Review of “Fermentation as Metaphor” by Sandor Ellix Katz

Leanne Ogasawara in the Dublin Review of Books:

He calls himself a fermentation revivalist. With several award-winning books on the subject and a very large following on YouTube, Sandor Ellix Katz is part fermentation expert and part fermentation superstar. But I wondered: why revivalist? Did fermentation ever go out of fashion? Where I spent my adult life ‑ in Japan ‑ fermentation has always stood centre-stage. From soy sauce to miso and from sake to tsukemono, it is hard to imagine Japanese food without it.

I was inducted into the Way of Pickles early on in my Japan days. The first time I visited my ex-husband’s hometown in Shizuoka, the family egged me on to stick my hand into Grandma’s pickle jar. It was kept underneath the sink, and every day someone had to put their hand deep into the large ceramic jug and stir things up to keep the fermentation process going. This was called nukazuke, and Grandma Ogasawara was an expert. The nuka “bed” ‑ made from rice bran, salt, seaweed and some water ‑ required regular stirring for oxygenation. Why this had to be done with a human hand remained a mystery, one among many. Grandma would toss in cucumbers, radishes, eggplant, carrots, little onions or anything else she had on hand and then a few days or weeks later, eat accordingly. Because she never tossed out the nuka bed, the flavours became more complex over time. Or so the story goes. In the end, I did stick my hand in and give it a stir ‑ to everyone’s great delight. And his grandma rewarded me with the best pickles I had ever tasted.

More here.