Dashi 出汁 or だじ | Japan’s Favorite Secret Sauce

Introduction

Where the Italy has tomatoes, Mexico has salsa, and India has curry spices, Japan has its Dashi. Though a simple and often light flavor Japanese Dashi, or fish broth, is an integral part of the Japanese cooking experience.

An opening Kaiseki dinner course with dashi broth ready for sukiyaki.
An opening Kaiseki dinner course with dashi broth ready for sukiyaki.

What is Dashi Exactly?

As stated above Dashi is simply fish broth. But, how it is made varies greatly depending on the region, dish, and time you want to spend cooking.

For most people in Japan the word dashi is synonymous with the shaved bonito fish flakes that are typically boiled to make it at home.

A box of Hon Dashi.
A box of Hon Dashi.

These shaved pinkish red flakes, also known as Katsuoboshi (dried Katsuo) come from the bonito fish (Skipjack Tuna).

When eating out though dashi can be made from about any fish or seafood and varies a lot with the cuisine and region.

Locally grown and made buckwheat Soba noodles. The dipping sauce, called Tsuyu, is made of soysauce, mirin cooking wine, and dashi.
Locally grown and made buckwheat Soba noodles. The dipping sauce, called Tsuyu, is made of soy sauce, mirin cooking wine, and dashi.

Common Dishes with Dashi in Them

Miso Soup – A meal is not a meal in Japan without miso soup. Paired with rice and a small selection of pickles this trio accompanies most all meals in Japan. Though there are many many recipes for miso soup in Japan, the most basic include miso, dashi, and wakame seaweed.

Soba & Udon Noodles – Though the noodles themselves do not typically include dashi, the dipping sauce when served cold, or broth of the soup when served warm is typical made using Tsuyu. Tsuyu being a combination of soy sauce, mirin cooking wine, and dashi.

Ramen – Ramen broth can vary widely across Japan, but it is very common to have even a small amount of dashi in a Tonkotsu pork bone ramen broth. Most of the time this flavor is very mild or imperceptible, but in coastal areas ramen tends to be much more seafood oriented.

Donburi (rice bowls) – From the chicken & egg Oyakodon to the fried pork cutlet Tonkatsudon, these dishes are topped with a scrambled egg that has been cooked in tsuyu as well.

Most Soups & Hot Pots – Really just about every soup or hot pot broth in Japan starts from dashi. Many add much stronger flavors and quickly take over the flavor. But it is really true that Japanese cooking starts with dashi.

A beautiful autumn appetizer plating with gingko seeds, gobo root, lotus root, and local cured ham.
A beautiful autumn appetizer plating with gingko seeds, gobo root, lotus root, and local cured ham.

What if I don’t Eat Fish?

While it is wholly possible to avoid dishes with dashi, we recommend trying it out while in Japan. A very large amount of traditional cooking has a dash of dashi in it. This is not to say it will all be fish flavored, but that a very light note of it might be in the dish.

If you are a vegetarian, vegan, or simply don’t eat fish then eating in the countryside of Japan or at a ryokan can be difficult. This is especially true in coastal areas, so if you are between a coastal or inland tour, we recommend the latter as inland Japan cooking is significantly less seafood centric.

While we understand that dietary preference is important, for those that are willing to add a little bit of fish and eggs will go a long way in rural Japan.

Please contact us about any dietary questions and we are happy to discuss and help you find the best fit for your groups dietary needs. We are able to fit any dietary needs in Bespoke Trips and certain guided tours!

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