Washoku, the first principle

“Five colors, or go shiki, suggests that every meal include foods that are red, yellow, green, black, and white. (Often very dark colors, particularly, deep purple – eggplant, grapes – and sometimes brown – shitake mushrooms – are counted as black.) Vitamins and minerals naturally come into balance with a colorful range of foods.” — Elizabeth Andoh, Washoku: Recipes from the Japanese Home Kitchen

Washoku, the book, is a huge and glossy tome filled with, as the subtitle suggests, recipes from the Japanese home kitchen. But before I started reading her book, I heard Andoh interviewed on The Splendid Table, my beloved NPR food show, and she talked about how the principles of washoku can be easily applied to a Western meal. After I started reading the book, I began looking for ways to bring the principles into any meal I prepare.


One of my first washoku meal-tweaks was a simple meal of homemade falafel over quinoa with tahini sauce, accompanied by a salad of grated daikon and carrot. Pretty plain on the plate – the falafel, quinoa, and tahini sauce all fall into your basic brown-to-tan spectrum, and the only color offered up by the salad, which I had been eating topped with toasted white sesame seeds (hello, brown-to-tan!), is the orange carrot.

So I checked the list Andoh outlines in the first principle of washoku, that of “five colors.” White was covered nicely by the daikon, and the orange carrots definitely seemed to me to be holding up the “yellow” end of things. But this plate of tan goodness was seriously defective in the other color departments, and, washoku aside, a big plate of neutral-colored food always kind of depresses me. (I remember my mom being horrified when she came to visit me at college – everything served in the dining hall that night was white-to-tan, from the fish filets to the cauliflower and mashed potatoes right down to the vanilla pudding for dessert. It was a big plate o’ neutral. Yum.)

So I brought a little color to my plate. Toasted black sesame seeds for the salad. A sexy line of sriracha hot sauce wending its way across the falafel brought in red and a sprinkle of parsely balanced the whole plate out with some green. Clearly this was not a jewel-like meal fit for an emperor – I was more interested in eating my lunch than in perfect plating – but having this extra boost of color significantly enhanced my enjoyment of the meal. Washoku is beginning to creep in, and, rather than feeling like a rule or a structure, it actually feels like something intuitive and right is coming home.

4 comments on “Washoku, the first principle

  1. jumbleberryjam says:

    How lovely! And yummy, too!!

  2. NAOmni says:

    You know what, no harm in having a colorful plate of food! I know a lot of people who detest all foods white…it’s so odd…


  3. Wendy says:

    Your last few posts are gorgeous. That Moosewood Cooks at Home is still one of my all time favorites on my cookbook shelf.

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