Dashi 出汁 or だじ | Japan’s Favorite Secret Sauce

Dashi 出汁 or だじ | Japan’s Favorite Secret Sauce

Introduction

Italy has tomatoes, Mexico has salsa, India has curry spices, and Japan has its Dashi. Though a simple and often imperceivable flavor by non-Japanese eaters, dashi, or fish broth, is an integral part of Japanese cooking.

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?

As stated above, Dashi is simply fish broth. But how it is made varies greatly, depending on the region and the dish. For most people in Japan, this important broth is the easiest way to add umami to any dish. It is synonymous with the shaved bonito fish flakes that are typically boiled to extract its rich yet light flavor.

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

These pink red flakes, also known as Katsuoboshi (dried Katsuo) come from the bonito fish (Skipjack Tuna). When eating out at restaurants or ryokan hotels, dashi is made out of fish or seafood. It tends to vary, depending on the specific 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

You may have consumed a fair amount of dashi without realizing it was an essential ingredient in the standard Japanese fare you’ve been eating. Many popular Japanese dishes include fish broth as a base ingredient.

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 traditional meals in Japan. Though there are many many recipes for miso soup in Japan, the most basic ones include miso, dashi, and wakame seaweed.

Soba & Udon Noodles

Soba and udon noodles do not typically include dashi. However, the dipping sauces that comes with the noodles (when served cold), or soup broths (when served warm) usually include tsuyu. Tsuyu is a sweet and salty combination of soy sauce, mirin cooking wine, and dashi.

Ramen

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

Donburi (rice bowls)

From the chicken & egg Oyakodon to the fried pork cutlet Tonkatsudon, these dishes typically come with a scrambled egg. On the meat and eggs, you’ll see a brown savory sauce, which is usually tsuyu – a mix of soy sauce, mirin, and dashi.

Most Soups & Hot Pots

Just about every soup or hot pot broth in Japan begins with dashi. Many broths include much stronger flavors that quickly take over the simplicity of dashi. When you start to notice dashi’s light yet unique flavor, you’ll start to recognize it quickly and realize that almost all Japanese cooking has a dashi base or sauce.

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 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. However, you may notice a light note of this umami flavor in your 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 challenging. This is especially true in coastal areas, so if you are trying to decide between a coastal or inland tour, we recommend the latter. Japan’s mountain regions tend to have more options that are less seafood-centric.

While we understand that dietary preferences are important, a little bit of flexibility around fish and eggs will go a long way in rural Japan.

Please contact us about any dietary questions, and we are happy to discuss. It’s our goal to help you find the best fit for your group’s travel preferences and dietary needs. We are able to fit any dietary needs in Bespoke Trips and some guided tours!

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