On my first trip to Japan over a decade ago, I had just come off my final, glorious night out in Tokyo. With an early flight out the next morning, I was wandering around the Ginza neighborhood, hoping to stumble upon a taxi stand. Instead, I happened across a gorgeous, oak paneled, dimly-lit den of a bar with more bottles of alcohol against the wall than I had ever known to exist. You don’t turn down encounters like that in Japan as a rule.
The status of spice knowledge in the Western world has been entirely flabbergasting. The fact that no one in the West—in print or in person—has yet provided anyone else with so much as a theoretical framework around which to base a rigorous spice blending technique is shameful. It is, after all, not just important which spices you add to a dish, but also in what proportions. To date, everything where spices are concerned is entirely ad hoc; literally, chefs standing around, tasting their dishes and thinking, “I guess this could use a bit of clove.” I’ve searched and there is literally not much more available than lone chefs guided by vague tradition and his or her own subjective taste.