Wood shavings . . . tasty indeed

The paper-thin slivers of tago-bushi looked like wood shavings. Pictures by Justine Tyerman
Yasuhisa Serizawa brought his presentation to life by demonstrating the cutting up of a fish on a model.
A family member hard at work.
Yasuhisa Serizawa is now the only person in Japan who can make the rice straw-decoration for shio-katsuo, bonito preserved in salt.

Justine Tyerman learns the ancient art of bonito processing . . . and eats ‘wood’.

“Try this,” said guide Yohei holding out a plate of wood shavings.
“No thanks . . . I’m not THAT hungry,” I replied somewhat mystified as my fellow hikers munched away on slivers of wood.

I had tried all sorts of new food on the Izu Geo Trail with Walk Japan but this was one delicacy I decided I could live without.

We were visiting a family-run business in Nishi-izu that produces katsuobushi, the dried bonito flakes that are used extensively in Japanese cuisine.

Here we met Yasuhisa Serizawa, the fifth generation owner of the Kanesa Dried Bonito Store founded in 1882.

Standing where the fish are processed with members of the family working away in the background, we heard all about the fascinating history of bonito processing in the Tago district of Nishi-izu which dates back centuries.

Written records in the ancient capital of Japan show that ‘ara-gatsuo’ (salted or dried bonito) from the region was used as a currency to pay taxes more than 1300 years ago, suggesting it was already regarded as a luxury food back then.

This simple preserved food was then improved to be ‘shio-katsuo’ (bonito preserved in salt), which is said to be the origin of bonito ‘dashi,’ the stock used in Japanese soup.

Shio-katsuo used to be made all over Japan. Nishi-izu was home to many bonito fishing boats and in the mid-20th century, there were more than 40 shops selling dried bonito. But the number decreased as small, packaged, dried bonito shavings and granulated or liquid substitutes for dashi became widely used.

Shio-katsuo, bonito dipped in high concentrations of salt, is now only made in the Tago district of Nishi-izu. Shio-katsuo is regarded as the New Year fish in the town, so residents still practise the tradition of offering shio-katsuo decorated with rice straws at the Shinto altar — for protection at sea, good fish catches and good harvest.

Today there are no bonito fishing boats left in Nishi-izu, and only four dried bonito shops remain. Mr Serizawa is now the only person in Japan who can make the rice straw-decoration for shio-katsuo.

We also learned about the making of honkare-katsuobushi (fermented dried bonito) or tago-bushi, a complex, multi-stage process taking six months.

Tago-bushi dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868), when Izu was designated as one of three major dried bonito-producing fiefs. Among the three, Izu was the closest to Edo (now Tokyo), the headquarters of the government and a large consumer market.

To make tago-bushi, filleted bonito is fumigated and dried repeatedly using the ‘tebiyama’ (manual smoking) method, the oldest in Japan, a technique established in Tago district.

The first smoking session is done by direct heat of more than 130 degrees Celsius, concentrating the umami (flavour) of the fillets.

The wood used for smoking is from oak and cherry trees collected exclusively in the Izu region. The smoked fillets are then left to cool down. This procedure of drying by heat and resting is repeated ten times.

Finally, the fillets are coated and fermented with ‘koji’ (fungus), sun-dried, and stored away to ferment and further siphon out residual moisture. The whole process is repeated over a period of approximately six months.

The finished fermented dried bonito product can be stored at room temperature for a long time.

Tago-bushi is regarded as a premium product because most of the process is done by hand, requiring time, effort, and the practised eyes and hands of trained artisans.

Mr Serizawa brought his presentation to life by demonstrating the cutting up of a fish on a model. He then produced what appeared to be a hunk of wood which he shaved with a plane-like tool into paper-thin slivers of tago-bushi.

Finally, I understood — very tasty indeed!

Kanesa Dried Bonito Store holds workshops to pass on the technique of preserving and making shio-katsuo decorations and develop modern shio-katsuo-based dishes and food products.

Mr Serizawa has participated in international events such as Asio Gusto (2013), the Japanese food event in Florence, Italy (2014), Milano Expo (2014), and Terra Madre Salone del Gusto (2014 and 2018), international Slow Food events to promote shio-katsuo.

The product was registered with the Ark of Taste in 2014.

• Justine Tyerman was a guest of Walk Japan https://walkjapan.com/

Justine Tyerman learns the ancient art of bonito processing . . . and eats ‘wood’.

“Try this,” said guide Yohei holding out a plate of wood shavings.
“No thanks . . . I’m not THAT hungry,” I replied somewhat mystified as my fellow hikers munched away on slivers of wood.

I had tried all sorts of new food on the Izu Geo Trail with Walk Japan but this was one delicacy I decided I could live without.

We were visiting a family-run business in Nishi-izu that produces katsuobushi, the dried bonito flakes that are used extensively in Japanese cuisine.

Here we met Yasuhisa Serizawa, the fifth generation owner of the Kanesa Dried Bonito Store founded in 1882.

Standing where the fish are processed with members of the family working away in the background, we heard all about the fascinating history of bonito processing in the Tago district of Nishi-izu which dates back centuries.

Written records in the ancient capital of Japan show that ‘ara-gatsuo’ (salted or dried bonito) from the region was used as a currency to pay taxes more than 1300 years ago, suggesting it was already regarded as a luxury food back then.

This simple preserved food was then improved to be ‘shio-katsuo’ (bonito preserved in salt), which is said to be the origin of bonito ‘dashi,’ the stock used in Japanese soup.

Shio-katsuo used to be made all over Japan. Nishi-izu was home to many bonito fishing boats and in the mid-20th century, there were more than 40 shops selling dried bonito. But the number decreased as small, packaged, dried bonito shavings and granulated or liquid substitutes for dashi became widely used.

Shio-katsuo, bonito dipped in high concentrations of salt, is now only made in the Tago district of Nishi-izu. Shio-katsuo is regarded as the New Year fish in the town, so residents still practise the tradition of offering shio-katsuo decorated with rice straws at the Shinto altar — for protection at sea, good fish catches and good harvest.

Today there are no bonito fishing boats left in Nishi-izu, and only four dried bonito shops remain. Mr Serizawa is now the only person in Japan who can make the rice straw-decoration for shio-katsuo.

We also learned about the making of honkare-katsuobushi (fermented dried bonito) or tago-bushi, a complex, multi-stage process taking six months.

Tago-bushi dates back to the Edo period (1603-1868), when Izu was designated as one of three major dried bonito-producing fiefs. Among the three, Izu was the closest to Edo (now Tokyo), the headquarters of the government and a large consumer market.

To make tago-bushi, filleted bonito is fumigated and dried repeatedly using the ‘tebiyama’ (manual smoking) method, the oldest in Japan, a technique established in Tago district.

The first smoking session is done by direct heat of more than 130 degrees Celsius, concentrating the umami (flavour) of the fillets.

The wood used for smoking is from oak and cherry trees collected exclusively in the Izu region. The smoked fillets are then left to cool down. This procedure of drying by heat and resting is repeated ten times.

Finally, the fillets are coated and fermented with ‘koji’ (fungus), sun-dried, and stored away to ferment and further siphon out residual moisture. The whole process is repeated over a period of approximately six months.

The finished fermented dried bonito product can be stored at room temperature for a long time.

Tago-bushi is regarded as a premium product because most of the process is done by hand, requiring time, effort, and the practised eyes and hands of trained artisans.

Mr Serizawa brought his presentation to life by demonstrating the cutting up of a fish on a model. He then produced what appeared to be a hunk of wood which he shaved with a plane-like tool into paper-thin slivers of tago-bushi.

Finally, I understood — very tasty indeed!

Kanesa Dried Bonito Store holds workshops to pass on the technique of preserving and making shio-katsuo decorations and develop modern shio-katsuo-based dishes and food products.

Mr Serizawa has participated in international events such as Asio Gusto (2013), the Japanese food event in Florence, Italy (2014), Milano Expo (2014), and Terra Madre Salone del Gusto (2014 and 2018), international Slow Food events to promote shio-katsuo.

The product was registered with the Ark of Taste in 2014.

• Justine Tyerman was a guest of Walk Japan https://walkjapan.com/

Your email address will not be published. Comments will display after being approved by a staff member. Comments may be edited for clarity.

Poll

  • Voting please wait...
    Your vote has been cast. Reloading page...
    Are you worried that too much farmland will be converted to forestry due to the Government's climate change policies?