For some reason, playing with our food is usually frowned upon. Although making a mountain out of mashed potato in the middle of a dinner party might be the polar opposite of good manners, desperately avoiding causing any offence at all has caused many of us to have quite a narrow view of what you can make out of a meal. As it happens, the possibilities are endless.
Even though the advent of Instagram has forced food to become more visual than ever, there are traditions that make eating far less important than the aesthetic. One of the most ancient and most celebrated is the spectacular Japanese practise of amezaiku.
Essentially a highly refined form of sugar-work, to call amezaiku “playing with food” does it a huge disservice. The art has in fact been practised since the Middle Ages, with early examples dating from about the year 800. Its heritage is secondary, however, to the truly spectacular results that practitioners are able to produce.
Watch and learn how gummy candy is really made:
By using specialised scissors, tweezers and even bare hands, amezaiku artists are able to fashion sugar into an astounding array of shapes. Most popular are incredibly lifelike representations of fish and birds, which are often coloured with edible dyes to further enhance the appearance.
So beautiful are these sugar sculptures that amezaiku artists often find work as street performers and magicians, wowing crowds in Kyoto and Tokyo with their creations. Some will even add a storytelling element, using the crystalline figurines as props in mythological tales.
Given how obsessed we’ve all become with food that looks as good as it tastes, it’s no surprise the amezaiku is proving popular on social media. One of the most successful artists working today, 31-year-old Shinri Tezuka, has accrued over 12,000 followers on Instagram alone, all of whom tune in to see his latest epic creation.
Amezaiku artists may be masters, but the enchanting shapes that they are able to mould should remind everyone that playing with food shouldn’t always be discouraged.