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When Food Becomes a Painting

Posted on: September 27th, 2012 by Mai Uchida, M.D.

“Eat your food as if you are painting a picture in your stomach.”

That’s what my grandmother always told me at the dinner table when I was growing up in Japan. As a child, I respectfully followed her advice, picturing beautiful images being painted as I ate food with different colors and textures.

In my stomach, I imagined the red from tomatoes painting beautiful roses, which grew on soil painted with the color from brown rice. Butterflies flew around, painted with the yellow from egg yokes. Using this variety of ingredients, by the end of dinner, I would have a fully completed painting.

Not only was incorporating art into food fun, it also encouraged me to eat nutritionally balanced meals. And once I was old enough to cook, I got to create these art projects not just in my stomach, but also on my plate!

For example, this photo is of my birthday cake from last year. Someone commented that they have never seen a cake with such nutritional value and vibrant colors (with no food coloring)! You and your family can assemble one yourself—simply layer the ingredients listed below.

While you’re eating your sushi cake, imagine each color painting something in your stomach. Perhaps the green beans are painting emerald jewels, and the carrots are painting a sunset. Ask your family members to share their images. You might be surprised by what they say!

Recipe for the “Sushi Cake”:

The Cake:

  • Brown rice with sushi vinegar + white rice mixed with pickled thin slices of carrots and bamboo shoots (2 layers each)

The Toppings:

  • Eggs scrambled with a splash of soy sauce and mirin (cooking sake with sugar and dashi)
  • Chopped green beans
  • Thinly sliced nori (dried seaweed)
  • Tuna and salmon (must be “sushi or sashimi grade” freshness)