East Meets West

The Discourse of Japanese American Cookbooks as Intercultural Communication

Kelsi and Keri Matwick

University of Florida


This study explores the discourse of cookbooks as intercultural communication through the examination of a corpus of recipes in order to describe their linguistic features and the communicative strategies employed by the authors. The analysis is of recipes from two cookbooks written by two well-known Japanese chefs for an American audience. By nature, cookbooks are a didactic text and accordingly exhibit recognizable features of a manual. That is, recipes include cooking-related lexicon, imperative verbs, and descriptive clauses. However, the recipes from the data also incorporate speech-like elements, such as first person and second person pronouns, and ambiguous and contemporary language. Findings suggest that the written features provide ways to maintain the integrity of the recipe genre while the spoken features provide ways for the authors to align themselves with their foreign readers. Thus, new insights into how writers can relate to their foreign audience through cookbooks, an everyday text yet rich with different practices of communication, can be inferred as more and more cookbooks become platforms for intercultural communication.

Keywords: intercultural communication, written and spoken discourse, cookbooks, recipes, Japanese, American


Consumed on a daily basis, food is a “taken for granted” culture of everyday life and is at once both an individual and collective enterprise. Yet, food is much more than mere sustenance and a means of survival. It is a key factor in how we view ourselves and others and can be considered a form of communication, which is broadly defined as “the process by which we understand the world and our attempts to convey that understanding to others through both verbal and nonverbal language” (Greene & Cramer 2011: x). Food can be understood as a form of nonverbal means of communication, because we share meanings with others in the production, preparation, and consumption of it. As Roland Barthes writes, food is:

"a system of communication, a body of images, a protocol of usages, situations, and behavior. Information about food must be gathered wherever it can be found: by direct observation in the economy, in techniques, usages and advertising; and by indirect observation in the mental life of a given society" (ctdin Counihan& Van Esterik 2008: 29).

Responding to Barthes' call, this study gathers information about food and culture through cookbooks, more specifically recipes. The narrative found in recipes provides explanations of food-related practices of the cookbook author's native culture. As a result, recipes function as a "system of communication," or a code that expresses patterns about social relationships (cf. Claude Lévi-Strauss (1966) and Mary Douglas (1972)). In turn, social relationships form culture which can be understood as the manifestation of the values and beliefs of a community that are constantly negotiated and renegotiated through shared practices. Food is part of culture; as culinary historian Massimo Montanari (2006) asserts, “Food is culture when it is produced…when it is prepared…when it is eaten” (pp. xi-xii). Cookbooks are a medium that influences how food is produced, prepared, and eaten, thus studying its text is a way to study culture and ultimately a quest for meaning.

Meaning is created through written or spoken language in a range of genres. Cookbooks form a unique genre that is governed by specific linguistic conventions, each of which serves a specific purpose. As a written medium, recipes are characterized linguistically with features of written language such as the use of clauses, specialized vocabulary, conjoined phrases (X and Y...either/or), and null subjects with imperative verbs (cut, take, bake) (Chafe 1982). But, there are also spoken qualities found in recipe language, such as the use of first person references (I, my, mine), speaker’s mental processes (I think), emphatic particles (just, very, really), second person pronouns (you, your), and contractions (it's) that are evidences of involvement of the speaker (Chafe 1982: 48). This is surprising because cookbooks are a type of manual, a written genre that typically values efficiency and economy of words. Oral-like language adds additional prose that is not necessarily needed in the preparation of the dish; however, its value will be explored, particularly in its ability to provide a more intimate relationship with the reader. Analyzing certain texts as a specimen of a certain genre provides a framework for understanding other texts belonging to the same genre.

The present article analyzes two contemporary cookbooks by authors of one language and culture (Japanese) intended for an audience of another language and culture (English, the United States): Harumi Kurihara'sHarumi’s Japanese Home Cooking (2007) and MasaharuMorimoto's Morimoto: The New Art of Japanese Cooking (2007). It is insightful to examine cross-cultural cookbooks in which differences in communication patterns emerge and become salient. At the same time, cookbooks are also products of individual chefs/authors; thus personal identity and social context will also be considered in their contribution to a cookbook's 'textual unity' (Schiffrin 1994). As Harumi muses in her cookbook Introduction: “I would like to think that my recipes are helping to build links between my native Japan and the rest of the world.” Recipes, with its cooking instruction and surrounding narrative--title, headnote, serving specifics, images, etc.--relay personal anecdotes, professional training, and food-related experiences that draw the reader into the text and appeal to authenticity, making the text more than a typical manual. Cookbooks become a way to relate to others from different perspectives, languages, and communication patterns.   

This study's central research questions are: In what ways are cookbooks a platform for intercultural communication? What are key discourse strategies that cookbook authors use to relate to foreign readers? And, what do these strategies indicate about broader issues of intercultural communication?   

Research Approach and Data

The two selected cookbooks are representative of contemporary Japanese cooking and reflect cultural and culinary preferences of the Japanese, but they are written in English and published for the Western reader. Using contemporary cookbooks reveals insight into current social values and social structures. With the rise in food-focused consumption, media, and culture, or “food explosion” (Greene & Cramer 2011), there is a heightened awareness of food’s significance within contemporary society and culture, and as such, there is a need for further exploration. 

This study uses a top down approach that begins with an underlying theoretical framework; that is, food and language are ways to constitute one's own identity and to identify with others (Greene & Cramer 2011). This relationship is dependent upon communication in that "identity is the social positioning of the self and other" (Bucholtz& Hall 2005: 586). Through language, identity is realized at the interactional level, for it is in interaction that linguistic choices gain social meaning. Cookbooks provide such a social situation in which cookbook authors use language to present themselves in certain ways.

The analysis is based on an in-depth analysis of the two cookbooks, principally of the recipes, but also of the introduction, photos, and surrounding text. We deductively studied the text to test how and in what ways intercultural communication occurs in cookbooks. Recipes were examined from each chapter to account for the different types and levels of complexity involved with each dish genre. The data thus represents the authors' overall style and technique not only in cooking but also in communicating and connecting with their readers. We employed a qualitative approach that approached the data with an open mind, heeding our own biases and cultural assumptions.


To communicate meaning effectively, recipes are an identifiable genre or category of text governed by specific linguistic patterns and have an intended purpose or function. With the purpose of instruction, recipes must be clear and organized, following a strict structure with ingredients typically listed separately from the directions. These steps refer back to the ingredient list and are often made explicit with numbers that mark particular actions. Typically in the imperative verb form, the directions exhibit one of the recipe’s most distinguishable syntactic features, which Cotter (1997) notes create internal cohesion between and among the discourse elements. Text that is not listed nor in the imperative form characterize other types of narrative, mainly evaluative or descriptive markers, and is further set apart from the procedure with distinct font or textual positioning (Cotter 1997). American food writer M.F.K. Fisher (1968) was one of the first to stress the importance of listing the ingredients to match the logical flow of cooking. If the sequence is out of order, the recipe could be confusing. Indeed, Fisher claims that “a recipe is supposed to be a formula, a means prescribed for producing a desired result....There can be no frills about it, no ambiguities… and above all no ‘little secrets’” (p. 20). Cookbook writers who are writing for a foreign audience must be particularly careful not to have ‘little secrets’ by assuming too much shared knowledge, or else the intended meaning may not be properly transmitted. Recipes may not be reproduced accurately, resulting in frustration on the part of the reader/home cook.

To understand recipes requires more than its literal level of reading. Freadman (1994) suggests that the place and function of the text are key to its interpretation. We know how to interpret a cookbook and its meaning in relation to other genres because “meaning is not content; it is place and function” (Freadman 1994: 59). Similarly, Corbett (2010) argues that meaning is communicated through spoken or written language in a range of genres, each of which serves a specific purpose for the speech community using it. The meaning of a recipe changes depending on the cookbook or genre it is grouped with. For example, the same recipe for sushi may be interpreted differently depending on whether it is part of a cookbook by an American or a Japanese chef. In this case, the recipes selected for analysis are produced by Japanese chefs for a Western audience, who may approach the recipes already with a sense of trust since the dishes have origins in Japanese cuisine. Perhaps the discourse would change if the recipes were not 'authentically' Japanese-- outside sources may be referenced as a way to build credibility. Where the recipe is made, such as in the American home, and its origin affect the function of the recipe as being more than just a series of cooking instructions but a meaningful event where two cultures meet in the kitchen.

Cookbooks are necessarily a form of written communication but have features associated with oral language that help to develop an interpersonal relationship between the writer and reader. Chafe (1982) describes how speakers and writers have different relations to their audiences, resulting in “involvement” and “detachment,” respectively (p. 45). Speakers have face-to-face contact with their audience and can monitor the effect of what they are saying on the listener with clarification checks to resolve any areas of confusion or misunderstanding. Concerned with creating an experience for the listener, the speaker uses direct quotation, details, and repetition of sounds, words, and phrases, all towards a richer expression of his/her thoughts. The speaker is not bound to a logically coherent structure, which contrasts with the writer who relies on organization and a clear structure for the reader to be able to follow along easily. Lacking control of the reading event, the writer seeks to produce a consistent and reliable text that is interpreted similarly across time and place by different readers. Writers did not receive immediate feedback from their readers, unlike speakers from their audience. Therefore, they cannot rely solely on context to clarify things and so must explain things clearly and less ambiguously than in speech. Ways to do so include more detail and precise wording as well as make useof punctuation, headings, layout, colors, and images in their written texts. By changing font or through spacing and placement of the text, writers can guide readers' eyes and rank certain portions of a recipe's directions and narrative above other portions of text. Such things are not available in speech.

In examination of the written and speech-like discourse in recipes, this study considers Tannen’s (1982) observation that: “strategies associated with oral tradition place emphasis on shared knowledge and the interpersonal relationship between communicator and audience,” which contrasts with the literate tradition that emphasizes “the communicative function of language: the use of words to convey information or content” (p. 3). Speech is usually a dynamic interaction between two or more people, so context and shared knowledge play a major role. It is possible to leave much unsaid or indirectly implied with speech. Typical features of speech include personal references, repetitions, incomplete sentences, common words, and a simpler syntax than written text. It may be that cookbook authors draw upon both written and speech-like features in order to communicate a written text across time and space but also to convey a sense of intimacy and immediacy with readers. This combination is perhaps particularly advantageous for writers addressing an audience of a different language and culture.

Analysis: Linguistic Features of the Recipes

The following two tables provide an overview of the types of features analyzed in the study. Table 1 gives examples of written discourse features and Table 2 of speech-like discourse features.

Table 1: Written Discourse Features

Imperative Verbscut, boil, arrange, mix, fold, arrange, garnish, grate, reheat, whisk, soak, devein, discard, cook, addprepare, grill, drizzle, rotate, sprinkle, brush, garnish, turn, transfer, arrange, scatter, whip, separate, wrap, remove, cook, tent, turn, sauté, remove, repeat
ClausesIn a bowl, mix together the miso, sugar, mirin, rice vinegar, and mustard, then gently fold in the tuna, making sure it’s well coated with the dressing.

Don't leave the pork for long, as it cooks surprisingly quickly, but make sure it's cooked through.

With the machine on, very slowly add the olive oil and vegetable oil in a slow, thin stream, processing until the mayonnaise is emulsified and thick.

In a chilled bowl, using cold beaters, whip the cream with the sugar until soft peaks form.

Foreign TermsJapanese: wakegi, sashimi, miso, o-toro, chu-toro, tempura ko, donburi, awase miso, soba chirashiJapanese: buri, hamachi, kizaminori, yuzu kosho, shiso, sudachi, karasumi, fugu

Non-Japanese: aioli, bop, biiambap, foiegras, mousse de pate, caprese, Perigeux

Detailed languageCut the tuna in ¾ inch square cubes.

Boil the wakegi and cut into 1 to 1 ½ inch pieces.

Trim the asparagus to include the tips and about 4 inches (10 cm) of the stalks.

Rotate 90 degrees and grill for 1 to 2 minutes, until crisscross marks appear and the tortillas are fairly crisp.

Culinary Lexiconcup, tablespoon, teaspoon, lb., inch, oz, 340 Fcup, halved, tablespoon, inches, ounces, g, cm, teaspoon, 350 F, 180 C

Table 2: Spoken Discourse Features

1st person
(I, my)
I know, I think, I realized, I think, I always prepare, I visit, I have served up, I like to serve itI love, I like, I've devised, I order, I am told, all my food is a celebration of the senses; at my restaurant
2nd person
you will have had, you can serve it, you will see, if you like, you can also add, you can make, if you are looking, you can make, you can also create your own fillings, you may seehere I introduce a technique we use to make sure the clams you eat at my restaurant are tender and succulent; since I know you cannot polish your own rice, I simply recommend you purchase the best quality sushi rice available to you; you'll find; you see; have you ever made French stock?; Some of you, I'm afraid, won't like the answer, but please, bear with me.
1st person pluralus (in reference to Harumi's family)we (in reference to Morimoto's restaurant and staff)
Informal Lexiconslimy, tasty, so many simple ways,tangy, fabulous, excellent, eye appeal, rock and roll, unique kick, amazing
Ambiguity (Open Quantity)a little, to tastesome, about, sprinkling, generous, a bit of time, a little

Table 1 illustrates the adherence to the recipe genre (all the instances would be unnecessarily exhaustive and repetitive). Both authors use similar discourse typical of a recipe while also introducing Japanese ingredients and cooking techniques.

Similarly, Table 2 exhibits key examples of selected speech-like features used in the recipes. Other features used in the recipes but not listed include repetitions and contractions (it's, I've) as the form itself is not unusual and repetitive. First person and second person (both singular and plural) pronouns are the primary pronouns used with an absence of third person (he/she, they) pronouns. This may be the case because the use of heand him for both sexes is equally as offensive as the implication of using she and her is the assumption that a woman's place is in the kitchen. Indeed, publishers encourage cookbook authors to avoid most he/she constructions through the use of you and your (Whitman & Simon 1993: 60-61).

The next two subsections (Written Discourse and Spoken Discourse) explore in more detail the written and speech-like discourse features in the recipes. The discussion following highlights ways in which the authors engage in intercultural communication with the reader.

Written Discourse

By their nature as culinary instructional text, the recipes have technical terms and verbs related to the cooking process (boil, garnish, grate, drizzle, etc.), cooking vessels (bowl, pan, container, etc.), and food ingredients (mirin, rice, soy sauce, etc.). A reader familiar with the cookbook genre would immediately recognize the format and overall communicative intent of the text, giving the authors an advantage beyond the surface level.

Although Japanese recipes are typically given in weight, not volume, Harumi and Morimoto write recipes consistent with the American weight (lb) and measuring system (cup, tablespoon, teaspoons, etc.). The recipes would have to be further modified, because the American 1 cup measures 240 ml but the Japanese 1 cup measures 200 ml (Yuki 2014). This difference could be disastrous if not taken into account, especially in baking where the success or failure of a recipe could lie within one incorrectly measured tablespoon of flour or leavening. Morimoto's recipes are also given in the metric system, such as “4 flour tortillas, about 7 inches (18 cm)” and “10 ounces (275 g) sushi-grade tuna" which broadens his audience to those who do not use the American system (potentially non-Americans) or to those who simply prefer the imperial system. In their adaptation of the measuring systems, the authors display intercultural communication in their awareness of the culture and cooking practices of their readers.

The recipes list the ingredients separate from the main narrative. The ingredients may be arranged either according to importance or order of use of the ingredients (Cotter 1997, Norrick 1983). Nonetheless, Norrick (1983: 174) observes that the list can be considered "incomplete, inexact, and inconsistent ,"as it may not include all the ingredients needed (such as water) and does not include the tools needed. Yet, the data from Harumi and Morimoto suggests that the ingredients lists are complete, exact, and consistent in format. For instance, the culinary technique of each ingredient is indicated in the ingredient listing: "1/2-1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger" (Harumi's "Ginger Pork") and “2 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and thinly sliced" (Morimoto's "Tuna Pizza"). All the ingredients mentioned in the narrative correspond to the ingredient listing, such as "roughly flake the crabmeat..." in the narrative that relates to "1/2 cup cooked white crabmeat" in the ingredient list (Harumi's "Japanese-Style Mini Omelet").

Both Harumi and Morimoto provide specifics in the recipe narratives about the presentation of the food. For instance, Harumi's "Miso Soup with Tofu and Wakame Seaweed" instructs readers to "Garnish with finely chopped spring onions" and Morimoto's "Tuna Pizza": “Grill [tortillas] for 1 to 2 minutes, flipping constantly, until crisp. Rotate 90° and grill for 1 to 2 minutes, until crisscross marks appear and the tortillas are fairly crisp.” The recipes indicate the exact time, texture, and technique needed to execute the dishes to help home cooks perform the tasks properly and avoid potential cooking problems.

The instructions contain quite elaborate structures, such as extended noun clauses and attributive adjectives. The lengthy linguistic units require more time for readers to comprehend the text. Both writers have recipes that feature nouns with multiple adjectives, such as "most highly sought-after cut tuna" and "sashimi-quality raw tuna," and directions that are condensed into one sentence constructed with multiple clauses, such as: “With the machine on, very slowly add the olive oil and vegetable oil in a slow, thick stream, processing until the mayonnaise is emulsified and thick." Such grammatical constructions with adverbial and adjectival clauses with a series of descriptions create a high degree of syntactic complexity that are suggestive of written text.

Also present primarily in written discourse (versus spoken) are certain types of lexis, as exemplified in the recipes. Consider for instance Morimoto's use of "conceit": "Note: the word 'aioli' is used as a conceit here; there is no garlic in the recipe" ("Tuna Pizza"). Even if readers do not know what "conceit" means, the written text can be read repeatedly and closely analyzed. Background knowledge assists in comprehension; in this case, the recipe conceives the flavor of garlic despite its absence; hence, the title of the garlicky sauce "aioli" is applied appropriately. This example illustrates the combination of written and speech-like features in that the author uses special terminology to be more explicit, but also assumes that the context provides enough information that the direct meaning can be left unsaid.

In these ways, the recipes are like written language, which tends to be more complex and elaborate than speech with longer sentences and subordinate clauses. Detailed instructions facilitate comprehension and add value to the recipe by guaranteeing greater success in its execution.

Spoken Discourse

This study finds in the data a break from the traditional detached and omniscient voice typical of recipes through the use of personal pronouns, specifically the first person singular (I, me, my), first person plural (we, us), andsecond person singular and plural (you). Pronouns refer to a noun, an individual or individuals, or thing or things whose identity is made clear earlier in the text; in this case, first person pronouns refer to the authors (Harumi and Morimoto), second person pronouns refer to the reader(s), and first person plural appears to be on a case-per-case basis, e.g. us references Harumi's family and we Morimoto's restaurant staff. Besides adding efficiency to the prose, pronouns also indicate the relationship between the speaker/writer and the intended audience.

The Use of 'I'

The use of I indicates the presence of self, giving voice to the individual in his/her own personal preferences and ways of doing things.Harumi and Morimoto use I in the form of hedges(I know, you might think, I think). While hedges are deliberately ambiguous statements, they are ways that speakers indicate the extent to which they abide by the maxims of conversation (Gricean Maxims). When speakers talk, they not only convey messages but also tell their listeners about the message itself, whether the information is well grounded, relevant, or perspicuous. The maxims can overlap as in the case of Harumi's and Morimoto's hedges. Take for instance these examples from Harumi: "I know you might think that this is not worth doing but try it once" and "I think you will agree that bean sprouts not only look nicer but they also taste better if they have been trimmed" and from Morimoto: "One of the basic tastes in Japan--along with sweet, sour, salty, and bitter, umami refers to a less tangible quality that enhances other flavors. Its presence is felt in foods like mushrooms and meat, for example. Why does it do this? Some of you, I'm afraid, won't like the answer, but please, bear with me" ("Dashi"). The authors observe the maxim of quality with truthful information based off of culinary knowledge. At the same time, the hedges may suggest that the speakers are not taking full responsibilities for the truth of their utterances (Brown & Levinson 1987). Consider the difference in certitude between Harumi's double use of hedges in "I know you might think...." She appears more certain about her own belief ("I know") about readers who have doubts about some aspect of the recipe but then less certain about what that doubt is ("you might think"), guessing that it may not be a recipe the reader would want to try. Likewise, Morimoto's "Some of you, I'm afraid, won't like the answer..." suggests his lack of total commitment to his assumption about readers not liking the answer (about why umami is so flavorful). Through these hedges, the authors display concern for what readers may be thinking and attempt to minimize the distance in the exchange.

Other instances of I are followed by actions taken (Harumi: "I always prepare this dish for my friends when I visit them overseas"), or personal preferences and habits (Harumi: "I like to serve it [White Chocolate Cake] for special occasions using different types of fruit on top"). Like Harumi, Morimoto also employs I to indicate personal preferences and cooking preferences. For instance, he states: "I love the name Buri Bop. It sounds a little like rock and roll, which is what I like my food to do." These comments reveal Morimoto's playful style of cooking and personality. Other examples, such as "Of course, I bake my own [croissants] with foiegras" or "I garnish it [asparagus] with shaved dried bonito and karasumi," employ Ias the subject of the action verb of the particular cooking method. Suggestions to readers can be made more indirectly through the singular neuter pronoun it as in: "For the drama of presentation alone, it is worth searching out these stone bowls at Korean or other Asian markets." In this case, the direct address to readers is made more implicitly, softening the suggestion. That is, the use of it switches the focus from the writer's opinion to the more important part of the sentence, the bowls.

The use of I is part of the authors' "performance" or presentation of self that creates a specific impression in the minds of his readers (Goffman 1959). For instance, in the description of his namesake dish, "Morimoto Sashimi," Morimoto states: "I put my signature on this geometric sashimi by molding it inside a rectangular box and serving it with an array of sauces of various colors and flavors. That way people get to play a little, and mix and match according to their own taste preferences." While projecting a confident, self-assured image, the chef does not forget his role in convincing readers of his skill and the high-quality of the recipe. He projects the “front stage” of the recipe, the completed form visible to the audience without mentioning the recipe failures and the work that occurred “back stage,” hidden from the audience (Goffman 1959). Wearing a “mask,” Morimoto controls the manner in which the audience perceives him, much like the work done in selecting décor to create a certain ambience in a restaurant.

The Use of 'You'

The use of the second person pronoun you, either singular or plural, is a direct address to the reader and a departure from the null-subject imperative form found in other manuals (e.g. manuals to assemble furniture, appliances, toys, etc.). For instance, Harumi's recipes give suggestions to readers: “you can substitute…”, “you can also make it with…” and “if you want to….” The use of the second person gives readers agency, and the options encourage them to participate in the cooking process and make adjustments according to their individual taste preferences. For example, in "Tuna Sashimi in a Miso Dressing," Harumi describes the effects that other fish give on the dish if used: “You can also add ikura (salmon roe) if you like, for a richer flavor.” She explains how a specific ingredient can add dimension to the dish, but she minimizes the distance between expert/learner with the use of the modal verb “can” and the clause “if you like” to convey her directions as suggestions, not absolutes. The combination of the explicit second person pronoun you and the modal can adds a level of politeness and respects the reader’s desires. At the same time, Harumi maintains authority by indicating her experience in cooking the dish in multiple ways and her knowledge of ingredients (ikura makes a richer flavor). Harumi acknowledges that readers may not prepare ingredients before they start like she does nor have the same equipment.

The second person is also used to pose questions to readers and to spur engagement in the dialogue of cooking. For instance, in "Teriyaki Chicken," Harumi mentions that you, the reader, can buy bottles of ready-made teriyaki sauce, but "when it is so easy to prepare, why not make it yourself?" She coaxes readers to try her recipe with an open question, giving them the opportunity to decide for themselves while knowing that readers may not want to spend the time making homemade sauce. In this way, Harumi displays Japanese values of a collective society that promotes the interest of the group while recognizing that her American readers are part of an individualist society that values individual preferences (Cheng 2011).

Morimoto's recipes have fewer reader-directed pronouns, that could result in a higher relational distance between him and the reader. For instance, he poses: "And guess what's chocked full of it [umami]? That's right, katsuobushi [flakes of cured bonito]" ("Dashi"). The question prepares readers to accept Morimoto's argument, acting more as a persuasive device than really seeking an answer. Other linguistic forms also indicate an unbalanced relationship between author-the-expert and reader-the-learner. For instance, either-or constructions at first seem to provide autonomy to readers, but actually these are unequivocal with only two options: "baby cilantro or sprouts, for garnish." Likewise, an apparent suggestion is really more a directive: “While this intensely flavored mayonnaise is used as a decorative sauce on the tuna pizza, it’s an excellent accompaniment to steamed or grilled fish and makes a fabulous potato salad.” Asserting first that the aioli is intended for a tuna pizza in "Tuna Pizza with Anchovy Aioli," Morimoto suggests that the sauce be used in other ways, specifically in one iconic American dish—the potato salad.

Contemporary Lexicon

Contemporary lexicon in the recipes adds a speech-like quality to the text. These evaluations differ syntactically from the instructions and the ingredient list, offering subjectivity to the text. The reader’s own background knowledge, shared or not, merges with the narrative, resulting in interpretations reflective of social and historic contexts (Cotter 1997). Harumi's “tasty,” “a little slimy,” and “remove by running a knife down it” add informality, of-the-moment quality and give personality to the text. The latter references one of the many figurative ways English uses “run” while the former two (“tasty” and “a little slimy”) add evaluations of the food, providing a way for the author to express her opinion. Morimoto also uses oral-like words, such as "tangy," “excellent,” “fabulous,” and “eye appeal.” While speech can use timing, tone, volume, and timbre to add emotional context, here the writer's choice of language can also create a certain tone, whether casual or formal, friendly or serious.


Repetition is another feature of spoken discourse. For example, Morimoto's recipe, "Tuna Pizza with Anchovy Aioli," uses the word "fresh" three times with different ingredients, indicating the importance of this specific quality in the ingredients used. Chafe (1982) notes that repetition is a feature of involvement in conversation in that the author emphasizes key concepts through multiple uses of the same word or phrase. Repetition helps the listener, or reader in this case, pick up what is particularly of importance to the recipe. Harumi provides another type of repetition in that similar information is repeated twice but in different sections of the same recipe. For instance, in "Tuna Sashimi in a Miso Dressing,""chu-toro" is described twice as "medium fat," in the Ingredients Note on the left side of the recipe and in the list of ingredients.

By using speech-like discourse, Harumi and Morimoto add an informal quality, making the didactic nature of the recipes into a more enjoyable read beyond a typical manual. A foreign reader may be less apprehensive about trying new recipes with unknown ingredients when the language used is familiar and accessible.

Women's vs Men's Language

The two authors' relation to American readers may be directly related to their gender, as women's ways of language tend to be more collaborative "rapport talk" building versus men's competitive "report talk." The field of gender and language has long referred to the dichotomous nature of women’s ways of using language vs. men’s. For example, much research in the field has asserted that women strive for symmetry in their interactions as opposed to men’s and boys’ attempting to build hierarchy through competitive talk. Indeed, much has been made of women’s collaborative style versus men’s competitive style and women’s “rapport talk,” which is characterized with hedges and 'empty' adjectives like charming, divine, and nice that contrast to men’s “report talk" with interruptions and directness, marking a competitive style or information-driven “report-talk” (Lakoff 1975, Tannen 1990).

The differences in the "rapport talk" and "report talk" are part of the politeness strategies they use (Brown & Levinson 1987). Practicing negative face strategies, Harumi shows deference, emphasizing the importance of readers' time or concerns, and includes an apology for the imposition or interruption: "This is a very simple but extremely tasty dish...It is also a really useful recipe for when you are in a hurry" ("Pork with Aromatic Vegetables"). She takes on an informal, intimate tone, because she wants readers not to be intimidated by the foreign terms, food preparation, and unusual ingredients. She does not want to impose on readers nor appear to be pretentious, so instead, she divulges cooking tips as a way to connect and align with them: "Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love carrots...The secret ingredient in this soup is miso" ("Carrot and Miso Soup"). She subtly describes the success of her dishes: "I have served up this combination [Ginger Pork] so many times you would think that my family would be tired of it, but it seems to be just as popular as ever and is enjoyed by all of us." Harumi's language of "rapport" is a way of establishing connections and negotiating affiliations.

In contrast, Morimoto's language of "report" is primarily a means to preserve independence and maintain status in a hierarchical social order (Tannen 1990). He employs positive face strategies as a way to have readers respect him and share his values of high-quality, aesthetically pleasing food. For instance, he proclaims that "Lobster Masala has become one of my signature dishes" and "Tuna pizza is one of my most popular recipes." And, more, he 'sells' his style of food and encourages readers to eat at his restaurant: "Joining me and my talented top chefs for an omakase, or 'chef's choice,' dinner brings the best opportunity to see my style of plating in action. Your meal is entirely in our hands..." ("Plating and Presentation"). The authors' measures of 'success' are determined differently; for Harumi, it is the enjoyment by her family and friends while for Morimoto, it is the satisfaction and praise from his restaurant customers.

Food and Communication as a Reflection of Culture

Communication allows us to endorse our values and create who we are in relation to others. In a study of the different conversational styles between the U.S. and Japan, Yamada (1997) describes the “strong independence” of Americans while the “sweet interdependence” of Japanese (p. 5). American communication styles construct an identity that values individualism and speaking up for oneself while Japanese communication styles construct an identity that promotes an others-centered group dependency. Both Harumi and Morimoto identify with their Japanese roots and use their cookbooks to teach about the Japanese culture, yet differ in their style of interaction towards their American readers. As Morimoto states, "you might notice that though my plating is distinctively original, it does often draw inspiration from the Japanese aesthetic. After all, I am Japanese" ("Plating and Presentation").

Harumi's communication patterns reflect the "sweet interdependence" of the Japanese. Although an expert and highly-acclaimed Japanese cook, Harumi defers her preferences to the group's. For instance, she provides a basic tempura batter, but encourages the reader to experiment: "you can make your own batter mix. You may have to experiment a little, depending on the flour available in your country" ("Two Types of Mini Tempura"). Her use of hedges and encouragement of substitutions in the recipes may be part of her Japanese culture and her high level of sensitivity to the surrounding context. To exchange information or insist on individual views, Suzuki (1978) generalizes that “We Japanese are not particularly good at expressing our own opinions and making our positions clear before we have considered the addressee’s feelings and thoughts. Rather, we feel comfortable with other-oriented behavior, that is, waiting for the other person to express himself first and then adopting our view accordingly” (pp. 145-146). Japanese are found to bemore preoccupied in building empathy than in what they are proposing (Maynard 1989: 218), yet the American reader may perceive Harumi’s hesitant statements and back channeling as being overly anxious to please (Maynard 1989).Noting the intercultural differences in conversation management helps American readers understand Harumi’s extra work in politeness.

In contrast, Morimoto's style is more like the "strong independence" of Americans; he promotes himself more with the concept of I taking precedence over the we in regards to personal taste and cooking preferences. For instance, his namesake recipe for tempura ("Morimoto Tempura") is "my special tempura" which does not encourage the individual to experiment and create his/her own tempura. The highly precise directions and step-by-step photos further manifest Morimoto's individual cooking style, so readers can reproduce (not adapt) his recipes. The exhaustive glossary in the back of the cookbook is an informative reference for the reader to learn more about the ingredients and how to use them properly in the recipes.

Differences in the communicative patterns between the authors may be due to their projected roles, which are manifested in the images of each author. In the first pages of the cookbook, Harumi is depicted smiling and leaning forward, closing the distance between herself and the reader. She wears contemporary clothing that reflect her cooking style: clean, pure, and simple, artistic, yet functional. Photos of her domestic life, such as her cat and kitchen table, further illustrate her persona as a home cook, which Harumi describes herself as: "I have always seen myself as just a regular Japanese housewife" and that "my work has really originated from my being a housewife and mother" ("Introduction").

In contrast, the introductory pages depict a series of nine photos of Morimoto wearing a traditional kimono and demonstrating how to tie the sleeves in the traditional samurai-style. Comparing himself to a samurai who needs the sleeves tied up and out of the way for training and fighting, Morimoto "thinks one needs a samurai spirit to succeed in a tough town like New York City." His expressions are stoic and serious, much like the ideal masculine kinesics noted by Tsunetomo (1980) of male Japanese: “one’s appearance bespeaks dignity corresponding to the depth of his character. One’s concentrated effort, serene attitude, taciturn air, courteous disposition, thoroughly polite bearing, gritted teeth with a piercing look—each of these reveals dignity. Such outward appearance, in short, comes from constant attentiveness and seriousness” (ctd. in Loveday 1986:108). A cool face hides anxiety in stressful or dangerous situations, a valuable quality for a chef in a demanding and dangerous kitchen full of potential cooking hazards (i.e., hot oil, sharp cutting knives). Morimoto’s formal and restrained prose could be traced to the Japanese high regard for self-control with origins in the samurai tradition.

Thus, the two cookbook authors differ in their strategies of intercultural communication, which may be due to their gender differences, but both manifest how food is a way to communicate with others. While projecting different public identities (Harumi as a housewife and Morimoto as a restaurant celebrity chef), they both use the medium of food as a means to demonstrate personal identity, group affiliation and disassociation, and other society categories, such as nationality. In this sense, "food is a product and mirror of the organization of society..., a prism that absorbs and reflects a host of cultural phenomena" (Counihan 1999: 6). In working towards successful intercultural communication, Harumi appears to employ discourse that is more similar to the Japanese style while Morimoto's more of an American style. One style does not trump the other; the authors' unique approaches extend their reach to distinctive audiences, all the while sharing about their Japanese heritage and culinary culture.


This study indicated ways that the discourse of cookbooks provides instances of intercultural communication. Characterizing the discourse as either written or speech-like, the study noted differences in communicative strategies of two texts from the same genre (cookbooks), by two authors of a shared nationality (Japanese), and targeted to the same foreign readers (Americans). The recipes contain language that has been formalized and polished over the years, yet they feature a spontaneity and colloquialism like that of a conversation. Culinary terms, imperative verbs with null subjects, and listed formats result in discourse similar to a written manual, yet first person and second person pronouns are also used and are more suggestive of spoken discourse. Hedges and modals further add to the oral-like quality of the recipe narrative, adding complexity to the seemingly straightforward didactic text.

Cultural values of independence, which is highly valued by Americans, and of interdependence, which is highly valued by Japanese, are displayed through the authors' discourse to readers. Assuming her native culture's orientation for interdependence, Harumi provides adaptations and variations of the recipes in order to not impede on the wants of the reader. In this way she appeals to the American value of independence. Morimoto's discourse strategies also display values of independence and interdependence but with the opposite effect; that is, he promotes his own preferences (independence) in order to persuade readers to follow his culinary style (interdependence). Gender complicates the discourse and deserves further study as to its relation to independent versus interdependent communicative values.

Future research possibilities include a comparison between print and digital modes of recipes and additional analyses of cookbooks written for an international audience. Different communicative strategies may emerge depending on the form of text as well the social and cultural background of the participants. Parallel to the dynamic process of cooking, communication requires constant adjustment between participants in order to reach meaning and understanding. While food is a way to define oneself, it is also a way to explore another's culture and appreciate different ways of life.


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About the Authors

Keri and Kelsi Matwick are doctoral candidates in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Florida. They are identical twin sisters who have a BA and MA in Spanish from the University of Notre Dame and a MA in Linguistics from the University of Florida. They share research interests of discourse analysis, media studies, and food and cultural studies. They served as officers in the U.S. Air Force with a tour in Anchorage, Alaska.

Authors’ Address

Keri and Kelsi Matwick
University of Florida
Department of Linguistics
3606 NW 24:th
Gainesville, FL 32605 (USA)