In Japan, nothing says summer like bonito
Fallen cherry blossoms and greening mountains may be telltale signs that summer is nigh for most. For many in Japan, however, the real harbinger of summertime is the sight of the first freshly caught bonito fish at the market.
All dried up
“Katsuobushi,” or dried bonito, plays a major role in the Japan’s “dashi” (stock) culture. Along with kombu, or dried kelp, it is an indispensable ingredient in miso soup and broths for various types of noodles.
Dried bonito was originally sold in wood-like blocks. A wood planer-like shaver called a “katsuobushi kezuri” was used to shave off the dried flakes for use.
Traditional, katsuobushi is made through a complicated processes that includes simmering, smoking, sun drying and fermenting. The whole process takes more than a month. When perfected, the remaining chunk of dried bonito is less than 20 percent of its original weight.
Today, you can get dried bonito flakes in bags at any grocery store or supermarket. There are several different sizes. The small pink-brown shavings can be used as a flavoring and topping for dishes like savory “okonomiyaki” pancakes, tofu or even pizza and pasta. The large thicker shavings are used to make the various types of stock.
According to Okinawa Convention and Visitors Bureau’s Kyoko Hirata, there is a simple drink called “kachuuyu” in Okinawa.
“It is a very simple but popular home drink,” she says. “You can make it easily by putting some bonito flakes in a cup and pouring hot water into it.”
“We drink kachuuyu when we feel weak or tired just like an energy drink,” she says.