Katsuobushi: It’s raining shaved bonito flakes!

Katsuobushi is packed with flavor.

Katsuobushi is packed with flavor.

If you’ve eaten any appreciable amount of cooked (i.e., not sushi) Japanese food, you have probably benefited from the flavor contributions of katsuobushi, which can most easily be described as dried, shaved bonito flakes.

You may have seen the flakes dusted onto fried tofu in sauce (“agedashi tofu”), or even on takoyaki or okonomiyaki if you have been adventurous in your pursuit of Japanese food. Yet these bonito flakes have a much more pervasive impact than merely that of a garnish. Katsuobushi is a key element of Japanese soups, often imparting a rich, complex flavor to the broth.

Katsuobushi is the umbrella term for dried bonito flakes, but there are a number of varieties that differentiate themselves through the thickness of their flakes and the part of the fish from which they are derived. The thicker shavings will have an even stronger flavor. Same goes for katsuobushi that includes flakes made from the darker, bloodier part of the fish. Different varieties of katsuobushi better avail themselves to some dishes than others.

Thinner flakes made from the lighter meat (not that any of the meat on the red-fleshed bonito is particularly all that light) makes for a nice addition to steamed or boiled vegetable dishes. Add in flakes from the darker parts of the fish, and you have a blend more suitable for heartier foods like okonomiyaki, the Japanese savory pancake. Thicker, dark-heavy blends can be quite nice in miso (soy bean) based or braised dishes.

With Western culinary influences taking a stronger hold than ever in Japanese cuisine, some fusion involving katsuobushi is bound to occur, often leading to unexpectedly delicious results. For example, how about a green salad with avocado and katsuobushi? Or how about steamed broccoli with a citrus sauce, katsuobushi, and white sesame seeds? Katsuobushi is flavorful and versatile enough to let your imagination run wild!

Looking to try katsuobushi in Tokyo?
Japan Gourmetpedia recommends using our sister site, Tokyo Dinner Ticket, to find the perfect restaurant.


Atsuage with katsuobushi and green onions at restaurant Takara in Gotanda


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