Kounai Choumi (Cooking in the Mouth)

In Japan, they have the concept of kounai choumi (cooking in the mouth), where you put rice along with other dishes in your mouth altogether, resulting in subtle changes in flavors. For Momoe, this subtlety is a key factor in understanding Japanese culture.

Japanese people enjoy subtle change

Nick: I have an interesting question, and I learned this from Ken Mogi, and it's probably related to what we're discussing. And it was something I'd never heard before, despite living in Japan for so long, like 10 years. So he introduced me to this concept *kounai choumi ‘*cooking in the mouth.’

This is where you add rice to your mouth, keep the rice in your mouth, and then you add something else, could be a pickle or a piece of fish or vegetable. And then you chew it all together, and mix it up in your mouth. And it's like you're creating a new dish in your mouth. So do you practice this with Zen eating?

Momoe: Interesting to hear about it. I like him. Well, I read about him once.

Nick: He's amazing.

Momoe: Yeah, he’s amazing. And yes, so my shortest answer is that Japanese people like change to sense subtle change. So by doing kounai choumi, me cooking in your mouth, by doing this, you can experience different tastes each and every bite.

I think that's why we invented this way of eating. So I just came back from India last week, and you you may know that they use banana leaf to eat food. And I saw them mixing everything—soup, rice, pickles, boiled vegetables, everything mixed before they start eating.

And part of me enjoyed a new culture of eating by mixing everything. And part of me said like, wow, if you mix them up, every single bite will taste really similar. So that's something that I found Japanese-ness, like we enjoy subtle change.

And this subtleness is a key point, a key factor to understand Japanese culture. You may think rice is tasteless, or rice is to bland to eat only, but I strongly believe that rice is tasteful. So the subtle change, subtle flavor, subtle aroma, that awareness of subtleness is the reason that we enjoy cooking in your mouth.