Writer: Yumiko Ishimaru
It is hard to imagine the delicate work involved in the production of katsuobushi just from its looks and color.
Katsuo-dashi has been influenced Japanese dietary habits from Edo period (around 1600s-1800s) until now. Katsuo-dashi took roots in production area of katsuobushi, but not in Seto island sea area and Hokuriku area. Seto island sea area is a niboshi (Japanese dried infant sardines) production area, and the Hokuriku area is a flying fish production area. Also since Hokuriku area had some ports for kombu trading, kombu-dashi culture had already took roots in there.
On the other hand, even Japanese will be surprised if they hear that the number 1 consumer of katsuobushi in Japan is Okinawa Prefecture. The ships that exported katsuobushi abroad used to stop in Okinawa and katsuobushi culture took roots there.
Actually there are other “bushi” than katsuobushi. There are “maguro-bushi (tuna),” “soudagatsuo-bushi (auxis),” “saba-bushi (mackerel),” “iwashi-bushi (sardine),” “sake-bushi (salmon),” and “sanma-bushi (mackerel pike).” Sake-bushi is still used for local dishes in Hokkaido and “sanma-bushi” is used mainly for soup stock for ramen.
Each “bushi” has its own unique flavor and characteristics; however, it is hard to define which bushi should be used for different purposes. In the Kanto area including Tokyo, people mainly use katsuobushi, and in the Kansai area including Osaka, people use other bushi such as maguro, saba and muroaji (brownstriped mackerel scad).
These bushi can make very rich and flavorful dashi stock. Therefore, even if the dish is seasoned with soy sauce and miso, you can still taste dashi in it. They are necessary condiments for the Japanese who love soba and udon noodles. Dashi stock made of thick shaved bushi is especially good. Even if you simmer thick shaved bushi for a long time, it hardly gets bitter. When I was a kid, I used to chew thick shaved bushi and enjoy the umami of dashi.
The taste that you actually experience and learn, not learn intellectually, leads to “delicious.” Nowadays, the artificial flavor is well-accepted and people think it is delicious. I wonder how many people use real “dashi” in their homemade dishes?