Dashi: the heart of Japanese cuisine

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By: Kaeli Evans

Kaeli Evans / Flavor 574

There is a heart to all homemade comfort foods, no matter the origin. A bowl of chicken noodle soup would not be the same without the care and time put into making the base of this dish—the broth. The same could be said about a treasured ingredient you will find in many Japanese dishes, like miso soup.

Dashi (dah-shee) simply means “stock” in Japanese. The favored, traditional recipe for dashi uses kelp (kombu) and bonito flakes (katsuobushi), but variations can include dried shitake mushrooms and anchovies.

The katsuobushi used for dashi comes from a technique dating back to the 1600s. The fish is beheaded, filleted, boiled and smoked before it is delicately covered in mold. (The fish is kept relatively whole during this process.) Finally, it is sun dried and left to harden until it resembles a piece of wood. Traditionally, katsuobushi is left in larger chunks to shave off small, translucent pieces as needed, using a special shaving box. The shavings are added to soups and stocks to bring out a distinct umami flavor.

It took me a few times to find dashi’s main ingredients, kombu and katsuobushi, locally. You can find these ingredients online, but there are a few options in our area if you are willing to make a trip.

Do a little research. Call and ask your local Asian market if it has the particular items you need before you go, because each market stocks its shelves differently, according to which ethnic cuisines it chooses to focus on. Find out which day of the week they typically replenish items and produce, both to ensure you’re getting the freshest ingredients and to increase your chances that they’ll be in stock what you need.

Asia Market in Elkhart has powdered dashi, which is easier to make, but does not have the ingredients to make the stock from scratch. The next closest store was Mishawaka’s Oriental Market, where I was able to find the ingredients without much trouble.

Learn how to make this stock from scratch, then use it to make the best miso soup you’ve ever had.

To find the ingredients for dashi, here are a few Asian markets in our area to try. 

Oriental Market
Predominantly Chinese, Japanese and Korean foods
3618 Grape Road
Mishawaka, IN

Saigon Market
Large variety of Asian cuisines including Chinese, Japanese, Cambodian, Thai, African and Caribbean foods
208 W Colfax Ave.
South Bend, IN

Dongfang Oriental
Chinese market
1837 S Bend Ave.
South Bend, IN

Sari Sari Oriental Grocery
Foods from Asia, Africa, India, Mexico and Philippine Islands
231 E McKinley Ave.
Mishawaka, IN

Asia Market
Foods from Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, West African, Indian, Chinese and Japanese cuisine
2021 Shaffer Ave.
Elkhart, IN

Mekong Oriental Market
Filipino, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese foods
628 W Beardsley Ave
Elkhart, IN

Mabuhay Ethnic Foods
Chinese, Japanese and Filipino foods
11 N. Cass St.
Berrien Springs, MI

Kartar Mart
Indian foods
378 Pipeston St
Benton Harbor, MI

Shekinah Asian Grocery and Deli
Filipino food, Asian groceries
305 N. Nappanee St.
Elkhart, IN

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