In 2013, Japanese food, washoku, was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, a move that put this already highly regarded cuisine still more firmly in the global spotlight.
In contrast to the other national (French, Mexican), and regional (Mediterranean) culinary traditions to receive this accord, washoku is characterized by rather subtle flavors, including a gently salty smokiness with a savory hint of umami that accentuates the natural taste of the central ingredients themselves, from seafood to vegetables.
Alongside soy sauce and miso, one of the primary seasonings is katsuobushi––the secret behind the dashi stock that provides the mouthwatering body of Japanese soups and hotpots, and an ingredient that has few parallels in other cuisines around the world.
So what is katsuobushi, exactly? Many diners from overseas first become aware of the substance when served okonomiyaki savory pancakes or yakisoba fried noodles topped with a handful of paper-thin kezuribushi, ruddy-tinged shavings that seem to writhe and dance in the heat rising from the dish they adorn.
This rather surprising spectacle can lead the uninitiated to surmise that they have been served a still-living organism. Yet if one should happen to notice the chefs preparing this garnish, you will see that the hard, dark substance they are grating, using a plane-like tool with a box attached, actually resembles a piece of wood.