Gift Guide: For Japanese Food Lovers

November 26, 2016

katsuobushi-on-a-slicing-drawerThere are few objects more beautiful than a perfectly aged block of dried katsuobushi – bonito – one of the two essential ingredients for real dashi. (The other: kelp.) Here fauna becomes flora-like; the first time I encountered a piece, outside Kyoto, I thought I had been handed a piece of exquisite petrified wood. 

At the finest producers, like in Makurazaki on the farthest tip of Japan, one piece takes more than six months to make. It’s a complex process: after each bonito medallion is meticulously cleaned, it’s covered with mashed bonito paste to seal it, smoked twice, and injected twice more with bacteria to kill moisture. The result is almost impossibly hard, and often polished to an incredible sheen. 

Of course if you’re going to do more than admire katuobushi blocks, you’ll have to shave them. A mandolin won’t cut it; no way are those blades sharp enough to achieve the right thinness. You’ll need a specific shaver. 

While buying a blocky single-use kitchen item can feel hard to rationalize, katsuobushi shavers are gorgeous objects in their own right. (I like this one, or there’s this slightly nicer one.) And then there’s what they enable: revelatory dashi. Different – deeply satisfying – because of the freshness of the shavings. 

Which makes them great gifts for Japanese food purists, or for anyone who loves both a well-made mechanical gadget and miso soup. 

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