June 13th, 2005



There was an interesting piece on this supposed fifth taste on yesterday's Food Programme on Radio 4. I'm still not quite convinced about it, maybe because the first four are quite easy to imagine and this fifth one is rather nebulous. They're a fair way into the programme before they mention umami (which I'd translate as "deliciousness". I sometime like to growl what sounds like "Ume!" when eating in Japan as I imagine some touching scene in a yakuza flick where the main character makes the "mistake" of falling in love, for often this moment is expressed as the woman serves him breakfast. He's in a domestic setting rather than hotel anonymity. He's probably been knifed or similar and he sits there with some bandaging around his shoulder that the woman carefully applied earlier.) could perhaps be called glutamatious or something instead, but it wouldn't sound so poetic. I fear that we may soon face a fad for western chefs and similar going on about the umami qualities of their food and possibly there'll be umami architecture, fashion, railways and so on.

MSG has the much nicer brand name of Ajinomoto in Japan which means "essence of taste", but despite the Food Programme's insistence that there are no MSG-related health issues, I beg to differ. I admit my example is slightly extreme.

When I was living in Tokyo, during the Substance-D period, my girlfriend and I would have dealings with a certain Polish madame. Substance-D is popular for sexual activity due to its aphrodisiac and disinhibitive qualities so she'd often supply it with the girls for a certain price to select punters. However, whereas the Japanese of the old school would only ever think of injecting it, she'd only ever sniff or smoke. Displaying a certain level of stupidity and avarice, she decided that she'd step on the product as well as hike the price twice over. It's hard to adulterate Substance-D since it's a crystalline, slightly oily substance that does indeed look rather like ice or glass. The product in question originated in Korean labs via Yokohama and was entirely clean until it entered her household. So what could you cut it with? Well, the only thing I could ever think of that might just work was rock salt since it would be relatively benign, but even then it would stick out to the discerning eye. You learn to (well, you think you do) to distinguish the many Substance-D like structures that can be found in the household carpet after a few days of use. Generally it turns out to be dried cooked rice.

The madame thought she knew better. Hmm. On occasions, we'd have to reclaim stock from her when we ran low and were too skittish for the journey along the coast. We established early on that she was doing something to it as it wouldn't vapourise without leaving residue and it had a flavour like burnt toast, rather than just lightly burning plastic. We knew better than to hit this stuff up, but we didn't know what it was cut with. Well, one day a friend approached us and we said that the madame may just be able to help. Some hours later we receive a very agitated phonecall in which this woman is trying to prevent her gangster date from going on a knife rampage in Azabu Juban (I suspect that SM love hotel I can't remember the name of) as he's just injected a hefty dose of the substance. He calmed down eventually, after having the worst case of the ramen sweats he'd ever known. Yup, she was cutting it with MSG. We spent a few days wondering whether he might hunt us down for our unwitting part in this saga. Later questioned as to why the hell she was using MSG when she should know well enough that Japanese clientele were all too likely to inject, she feigned ignorance upon the matter.

I don't wonder where she is. Yes, I still wonder where Louise may be. The last partial hallucination I had of her was a few months ago outside the bug [I mean big, but I think I'll leave that] supermarket in Surrey Quays (formerly Docks), which is a bit of a step-down from Minato-ku. Hmm, minato means port so there's a link of sorts there. She was getting on a moped with some bloke and I guess I saw myself riding pillion there as I used to. She was far in the distance, but she moved the same way. I was still terrified, despite being in a locked car. I have less and less of these hallucinations now but should I ever dart under a table or similar, that's the reason. The moment will pass. I spend a few minutes seeing if she can be googled. Still no, following her secret name change. But I do find one of her (and my) Azabu friends. It's in an article by Karl Taro Greenfield, who wrote the book Speed Tribes which is well worth a read as a snapshot of bubble-era hedonism and subculture. I read it about the time I was leaving for those years in Tokyo and I'm amazed that I must have just missed him by a couple of years or so. I always thought parts of that book sounded strangely familiar behind the pseudonyms. It joins a circle. Ouroborus, I suddenly think.

Enough of this, I'm off for breakfast. Given my worries over the increased rate of cafe disappearance, I'm heading to Pellicci's and then a long walk with camera through the East End and City.