In Japan, mukimono (剥き物) is the traditional art of food carving that helps promote national identity through food preparation, garnishment, and designs. It was the great Chinese poet Li Po that mentioned in one of his works that during the reign of Emperor Zhong Zong, the Japanese please the gods through carving mythical shapes and objects on every battle triumphs and conquests. However, the art only became popular in Japan during it’s final traditional era – the Edo period from 1603 to 1867.
The art of Mikimono and the skill of cutting intricate designs unto the food delivers delight to the dining pleasure of people who have been served to eat the aesthetically designed food items. Skillfully cutting, carving and arranging food like fruits, vegetables and meat are simply an amazing art that add zest and delight to the meal being served on the dining table or banquet.
The food at the dining table is not only appealing, luscious, delicious, and meaningful to eat if it is being served in a form of an inspiration. That was how Mukimono carvers have drawn and carved their art on pieces out of fruit, vegetables and anything edible that can be served in the dining table. In the early days, food on the table are often served on unglazed and bare pottery plates and bowls. And to make the food attractive and looks good to eat, food preparers and servers enticed guests and visitors with beautiful flowers and carved works of arts out of fruits, vegetables and other food served on occasions and festivities. It is always a fun way to eat with garnishing and food that looks beautiful and appealing. And aside from the food’s great taste, decorative fruits and garnishings add that final appeal to make the food, meals and dishes so delightful and appetizing to eat.
Photo Credit: Eliazar Parra Cardenas@Flickr
Although beautiful works of art can be carved out of fruits and vegetables, only some fruit and vegetables varieties are suited for carvings. Soft, soggy and easily perishable fruit and vegetable varieties may not always be good for the art. Among the popular food items that carvers loved to design were pumpkin, watermelons, apples and cantaloupe. Other quite exquisite and specially creative art were made from blocks of ice, dough, breads, cooked grains like rice, fishes, peeled fruit and vegetables skins, ribs , leaves and other food item and textures. The possibilities of artistic creation by food carvers are endless and limitless. But, since food and food items are edible they usually spoil, perish and most of the time sensitive to handle. Preservation of the art was very unlikely and almost impossible to last longer for spectators to view its beauty and grandeur. Probably one of the biggest and most lifelike creation was the one carved out of frozen butter.
Carving has been a popular art even in the ancient world. Prehistoric men drew and carved figures and images of any kind on any types of surfaces and textures. Stones, clay, soil, wood, bones, bark, leaves, meat, dough, fruits, vegetables and even on human flesh. It was then a form of communication and information before it even become an aesthetic art of inspiration and delight on the table. But one of the most beautiful showcase of the skills and talent of these art carvers were done and introduced as the art of Mukimono – the art of food carvings on fruits and vegetables.
Photo Credit: Una Pan@Flickr
Although many of the art can be most experienced and seen in Thailand which claimed it started during the 14th century as part of the festive celebration of the annual Loi Kratong festival as a Thai custom in their belief and respect to the water spirits. The art was however believed to have initiated popularly in ancient China during the Tang and Sung dynasties around (AD 618-906) and (AD 960-1279) respectively. In Tibet, it was largely part of the ancient traditional and religious sculptural art called Torma where butter sculptures are part of the Tibetan New Year and other religious traditions. Yak butter and dyes were often used to create symbols for the Tibetan religious festivities. The ancient art of food carving have also been found on breads particularly pudding molds in Babylon and Roman Britain.
Photo Credit: lUcien C@Flickr
Carving fruits and vegetables requires delicate and precise moves unto each subject item. Unlike blocks of wood, stone, bones and other rough and tough texture, carving designs on such textures could at times be reshaped or aesthetically altered to achieve the desired design. Fruits and vegetables however could be a bit tedious and meticulous that special tools need to be used to create designs and art. Among these special tools were: paring knives, peel zester, melon baller, “U” and “V” form cutters or garnishing tools.
Ice carvings although done usually as part of a special seasonal event, the art relies mainly on the temperature and volatility of the object to retain its design and intricate artistic rendition. A very meticulous and delicate art, ice sculpture also require special tools and objects to form. Pure clean water free from impurities on delicate yet sturdy water blocks was needed to make the object of the design. Tools range from razor sharp ice chisels, chainsaws and carving block machines. Timing and racing time to complete the design was very important to avoid the object’s natural melting condition. The carver’s mindset and moves must sync to the ice’s capacity to last until it melt and dissolve everything away.
One of the most skillful meat carvers in the world were the Japanese. Proof goes on why artful designs of sashimi and sushi have been known throughout the world. Just by the skillful arrangement of the food on a bento box or plate, one might wonder first on how beautiful and amazing the food were presented before eating them. Sometimes just by the looks of it, your appetite will be delightfully filled already and may never even want to eat them at all and just instead marvel at its beauty.