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The Tastiest Dish in Edo: Print, Performance and Culinary Entertainment in Early-Modern Japan*

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Abstract Japanese television has turned cooking into a competition, as exemplified by the show Iron Chef and its imitators. Readers in the early modern period could enjoy similar contests between famous restaurants and popular dishes as presented on one-page broadsheets called ‘topical fight cards’ (mitate banzuke). Tracing the history of mitate banzuke as they developed from kabuki and sumo banzuke, this article offers a close reading of one culinary banzuke published in the 1830s, examining how it borrowed the format and graphic presentation of sumo banzuke to turn a listing of ordinary seafood and vegetable side dishes into an entertaining culinary contest. Sushi, sashimi, and tempura, which are the modern hallmarks of traditional Japanese cuisine, scarcely appear on the culinary banzuke examined here, which spotlights the more frugal fare and dietary preferences of urban commoners and illuminates the ways that popular print culture made fun with food.

Affiliations: 1: University of Kansas


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