Do tomatoes taste better when eaten from a nice Japanese ceramic plate?
Objectively, no. But the experience of serving and eating the tomatoes does improve. That is because human experience is not limited just to the physical characteristics of the food but how we interact with it, from the sensorial stimulation to the meaning we ascribe to the occasion where such experience takes place. The research of Charles Spence, Professor of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University, demonstrates that wine can taste better when we’re on holiday or when drinking from a heavier glass, highlighting the effects not only of the objects we use but also the place and context we’re in and the people we might be with on the food we consume.
It is said that it was the mercurial polymath Kitaōji Rosanjin (1883-1959) - artist, epicure, restaurateur - who popularised the tasteful pairing of food with crockery to elevate both. His pursuit for the perfect match for a given culinary moment, an equivalent to adding the right frame to a great painting for it to stand out, became an inspiration for chefs and refined diners alike. (Fun note, the character of Kaibara Yūzan, artist and founder of the Gourmet Club and curator of the ‘Supreme Menu’ in the manga Oishinbo was inspired by Rosanjin).
"It’s not about eating tasty things but eating with a sense of taste." - Rosanjin (allegedly)
For me, pairing food and plates or tea and cups at home is rooted in the celebration of everyday moments. I like food, ceramics and photography and this series of tomatoes on Japanese plates started to take shape almost by chance. The last six months have been hectic at work and these little moments of simple joy have been a means to slow down.
Good tomatoes are not always easy to find in London but my local greengrocer carries a good selection. I also realised I had taken photos of Argentinian-style alfajores on Japanese ceramics but those are more difficult to come by, although more effective to keep stress at bay.