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Japanese Dashi Culture

Japanese cuisine, “Washoku” as defined and registered on UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2013 has become a global trend known for the use of a wide variety of healthy, well balanced nutritious ingredients. But, its backbone which draws out the umami flavor is the use of rich dashi stock, an essence to Japanese cuisine. Whether made from kelp, shiitake mushrooms, sardines or other, these dashi stock has the ability to enhance and harmonize the tastes of ingredients and it is not an exaggeration to say that Japanese people use it more less everyday.

Japanese cuisine, “Washoku” as defined and registered on UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2013 has become a global trend known for the use of a wide variety of healthy, well balanced nutritious ingredients. But, its backbone which draws out the umami flavor is the use of rich dashi stock, an essence to Japanese cuisine. Whether made from kelp, shiitake mushrooms, sardines or other, these dashi stock has the ability to enhance and harmonize the tastes of ingredients and it is not an exaggeration to say that Japanese people use it more less everyday.

Center of Dashi Culture

Dashi Bar
Since 1604, when Nihombashi was designated as the starting point of the Five Routes (Gokaido), goods and people from all over Japan have gathered in this city, and various industries and cultures have emerged. In such a hub of history, culture and commerce, it is not overstating to say that Nihombashi is the center of dashi culture in Japan. Back in 2010, the dried bonito flakes specialty store, Nimben opened Nihombashi Dashi Bar where customers can casually enjoy the taste of "dashi" itself, the basis of Japanese food. On the ground floor of the shopping complex, Coredo Muromachi, a small self-service counter at the dashi bar offers different flavors of dashi from the standard one made of pure katsuobushi (dried bonito) as well as with miso, tomato soup, and more.
Dried bonito as a whole on sale from different producers
Behind the counter sits Ninben, the company producing and selling katsuobushi (bonito) in the Nihombashi area for more than 400 years. The company has been supplying high quality katsuobushi in Nihombashi since 1699 and there are wide selections to choose from. Some customers already have their favorites and even ask the staff which producer they want their katsuobushi from. This long standing shop offers bonito as a whole and also in flakes as well as all the accoutrements for preparing your own dashi at home. The rock hard whole bonito requires a sharpener but as it is a bonito specialty store, they even sell such tools which come in the traditional wooden version to a more modern colorful ones.
Dried bonito sharpner
Bonito flakes in packages, easy and ready to use
【設施名稱】にんべん 日本橋本店 【地址】東京都中央区日本橋室町2-2-1 COREDO室町1・1F 【電話號碼】0332410968
Yagicho Honten
While Ninben seems like a perfect place for getting the finest quality of bonitos to make a dashi, there is another long standing bonito flakes specialty store, Yagicho Honten nearby. Just a short walk from Coredo Muromachi, where Ninben is, inside a tall and narrow brownish red building, Yagicho Honten has been in business for over 280 years. This store not only has bonito flakes but also kombu (kelp), and shiitake (Japanese mushroom) which are also used to make dashi. On their second floor, they also offer authentic cooking classes using Japanese ingredients, where students can learn not only Japanese cuisine, but also cooking arrangements.
Okui Kaiseido
Bonitos are not the only ingredients to make the finest dashi. There are other ingredients that can not be forgotten, the kombu (kelp). Together, these two make the most commonly used in combination to make dashi. Across from Ninben in the complex, Coredo Muromachi, Okui Kaiseido offers an alley of high quality kombu gathered across Japan.
A package full of thin strips of kombu
In 1871, Okui Kaiseido was established in Tsuruga, Fukui prefecture, which during the Edo Period, Fukui was the midpoint between the ancient capital of Kyoto and Hokkaido. Against this backdrop, Okui Kaiseido was able to import kombu (kelp) from Hokkaido which 90% of the kelp were from there. At the store in Nihombashi, from dried and pounded into thin strips for snacking to kombu seasoned with yuzu to a delicately sweet and chewy kombu candy to many more are being on sale.
Selections of high end kombu
【設施名稱】奥井海生堂 コレド室町店 【地址】東京都中央区日本橋室町2-2-1 COREDO室町1F 【電話號碼】0335480493
CAYU des ROIS
For even an authentic dish using the finest dashi, a mere 15 minute walk from the shopping complex, Coredo Muromachi will take the visitors to CAYU des ROIS in Nihombashi Takashimaya department store where they offer one of the finest congee/rice porridge. Their congee/rice porridge is made from carefully selected domestic rice that is simmered for more than four hours, and several types of broth such as pork, chicken, and kelp are used to create a varied menu. They even sell packages to take home.
Seafood rice porridge
【設施名稱】CAYU des ROIS 日本橋店 【地址】東京都中央区日本橋2-5-1 日本橋高島屋S.C 新館 1F 【電話號碼】03-6281-9815

What is Dashi

Kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) are most commonly used in combination to make dashi. Other ingredients used to make dashi include shiitake mushrooms and niboshi. The process of making dashi has evolved over the years and is known that the cooking method of boiling has been used in Japan since the Jomon period (13,000 to 300 BC). There is a record of broth made from shellfish and fish bones during that time. By around the 7th century, dashi made from kombu (kelp) and katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes) were introduced in Japan and this was further elaborated and became essential in the Japanese cuisine.

Difference between Dashi and other soup

Dashi differs from other soups like bouillon in the West in the sense that dashi uses carefully selected ingredients that have been aged for a long time, and extracts the essence of the flavors of the ingredients themselves by simply soaking them in water or heating them for a short time. Japanese cuisines used dashi (soup stock) to bring out the best in the ingredients and for example, vegetarian dashi was used for animal source foods and vice versa to complement and harmonize the tastes of each other. On the other hand, Western cuisines typically focus on cuisines using animal source foods where it already has strong flavor so there is no need to add dashi to emphasize the flavor.

Different Dashi Style in the East and the West

Dashi from the Kanto region (Eastern Japan) is made with dark soy sauce and is dark in color and also thicker and saltier. On the other hand, the Kansai dashi (Western Japan) is made with light soy sauce and is light in color. Such differences were born due to the contrasting lifestyles. The dashi in the Kanto region is closely related to the lifestyle back in the Edo period. In those days, many people in the Kanto region made their living mainly through manual labor. Some people came to Edo from the countryside to work, while many others worked hard at farming on the land they had inherited from their ancestors. It was also a time when many low-ranking samurai were engaged in hard work such as carpentry. As many of them worked hard and sweated a lot, they needed salt, and that is why they began to prefer soup stock and dishes with strong flavors.
On the other hand, Kyoto and other parts of the Kansai region were home to many more upper class people than the Kanto region. In addition, there were many noble families. However, during the Edo period, even the noble families were not as wealthy as they used to be, and while they preferred luxurious life, the food supply was tight. Despite the need for frugality, it was necessary to maintain a certain level of lifestyle in order to keep the nobility. Therefore, the people of Kyoto made effective use of dashi and devised cooking methods that allowed the taste of the food to stand out and look beautiful even with few ingredients. It is said that this is one of the reasons how authentic Kyoto cuisine was born.

*This article was provided by one of our partners, and its publication date refers to the day it was released on WOW! JAPAN. Please refer to the applicable partner site to confirm the date of original publication.

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