Eggplant 茄子nasu

Flower (above) and fruit (right)...
The Japanese have a fondness for kotowaza, or sayings, that embody some kernel of folk wisdom. Many sayings use food as a metaphor. The best-known kotowaza concerning eggplants is:


Aki nasu wa yome no kuwasu na
Never feed a bride autumnal eggplants!
For those of you unfamiliar with Japanese mother-in-law jokes you need to know that they are directed not at the wife's mother, as is typical in America, but at the husband's. The ideal Japanese family is still pictured in modern TV dramas with the newlyweds living under the same roof as the husband's parents. Daytime talk show hosts often commiserate with young brides who are bridled with spiteful shūtomé (mothers-in-law) and praise husbands who stand up for their wives against Mama's selfish demands. As a result, most Japanese will tell you that the phrase "Never feed a bride aki nasu..." means that autumnal eggplants are so delicious that young brides don't deserve them.

Interestingly, there is another, lesser-known interpretation claiming concern for the bride's health and the family's future progeny. Since Japanese eggplants are nearly seedless, there is the (symbolic) suggestion that the bride who indulges in the pleasures of eggplant might be "without seed," in other words, childless. And, even should the marriage be fruitful, eggplant's cooling effect on bodily functions (probably due to an unusually high concentration of minerals and phyto-nutrients in late harvest fruit) might lead to a miscarriage. A worried mother-in-law should avoid serving autumnal eggplants to her son's wife.

Botanically a fruit, not a vegetable, eggplant is a member of the nightshade family (as is the tomato and potato). Thought to have originated in India thousands of years ago, the Chinese were probably the first to make use of eggplant in a culinary manner. Widely known throughout Asia, eggplant most likely traveled to Japan in the 7th or 8th century A.D. (though it was not eaten by the general populace until a thousand years later). Eggplant appeared in the Mediterranean from about the 9th century A.D. carried there by Arab caravans. Eggplant spread to medieval Europe a bit later with the Moors. Botanist, and third President of the United States (1801-1809), Thomas Jefferson is credited with bringing eggplant to America where it was primarily an ornamental plant until the 20th century. Early varieties of eggplant were smaller and white, resembling eggs, hence the name in English.

Japanese living in and around Tokyo call eggplant, nasu while In the Kansai area (Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Kobe) you are more likely to hear eggplant being called nasubi. The word probably derived from NATSU MI, which can be written either as "summer flavor" (the first set of calligraphy below) or as "summer seed " or "fruit” (the second set of calligraphy below).




Try your hand at making Eggplants Simmered in Miso:

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