History of Japanese Food in Edo
As an important part of the history of Japanese food in Edo, street stalls selling tempura begin to appear. The vendors come up with an ingenious, though not exactly environmentally-friendly solution to cooking with hot oil in a city built entirely of wood and paper. They were located besides the river. In the event of conflagration the whole lot, flames, oil, fish, veggies, wooden hut was despatched swiftly into the watery depths. I am not condoning this at all, but you must admit, it must have been quite a sight.
Toshusai Sharaku gains fame as Edo’s prominent Ukiyoe woodblock print artist. He then disappears. To this day his identity remains a mystery.
Retired daimyo Sanada Yukihiro’s Gozen Niki records his daily meals over a ten-month period from November 1800 to September 1801. Tofu and vegetables predominate, with nasu eggplant commonly used in the summer and enoki mushrooms and yurine lily bulbs in winter. Fish is relatively sparingly served. This rare document may simply reflect Sanada’s preferences, but is generally regarded as a mirror of larger dining habits.
A chef from Musashiguni, in today’s Northern Saitama, moves to the Asakusa district to open a restaurant serving dojo loach cuisine. Komagata Dozeu is still doing a roaring trade there today, and is a rare example of a still functioning Edo-Tokyo original.
Yaozen (founded in 1717) in the Sanya district of Asakusa is reputed to be the finest restaurant in Edo. Its owner Yaoya Zenshiro is a celebrity, and his establishment becomes a favored haunt of Haikai poets and the nobility. Zenshiro publishes the Edo Ryuko Ryori Tsu, cataloging his seasonal dishes. Kappo Yaozen still operates today, with Edo-Tokyo style dishes such as uozoumen, yaozen chazuke, sawaniwan, katsuo asani and katsuo no tataki.
In Ichi-Wa Ichi-Go Ota Nanpo observes “There is an eatery for every five paces, and a restaurant for every ten”.
Wholesalers and retailers at the round-the-clock Nihonbashi Uogashi Fish Market are the forebears of today’s Tsukiji traders. The wealthy traders become patrons of Kabuki theater and regular visitors to the brothels of Yoshiwara. The lower class courtesans eat yotaka soba ‘night hawker’ noodles between serving customers. They buy the soba at outdoor yatai street stalls like this one pictured here at the Edo-Tokyo Museum in Ryogoku, Tokyo.
Restaurant rankings become all the rage. The Oryori Kondate Kurabe rates Tagawaya, a famous catering restaurant in front of Daion-ji temple as the top-ranked restaurant in the east, and Kawaguchi, a luxury restaurant in Hashiba (in Taitō ward) as the top in the west. “Kayaba-chō Iseta Tahei is deemed the finest purveyor of Tsukudani. Napoleon is defeated at the Battle of Waterloo.
Monjayaki pancakes make their first appearance in print, in Hokusai’s ukiyo-e. These Edo savory favorites, still hugely popular, were reputedly named after a prominent merchant’s son, ‘Big Drinker Monjiro’.
Britain’s first restaurant opens. The Japanese reaction was not – mercifully – recorded.
A tuna boom hits Edo fueled by its inclusion in the newfangled nigirizushicreated by Hanaya Yohei. Descendents of Yohei are still, very proudly, running sushi shops in Tokyo today. This ukiyoe painting (above) depicts the preparation of the hatsugatsuo first bonito fish of the season. The fact that it was deemed worthy of painting is indicative of the occasion’s importance. Even to day the first bonito of the season are prized as long-awaited delicacies.
Broiled eel specialist Hashimoto opens near Edogawabashi. 181 years, 6 generations and 1 Michelin Star later it is still in business, using the original tare sauce. Eel on rice, known as unagimeshi, precursor of today’s unagi-don was already an Edo favorite.
Writing in the Edo Hanjoki, Terakado Seiken notes that Edo people love fish so much that their bones will fall apart if they go without fish for more than three days.
For more musings on Edo foodie fare, you may be interested in:
A Brief History of Japanese Cuisine: Edo, An Introduction
A Brief History of Japanese Cuisine: Edo And Food, Overview
An Edo-Tokyo Culinary Timeline 1 (1603 to 1756): Soba From The Start
An Edo-Tokyo Culinary Timeline 3 (1836 to today): Black Ships and Ramen