What is Washoku?

washoku recipes

5 Principles to bring harmony to your table

This week I was in my own kitchen a lot testing and tweaking my recipes for my upcoming cooking class, Global Healing Kitchens: Japan.  In this series, we are going to explore 3 cultures that have strong food-as-medicine traditions including India, Japan, and the Mediterranean.  In the Japan class, I wanted to dive into not just traditional Japanese home-cooking but also the cuisine of Okinawa, a Japanese island known to have an extraordinary population of healthy and active centenarians (which researchers have in part attributed to their healthy diet).  

In my own research, I also learned about the Japanese principle of Washoku, primarily from the Elizabeth Andoh cookbook of the same name.  Washoku translates to the "harmony of food" and is a detailed explanation of the traditional relationship in Japanese cuisine between nutrition, aesthetics, taste, and philosophy.  Today I want to share the 5 principles of Washoku in case this is just the inspiration you've been looking for to reinvigorate your home cooking. 

I found myself really connecting to these holistic principles.  The phrase "mindful eating" has never really meant anything to me, but with Washoku, I think I'm starting to get it.

The first few principles of Washoku deal primarily with aesthetics and nutrition and are the basis of making sure that your diet is beautiful and provides diverse nutrients:

1. Go shiki: Every meal should include the 5 colors: red, yellow, green, black and white.
2. Go mi: Every meal should include the 5 tastes: salty, sour, sweet, bitter and spicy.
3. Go ho: Combine 5 different cooking methods like steaming, sautéing, broiling, etc. at each meal rather than having everything cooked the same way.

The next principle engages the senses, which occupy a unique space bewtween the physical world and the mental/emotional.

4. Go kanEngage the 5 senses in every meal: taste of course, but also smell, touch, sight and sound.  

And the final principle is the one that really spoke to me as interesting food for thought.  Japanese cuisine has a strong basis in Buddhist food culture (Japanese chefs often begin by learning this vegetarian Buddhist monk-style cuisine called shojin ryori).  This principle outlines the spiritual nature of eating food and how we should come to the table with respect and gratitude.

5. Go kan mon5 rules around eating.
1.) Respect the efforts of those who cultivated or prepared your food (farmers, chefs, and YOU)
2.) Do good deeds worthy of receiving nourishment
3.) Come to the table without anger
4.) Eat for spiritual and temporal well-being
5.) Be serious in your struggle to attain enlightenment

When I first read "Do good deeds worthy of receiving nourishment" it gave me shivers!  What do you think of Washoku?  Comment below and let me know if you like this idea and if you'd like me to post a Washoku-style recipe on my site.