Photo by bass_nroll, Flickr

“Dashi is like the key actor in a movie,” says 83-year-old Chobei Yagi, whose 275-year-old store, Tokyo’s Yagicho Honten, specializes in katsuobushi and other dried foods. “But dashi always plays the supporting role, never the star.”

Most katsuobushi today comes pre-sliced in plastic bags, which is convenient and allows one to make dashi from scratch in less than 15 minutes, but there is another level of truly great katsuobushi — artisanal arabushi-style katsuobushi and the maturer karebushi- and hongarebushi-style katsuobushi. These are sold in thick blocks, with brown surfaces coated in sun-dried mold. They look more like works of art than food, and maybe they are.

Sonoko Sakai writing in the Los Angeles Times about the complex, umami-packed base known as dashi, which provides the foundation for so much Japanese cuisine. Sakai’s piece ran in January, 2012.

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