Monday, May 16

The Japanese art of sampuru, the hyper-realistic food that is not food

Japan is a box of surprises. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been there, because it always has something new to leave you speechless. It is the country of eccentricities and gives to talk at length, but in any first trip to Japan there is always something that powerfully captures our attention: the samuruthe masterful technique of reproducing hyper-realistic food dishes in resin.

The first time you walk past a restaurant where its windows display an exact replica of its dishes, you don’t really know quite what to think. Is it real food? Do they put it there every day? What have they put into that food to make it stay that way? But then you see soups and bowls of ramen that don’t spill, and even noodles that stand upright, which makes you think that maybe even though it looks like food, it’s not food. So… Is it plastic? Is it fake food? But if so, how is it possible to make something so realistic that as soon as you see it you want to eat it? To understand it, you have to know what the samurulearn about its manufacturing techniques and even, if you want, visit a specialized workshop dedicated to the design and manufacture of this art that is already part of Japanese culinary culture.

sampurufood that is not food

The samuru You will find it throughout practically the entire geography of Japan, and despite its extension and magnitude, it still has more to do with crafts than with industry. The samuruwhose name comes from the English samples (sample), emerged as a technique to publicize Western foods that arrived in the country, but the tables were turned a long time ago and now it is in charge of showing foreign tourists Japanese cuisine based on showing examples. It is much easier to know what you are ordering when you see what you are going to eat, than ordering from a menu written in kanji that few tourists are able to decipher.

Its origins as an illustrative tool for restaurants date back to the early 20th century, but in 1932 Iwasaki Ryuzo founded the Iwasaki Co. and it was then that food reproductions became popular. In the beginning, wax and kanten molds were used, but the techniques have evolved to the vinyl plastic resin and silicone molds used today, which achieve much more resistant, durable and realistic results.

But what is the process of samuru? The dishes of samuru that you see when walking down the street are orders that restaurants make to the artisans of this technique, in order to show their menu to potential customers and that their offer enters through the eyes. To do this, restaurants send their original dishes to the masters of the samuru, who recreate them in their workshops using all kinds of colors and shapes, to achieve highly realistic details of each product, however complex or tiny they may be. Such is the approximation achieved that it is very difficult to distinguish the real plate from the artificial one. The variety of samuru it is as extensive as Japanese gastronomy itself, and the value of resin dishes can reach a cost ten times higher than that of real food.

Gujo-Hachiman, the epicenter of samuru

In Gujo-Hachiman, in the Gifu prefecture, is where Iwasaki Ryuzo founded his company in 1932, and it is in this municipality where the largest production of the sampuru that you see throughout Japan is concentrated, which is why it stands out as the epicenter of this technique of recreation. Strolling through its streets you will find more than ten artisan workshops dedicated to sampuru, and if you don’t pay attention, when you see the food displayed on its doors, you may confuse them with restaurants. Many of them offer tours so you can discover the secrets of the samuru and see the artisans work live, and even workshops of samuru so that, if you are curious, you can make your own resin food and take it home as a souvenir, and thus have a sample of sushi, tempura or vegetables for life.

Beyond the sampuru, if you visit Gujo-Hachiman you will enter a historical Japanese town, where traditional architecture was built around its castle. In Japan it is also known for its Gujo Odori dance festival. A tradition with more than 400 years of antiquity that is celebrated every summer from July to September and in which ten different dances are represented, being its peak in August during the Obon period. The most convenient transportation to Gujo-Hachiman is by train or bus from Gifu or Nagoya.

sampuru To remember

The samuru It is so striking that it has already become one of the most popular souvenirs among tourists. So if you want to take a little fake food in your suitcase, you will find a thousand and one options to remember this art of culinary reproduction at home. You will see it in many souvenir shops in big cities, and even in Tokyo and Osaka there is a wide range of workshops in which to participate in its creation technique. It does not matter what you are looking for, because if it exists, you will probably find it. From magnets for the fridge in the shape of sushi, ramen, sashimi, tempura, tataki, vegetables, meat or fruit, to covers for mobile phones, key chains or decorations of all kinds. So it will not be difficult to take a piece of Japanese cuisine to remember.

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