food flavor

Macrobiotics add yin and yang to food flavor

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As a newspaper reporter, I tend to eat out and don’t always get enough exercise. I don’t suffer from any serious medical conditions, but I’ve grown more self-conscious of my figure since I turned 30. I asked some friends what they recommend I do to stay in good shape, and they suggested I try macrobiotics — which seems to be all the rage of late. Macrobiotics involves simple meals centered on brown rice and vegetables to maintain a healthy body. I decided there was no reason not to give it a try.

Macrobiotics, from the word “macro” meaning “big” and “biotics” meaning the “art of life,” is a dietary regimen and philosophy that takes into consideration not only the health of human bodies but also that of the environment. It was first advocated by Yukikazu Sakurazawa around 1930, and today, celebrities such as Madonna and Nicole Kidman are said to practice it.

I was to take a one-day trial in the beginners’ course at Lima Cooking School in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward. The school stands under the umbrella of the Nippon CI Association, which was established by Sakurazawa in 1957. The school was started by his wife, Lima, in 1965, and currently boasts matriculation of about 1,000 students every year, a figure three times as much as it was a decade ago.

The menu for the day consists of brown rice, a type of Japanese vegetable soup, green onion miso (a type of dip or sauce made with miso or fermented soybean paste), and raisin cookies. I enter the room 10 minutes before class. It feels sort of like the home economics room from my school years.

Our first task is to cut the green onions into “koguchi-giri,” but embarrassingly enough, I don’t know what that means. I imitate the woman in front of me slice the green onion into thin rounds. All around me, there’s the rhythmical, rapid-fire sound of knives hitting cutting boards. My own taps on the cutting board are a far cry. It’s enough to make me anxious already.

Takahiro Mori is our instructor, with eight to nine students at each of the three tables, most of whom are young women. They earnestly take notes as Mori speaks.

According to macrobiotics, people’s body types can be largely divided into yin and yang. The belief is that both mind and body are healthy when yin and yang are in perfect balance, and because most people tend to lean towards one or the other, it is important to achieve this equilibrium through a balanced diet. All food ingredients can be categorized into yin or yang, which can be balanced out through the methods in which they are prepared.

Mori holds up the konnyaku (or “devil’s tongue,” a jelly-like food made from konnyaku corms) that will go into our soup. “This is a yin ingredient,” he says. “Which is why we rub salt — which is yang — into it.” He goes on to explain that the green onion, too, is more strongly yin in some parts than others, which is why we sauté it in order of the root, the green parts, and finally the white parts.

We then start to make the green onion miso. “Be aware of the changing smells,” urges Mori. Indeed, it still smells rather green. The sautéing is entrusted to me for a while. The aroma that rises with the steam gradually starts to soften.

The raisin cookies are mostly made of all-purpose flour and raisins. After adding water and oil, we bear down on the mixture with our hands, putting all our weight into it. We fold it over, then repeat again and again. Soon, it starts to look like cookie dough. “Whoa!” I blurt out.

Eventually, it’s time to sample what we’ve made. The rice cooked in the earthenware pot is whitish, while the rice that we made in the electric rice cooker is brown and shiny. I’m surprised at how different methods can bring about such different outcomes from the same ingredients.

The woman sitting next to me informs me that one bite — each of which I should chew 100 times — should be the size of the tip of my thumb to the first joint. I’m accustomed to eating fast, though, and I find it difficult to slow down. Yoshimi Akamatsu, 28, who’s sitting across from me, assures me that I’ll get used to it. At first, I’d been convinced that the amount of rice offered would not satiate me, but as I make the effort to chew more, I find myself getting full. The raisin cookies, which were made only with the natural sweetness of the raisins without any added sugar, are as good as any other cookie I’ve had. The more I chew, the more I taste the sweetness of the flour itself.

Akamatsu became a macrobiotic devotee after tasting macrobiotic cooking on a trip five years ago. She says that when she tried eating instant soup after participating in a 10-day event in which she ate only macrobiotic food, the soup “tasted awful.”

Some participants contend that it would be difficult to incorporate the idea of yin and yang in foods and preparation methods in their everyday lives, but they all seem to be enjoying our leisurely tasting session. In a world where fast and cheap meals are prized, I am reminded of how important real food is. (By Naoko Baba, City News Department)

Source. by Naoko Baba.

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