Intrepid Tokyo diners delight in dirt degustation

Tue Feb 12, 2013 12:54am EST
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By Ruairidh Villar

TOKYO (Reuters) - French-style seafood was always the big seller at Toshio Tanabe's Tokyo restaurant, but the chef for many years had a secret passion - soil.

Now his long interest in soil cuisine has finally culminated in a feast he's been offering to customers the last few weeks, starting with an amuse bouche of soil soup and ending with a soil sorbet.

"Man didn't create the sea, the air or the soil. They're simply all part of nature, and in a sense they are alive in their own right," said Tanabe. "What I'm trying to do is reflect that feeling in food."

A professional bantamweight boxer in his youth, Tanabe turned his hand to cooking in his twenties and left to train in France. For the last 20 years he has run a French restaurant in downtown Tokyo, and over the last eight has been slowly introducing his customers to samples of soil-inspired cuisine.

At first, though, the search for a clean and chemical-free main ingredient was tough work.

"I had to go all over the place to find soil, into the mountains and places like that. Places where there was no farming," he said. "Then of course I had to dig it up from deep under the ground."

Now Tanabe sources his soil through a Tokyo-based supplier which delivers about a kilo (2.2 lbs) of dirt a day, pre-checked for harmful substances. Previously, limited supplies had meant he could only serve an occasional soil dish or two.

After the dirt arrives, he lightly cooks it to release the flavour, then runs it through a sieve to remove any stray grains of sand.   Continued...