Workshop: Learning the basics of washoku

How much do you know about Japanese cuisine, or “washoku”? In 2013, traditional Japanese food was granted Intangible Cultural Heritage status by UNESCO, bringing about a sudden washoku boom across the world. Despite this surge in popularity, there is a lot about traditional Japanese cuisine that even natives to the country don’t know much about.

With the aim of teaching expats living in Japan about the basics of washoku, online Japanese produce retailer Japonte has teamed up with the Whole Food Association to host a series of workshops. The workshops focus on the individual ingredients characteristic of washoku, like dashi, nori and miso. Japonte’s founder, Noritaka Eguchi, notes that few expats buy these ingredients when shopping for food, though many enjoy the taste of them when they dine out. By teaching foreign residents about these ingredients and their uses, the hope is that they will have the confidence to use them when cooking at home.

The first workshop focused on katsuobushi (dried bonito flakes), an important ingredient in many kinds of dashi soup stock. Mr. Taizo Inaba from katsuobushi supplier Katsuobushi no Taiko (naturally an expert in this area) gave a lecture and demonstration. Included were:

Katsuobushi (dried bonito)

*A history of dashi within Japanese food culture
*The types of katsuobushi
*How to recognise quality katsuobushi by sight
*A tasting session of common types of dashi
*Katsuobushi shaving and dashi making activity

After talking about the history of dashi in Japanese culture, he explained the different kinds of katsuobushi, and how to tell by sight when the ingredient is of high quality. His lecture was followed by a tasting session of the most common types of dashi used in Japanese cuisine, then by a demonstration of how the dried bonito is shaved into katsuobushi, and how dashi is made from it.

Shaving the katsuobushi.

There is a knack to shaving bonito using the special tool – a wooden box with a blade and a slat on top. When the workshop participants got the hang of it, there were smiles all round. Mr. Inaba explained that when using high quality bonito, you can make a very good dashi even with a small amount. The workshop group, whose members came from both Japan and Europe, were able to learn a great deal from the lecture and demonstration.

After shaving their own katsuobushi, the participants used it to make a simple meal of miso soup accompanied by riceballs. They talked about how their knowledge surrounding the foods they ate on a daily basis had deepened, and how they had a greater appreciation for the care that goes into preparing quality ingredients. They appreciated the value in spending time around a table with food experts. But of course, when it comes to washoku there’s still a lot to learn.

Tasting the fruits of their labour.

Japonte hopes that in future more families from outside of Japan will be able to incorporate aspects of Japanese food culture into their daily lives, and to that end has partnered with farmers, fishermen and kitchenware manufacturers to create an online shopping site specialising in carefully selected high-quality ingredients, alongside its food culture workshops. Japonte will be hosting more workshops in future, so anyone who’s interested should check out their website.

Anyone interested in authentic washoku ingredients can also check out their online shop.

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