Eating First with the Eyes

It has been frequently said that “we eat first with our eyes. According to http://www.wikipedia.com, “We do eat with our eyes” was cited in the American magazine The Horticulturist in 1864. “We eat with our eyes as well as our palate” is an uncredited proverb that appeared in several newspapers in 1900. Since then, many chefs, cooks and restauranteurs have tossed the phrase around, but there is most definitely truth in it.

So, which would you rather have:

The way I serve carrots and daikon.

The way I serve carrots and daikon.

The way I would like to serve carrots and daikon. Photo from "Chinese Appetizers and Garnishes" by Huang Su-Huei

The way I would like to serve carrots and daikon. Photo from “Chinese Appetizers and Garnishes” by Huang Su-Huei, “Carrot Garnish”

The Asian cultures, Chinese and Japanese especially, have always treated their cuisine as a feast first for the eyes and nowhere is this more evident than in the numerous books on garnishing, many of them published in China.

Garnishing is truly an art acquired with much practice and experimentation. It is time consuming and requires meticulousness and an abundance of patience. Truly spectacular examples of Chinese garnishes are pictured below, all taken from the marvelous book “Chinese Appetizers and Garnishes”, written by Huang Su-Huei, and published in China in 1982.

The Good Luck Dragon.  Recipe and photo from "Chinese Appetizers and Garnishes" by Huang Su-Huei

The Good Luck Dragon. Recipe and photo from “Chinese Appetizers and Garnishes” by Huang Su-Huei

"The Proud Peacock" garnish and photo from "Chinese Appetizers and Garnishes" by Huang Su-Huei

“The Proud Peacock” garnish and photo from “Chinese Appetizers and Garnishes” by Huang Su-Huei

After reading the book and examining the techniques, I went to the market and bought a slew of big, fat carrots and some monstrous daikon radishes. I read and re-read the techniques and then sat down at my kitchen counter, armed with the carrots and daikon, appropriate cutting tools (which I had from a garnishing set given to me ages ago), a bowl of ice water and a lot of enthusiasm.

Well, after several frustrating hours, a mess of carrot peels, carrots and daikon pieces, which resembled mutants and misfits, and several bandaids, I gave up in frustration. The photos made it look so easy. Not. My second attempt did not meet with any more success, except that the hacked vegetables made for a nice refreshing salad with vinegar and assorted spices. I have a new appreciation for the artists, who can create these feasts for the eyes and the palate!

Too embarassed to show photo of my carrot and daikon garnishing disaster

Too embarassed to show photo of my carrot and daikon garnishing disaster

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About vintagecookbookery

Cookbook lover and collector with a burgeoning collection of cookbooks. Reading and researching food trends, history of cooking techniques and technological advances in cooking, what we eat and why and cookbooks as reflectors of cultures is a fascination for me. As of November 7th, 2013, I hold the current Guinness World Record title for the largest collection of cookbooks: 2,970 at the official count on July 14th, 2013 (applaud now, thank you very much!) The current (unofficial) number is now 6,235. What next? More shelves?
This entry was posted in Cookbooks, Cooking, Cooking and Social History, Cooking Technology, Eating, Menu Planning and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Eating First with the Eyes

  1. Hi Geraldine….at this time of year (post Canadian Thanksgiving) I am also remembering my small turkey breast with all of the trimmings, served up (of course), on Canadian turkey day!…..another feast for the eyes will be forthcoming in a few weeks here in the USA….but I don’t know that it will include any of the elaborate garnishes!

  2. Geraldine says:

    we were just talking about this, enjoying a tasty and eye appealing supper here of slow cooker chili and toast! 😉 so true.

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