The 13th-century Zen master Dogen had a few words to say about soup.
Do not arouse disdainful mind when you prepare a broth of wild grasses; do not arouse joyful mind when you prepare a fine cream soup. When there is no discrimination, how can there be distaste? Thus, do not be careless even when you work with poor materials, and sustain your efforts even when you have excellent materials. Never change your attitude according to the materials. If you do, it is like varying your truth when speaking with different people…
(The Essential Dogen: Writings of the Great Zen Master, ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi and Peter Levitt, Shambala 2013)
As I started exploring Japanese cuisine at home, I was troubled by the idea of ‘authenticity’. Not only in the sense that my efforts would be sub-standard compared to those of ‘real’ Japanese cooks, but also in the sense that, without access to all the right tools and ingredients, it would not be worth trying. But food turned out to be a route into the culture that I could access faster than language, and for this reason it became important to me.
Reading Dogen’s words reminded me that home cooking is not about technical perfection. Making the effort to provide yourself and others with nutrition – and maybe pleasure – is what really counts. As I learn more across the lifetime of this blog, you will see my cooking change. But even with (hopefully) improving skills and materials, my real aim is simply to keep trying with the same attitude.
Thank you for reading.