I recently watched a documentary on NHK World’s “Design Talks Plus” channel called “The Art of Eating,” which had little to do with eating artfully and more to do with the wonderful world of Japanese fermented and pickled foods and how to make and enjoy them. In the segment on nukazuke, or Japanese vegetables fermented in rice bran, a university professor demonstrated his “smart” basket that he uses to ferment the vegetables. It monitors pH, temperature, as well as the levels of lactic acid, I believe. As he was explaining it as well as the process to make nukazuke, he mentioned the local colonies of bacteria on everyone’s bodies, particularly their hands. This diagram shows the relative makeups of all the various surface colonies that make up the skin’s microbiome.
The man explained that each family who makes nukazuke has their own “flavor” due to the unique compositions of bacteria on the hands. This bacteria varies depending on the person’s genetics, hormones, lifestyle, diet, and other factors. So as one mixes up the vegetables in the bran, their own bacteria is added to the mix. Likewise with kimchi and other foods mixed by hand. This then alters the flavor, if only slightly. I then considered the intimacy of that. The idea of one’s wife mixing up these vegetables by hand, and part of her very nature and who she is finds itself as a vital part of the recipe, and you get something like no other, a special formulation, only for you. With that first bite, she becomes a part of you.
The very thought of it warms me over. Through each intimate act like this, there is this gradual merging of the souls. There is a certain divinity to it. I am reminded of the closing lines of a poem by Richard Crashaw:
Leave nothing of my Self in me;
Let me so read thy life, that I
Unto all life of mine may dye.