I’m rather confident in saying you’ve probably heard this catch line before. That colorful little candy has been using the tag for years. It wasn’t until recently, as I was talking to a former coworker, that I realized it’s a technique applicable to everyday cooking.
In Japanese culture there is a type of meal referred to as Washoku. Put simply, the concept refers to harmony in food.
The hallmark of these traditional meals is the incorporation of all 5 tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and umami), along with the 5 vital colors (red, white, brown/black, green, and yellow), and the 5 senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). A meal lacking one of the above is said to be out of harmony. You can read a bit more on the concept here and here.
A really great example of this is seen in the Bento Box below.
Notice how the dish is both visually appealing, with all the colors mentioned , and texturally diverse.
Now let’s compare that to a standard American Meat and Potatoes dish.
The textures are reduced drastically, the colors muddled, and the dish altogether narrow sighted.
It wouldn’t be difficult to liven up the meat and potatoes dish. Add a salad for green, some cheese for yellow, and some tomato for red. Every category gets a huge improvement.
That’s not to say you haven’t been eating washoku meals for quite a while. Exhibit A: the beloved Hamburger.
5 colors, check. Varied textures, check. Taste, touch, sight, sound, smell, all checks. Yes, Dietitians still enjoy In-n-Out too, in moderation.
So next time you’re cooking at home and find the dish is just missing that little something. Think through your colors, textures, and senses. Chances are your dish is out of harmony.
Be good to each other.
*Addendum: As a few readers have pointed out, the term Washoku can be interpreted as either “Japanese Food” or “Harmony Food”. It seems the word for Japanese literally means Harmony, but is not often used in that way anymore. It makes little difference to the post itself but I always show both sides to every story. That’s a promise.