Editorial Feature

The Culinary Parallels Between Spain and Japan

Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa on why Spain reminds him of home

Among the many countries of Europe, I feel Spain in particular has much in common with Japan.

I’ve visited a number of different countries in the past, but there’s just something about Spain. No matter how many times I visit, there’s something about it that makes me feel like I’m home.

Despite being located essentially on opposite sides of the globe, Spain and Japan share many common aspects. With far-stretching land from north to south, Japanese cuisine is so rich in variety that the characteristics of food vary between rural and regional cuisines, as well as the Sea of Japan and Pacific sides.

While unlike Japan geographically, Spain comprises northern, central, and southern regions, in addition to a Mediterranean side and Atlantic side. In terms of a distinctive food culture arising from different rural areas and regions, I feel in this sense Spain shares many common features with Japan.

Tsubaki & Koji (From the collection of Real Academia de Gastronomia)

I’ve been to a few different cities in Spain but, among them, I felt the strongest connection with my homeland in those that were close to the Mediterranean: Barcelona, the Catalonia region, and perhaps most of all, the Basque Country.

The Basque Country sits beside the ocean, accented by a sweeping background of rocky mountains. This layout is very similar to the geography of Japan. The region has very little flat ground, and produce comes from the mountains and the ocean in abundance. I believe the marriage of these two elements into one dish is something you would find in Japan, too.

When I visited the Basque Country one winter, I noticed fisherman grilling their catch from that day on a charcoal grill down on the seafront. It’s a seafront where the morning haze lasts throughout the day, and the smell of grilled fish fills the air. Looking at this I felt, if only just for a moment, that I was back in Japan.

I had come across sights like this on my frequent visits to the Toyama, Ishikawa, and Fukui prefectures, where the Sea of Japan coast provides an abundance of fish, shellfish, and other seafood. It is simple cuisine that stays true to the flavor of its ingredients, with no unnecessary extras. Again, this approach is another common feature I have noticed between the two countries.

Soil soup (From the collection of Real Academia de Gastronomia)

Lastly, Spain is constantly trialing and inventing different things, unearthing new discoveries along the way. This is particularly noticeable in Barcelona and the Catalonia region. It is here that chef Ferran Adrià has really left his mark, proving an indispensable figure in the development of Spanish cuisine.

Through creating new techniques and new concepts, Adrià has established a cuisine the likes of which has never been seen before. I feel the “spirit” of the Catalonia region, responsible for the magnificent artistic works of Gaudí, Dali, and Picasso, helped Ferran to achieve this.

I believe it is the diverse sense of similarities between Spain and Japan that has allowed the cuisines to both stimulate and have a profound mutual effect on one another.

As a Japanese chef, I would like to spread Japanese cuisine across the globe. I believe that Spain and its people will certainly understand my unique genre, “Innovative Satoyama Cuisine,” where menus change every day and respond to the four seasons.

Yoshihiro Narisawa (From the collection of Real Academia de Gastronomia)
Words by Yoshihiro Narisawa
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