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 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.
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!