February 12, 2013 2:03 pm
Forget sushi and soba. Japan’s foodies have turned their attention to a new delicacy on Tokyo menus: dirt.
For the bargain price of $110 per person, Ne Quittez Pas, a French restaurant in the Gotanda district, whips up a tasting menu featuring dirt as the crème de la crème of haute ingredients, Time reports. There’s salad with dirt dressing, dirt risotto with sauteed sea bass, and even dirt ice cream with dirt gratin.
Rocket News 24 sent a reporter to sample the cuisine, and describes the experience:
The first course: a potato starch and dirt soup. It arrived in a shot glass looking so dark brown, it was almost black. It definitely looked like it had dirt in it. A slice of black truffle was balanced on top, and the staff instructed us to take a bite of it and then try the soup. So we did… and it was divine! There wasn’t a dirty flavor at all. Instead, this simple soup went down smoothly with just a hint of potato flavor.
I’d come here to try a dirt course, but the food tasted so little of the earthiness I was expecting that I’d kind of forgotten about that ingredient. According to the staff, the dirt used is a special black soil from Kanuma, Tochigi Prefecture. It’s strictly tested for safety and purity to be used in food, but so far I thought I hadn’t been able to notice a “dirt” flavor in the meal.
The secret behind the dirt’s lack of dirtiness may be its origins. The dirt comes from a company called Protoleaf, which applies its motto “good grow green” to cocopeat made from coffee grinds, palm fiber and coconut shells and imported from India and Sri Lanka.
True dirt connoisseurs, however, may call foul. Geophagy—the technical term for eating dirt—occurred throughout history and around the world, with no need for high-quality, artisanal soil. Dirt-eaters do prefer a certain kind of clay, usually from a family or village plot, which is often baked and nibbled on with a pinch of salt.
The first reference dates back more than 2000 years to Hippocrates, but archaeological evidence suggest the practice is thousands of years older, still.
Recent research found that people may engage in geophagy as a way to acquire beneficial microbes. Many pregnant women, for example, experience cravings for unusual food items such as dirt, and researchers suspect the dirt may be a way to boost their immune systems and better protect their unborn child.
In India geophagy was described as “a sign of the commencement of pregnancy” in 1906, and in southern Africa, records indicate “It would be very surprising if pregnant women in Malawi did not eat clay. That is how you know when you are pregnant!”
In the deep South, the practice was once commonplace, too. Today, however, it’s mostly just grandparents who carry the tradition on. If the chic restaurant scene in Tokyo is any indication, however, dirt may be making a comeback.
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