Liquid Gold: The Heart and Soul of Japanese Cuisine

When in doubt, add a splash of dashi. Dashi is everywhere in Japanese dishes.

Ingredients before and after making dash
Ingredients before and after making dashi

It is cooking liquid, seasoning as well as base for soups and sauces. Good dashi is magical. It is subtle and delicate but has the power to enhance flavors without overpowering dishes with its own taste. Sometimes just a few drops can make all the difference in the world between a good and a gorgeous dish. Making good dashi is easy and only takes a couple of minutes.

So here is a quick guide how to make Japan’s liquid gold from only two ingredients: Katsuo bushi (bonito flakes) and Kombu (seaweed).

Make Kombu-dashi

In Tokyo with its hard water Hidaka-Kombu is the standard, in the Kansei Region with its soft water it is Ma-Kombu. But if you have not access to different types of kombu, just use the one you can get your hands on.

Set-up to make dashi
Set-up to make dashi

Take a piece of about 10 x 10cm and let it sit for a minimum of 15 Minutes in a glass jar filled with water. I usually use about 750 ml.

DON’T wipe off any of the white powder that might be on your dry kombu. Similar to the sugar that gets to the surface of dried fruits, the natural glutamates of the kombu appear as a white powder on the surface. And the entire purpose of making dashi is to extract them. So wiping them off would diminish all your efforts.

Soaking KombuTo save some (waiting) time during the cooking process, I recommend to do this right when you decide to cook something Japanese and have it sit in your kitchen until you are ready to go. This can even be a couple of hours or over night when you put the jar in the fridge. The result that you will get in your jar is kombu-dashi. Kombu-dashi is frequently used in vegan dishes as a replacement for dashi and has a similar flavor enhancing character.

Make Dashi

Dashi Making 3
The water has about 85°C when bubbles break at the surface

To make dashi, heat the kombu-dashi with the kombu in it on medium heat until about 85°C. If you want to be exact you can of course use a thermometer, but a close observation of your pot will do the trick as good: Remove your pot from the heat once the bubbles begin to break on the surface. This is about 85°C and the optimal temperature to extract the glutamates but not the (bitter) tannins of the kombu. Now is the time to add a good hand full

Adding katsuo bushi to the kombu-dashi
Adding katsuo bushi to the kombu-dashi

of katsuo bushi and wait for two or three Minutes before straining them through a fine mesh layered with Sarashi or a kind of fine-woven cloth that you have on hand. Use the dashi right away or let it cool to room temperature before covering it and putting it in the fridge for later use.

That’s it. It is that easy!


A bowl of golden dashi
A bowl of golden dashi

Despite all the simplicity there are a few things to consider:

  • Don’t put in more katsuo-bushi or soak them longer. Doing that would extract the fishiness instead of the smokiness.
  • Don’t wash the cloth that you used with soap unless you want your next dashi to taste soapy. Just rinse it right away under very warm water and hang it to dry.
  • Last but not least: There are recipes out there that call for the Katsuo Bushi to sink to the bottom of the pot before straining. That is not a good rule of thumb! The time for the Katsuo Bushi to sink to the bottom depends heavily on their size. Large flakes, that you will often find after just opening a new bag, will sink very slowly. Much longer than the two to three Minutes that you need. Whereas the flakes on the bottom of a bag, that are almost powder, will sink right away to the bottom, which would give them not enough time to release their wonderful flavor.

P.S: As nothing is going to waste in the Japanese kitchen, making dashi is no exception. Save the kombu and use it for quick pickles or tsukdani (simmered in soy sauce with herbs or vegetables) and make tasty furikake from the left over katsuo bushi to sprinkle on rice or to mix in onigiri (

Sakemania: 275 Sake in 30 Days

I am not just a foodie. I am also hooked with wines and spirits, which led me to my WSET education a couple of years ago. Being in Japan I just had to get my hands on sake. Nowhere in the world will you find a selection of fine sake as you do in Japan. Which does not come on a surprise, given that Japan is fortunate enough to have a sake industry that comprises about 1,500 breweries. IMG_3908So nowhere in the world can you get a better experience in tasting sake and learn about sake than in Japan.

So on my mission to truly understand the “beverage for the gods”, as sake was called until the Heian period (794 – 1185), I not just tasted a wide variety since I started living in Japan. I also topped my experience with a formal education about sake with the Sake Education Council and the Japanese Sake Sommelier Institute.

Sake Line-up: Tasting of different production methods
Sake Line-up: Tasting of different production methods

That were 261(!) – in words – twohundredsixtyone sake that I tasted in 30 days – plus the average 14 sake that I have at home to train my palate and practice for blind tastings. That is true sakemania. I got to taste many of the sake at breweries that I visited. Big, industrial ones that have high-tech equipment for a large scale year-round production as well as tiny, artisanal breweries that use ancient methods that have been passed down for generations.

The good news is that for pure enjoyment you don’t need to study that hard.

Sake Line-up: Tasting of different sake from one brewery
Sake Line-up: Tasting of different sake from one brewery

Knowing that there is more than one sake out there is a good start to find one you like. Additionally you should remember one word: “Ginjo”. Because if the word “ginjo” is on your bottle you have a premium sake in your hands, that means good stuff. Try it and take it from there.

Tasting Note Tsuki no Katsura “YANAGI” Junmai Ginjo

"Yanagi" Tasting Summary
“Yanagi” Tasting Summary

This elegant and wonderful round sake is mild, mouth-watering and well balanced. It’s strong fragrance of strawberry, banana and melon it is only subtly supported on the palate.

With its light body and warm, round mouth feel it would marvelously serve as a sundowner on a warm late summer evening. If you are into Jazz, it reminds me of the voice of Ayako Hosokawa. But whatever music you listen to when you drink it, be careful. The combination of fruit and acidity is seductive, making it hard to stop.


Label of the Tsuki no Katsura "Yanagi" Junmai Ginjo
Label of the Tsuki no Katsura “Yanagi” Junmai Ginjo
  • Seimei Buai (Milling Rate): 50%
  • Rice: Yamada Nishiki
  • Alcohol: 16%
  • SMV: +2
  • Acidity: 1,5
  • Yeast: #9

Food Pairing

This very light Ginjo goes well as an aperitif as well as with appetizers or a salad with citrusy vinaigrette. Equally well was a pairing with sashimi and a fruity, creamy shira aé (persimmons with tofu sauce).

Brewery Profile:

The Masuda Tokubee Shoten brewery, known under the brand name ‘Tsuki no Katsura’ was founded in 1675 and is therefore one of the oldest breweries in the Fushimi area of Kyoto.

Kyoto Prefecture in the Kansai Region
Kyoto Prefecture in the Kansai Region

The current president, Masuda Tokubee is the 14th generation of his family to run the brewery, which has been passed down for 341 years. Tsuki no Katsura introduced a new kind of sake in 1964, which is today known as Nigori-sake, roughly filtered and milky sake. It is not just their Nigori-sake, which made Tsuki no Katsura became a nationally known sake brewery. They also preserve probably the oldest aged sake in Japan, dating back 50 years.