Naked lunch? Maybe not in Pinner

By Joe Joseph, October 1, 2009

When you hear that the new dining craze in London is the Japanese art of “nyotaimori” — which is the practice, found in elite, secretive Tokyo restaurants of serving sushi off the body of a naked woman — naturally you wonder why it is that you can tramp from one end of Golders Green to the other, past dozens of restaurants, and not one of them is serving salt beef or cheesecake off the body of a bare lady.

The man organising these nyotaimori dinners in London — nyotaimori translates as “female body presentation” — says that to ensure they remain private and exclusive, there will be only a dozen diners, two dozen at most, at each of the clandestine venues. The £250-a-head price probably also helps to keep it exclusive. It’s exclusive even in Japan. I lived there for three years and never came across nyotaimori once.

Why not? My guess is that even in Japan, a country where people think it normal for men to force-feed themselves until they resemble a manatee, wrap their loins in a bandage of cloth, and then try to heave rival wrestlers out of a small sumo ring, they probably regard eating dinner off a naked body as a little unusual (this is a nation that struggles to end a meal without a bowl of hot miso soup. Where is that going to go?).

I’m an adventurous diner and even I wonder if eating dinner from a woman’s torso isn’t an adventure too far. I appreciate that curiosity plays midwife to many gastronomic breakthroughs.

We owe a debt to whoever first squinted at a globe artichoke and thought to themselves, “You know what? I bet there’s a tasty bit of eating in there somewhere!” And you’d be reckless to knock the Japanese, who have a track record of food experiments which hit the bullseye (“You know what? To hell with cooking! Let’s just slice up this tuna and eat it as it comes! What? No, no spoons and forks. Use these two twigs to pick up the slippery slivers of fish. Sure, it’s a little tricky at first. But the good news is that we’ll end up getting so little tuna into our mouths there’s no risk of our ending up swelling up like manatees!”).

I’m an adventurous diner and even I wonder if eating from a woman’s torso isn’t an adventure

But naked dining? How did that come about? Did a Tokyo salaryman come home drunk at 2am and say to his wife, who was dutifully waiting up to cook him some noodles to soak up the alcohol, “That’s great Michiko, but how about tonight, for a change, you lie down naked on the tatami mat and I eat the noodles off your tummy? Think of the washing up it will save!”

Still, ten years ago, most Britons shrieked at the idea of sushi. They thought it was no different from eating an uncooked fish finger. Now sushi is sold in every supermarket.

So who’s to say nyotaimori won’t be embraced just as enthusiastically across Britain soon? Except, maybe, in a few Jewish homes, where you suspect that if a man were to return from work and find his dinner laid out on the body of a naked woman, he would not marvel at this wondrous marriage of two of nature’s bounties. No. He would shout into the kitchen: “What happened, Miriam? Did we run out of plates?”

Joe Joseph is a writer for The Times

    Last updated: 2:37pm, October 1 2009