Learning to Make Soba Dashi at Honke Owariya

Learning to Make Soba Dashi at Honke Owariya

Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya

We were privileged to visit one of our favorite Kyoto restaurants, Honke Owariya that is among the oldest restaurants in the world, and learn how to make their incredibly delicious ‘dashi‘ broth for soba noodles. Having about 540 years of experience to draw upon is a fantastically delicious thing!

When I first sat down with the 15th generation owner and president of Honke Owariya, Denzaemon Inaoka to take about this article, I told him that we wanted to learn about Owariya’s wonderful soba, i.e. the noodles. He said that more than noodles, we needed to learn about dashi. And, the water of Kyoto.

Sound familiar? Kyoto water makes great dashi, sake and tea.

Honke Owariya, like a lot of other folks in Kyoto, is very, very particular about the water that they use. They won’t open a restaurant in Tokyo because the same dashi cannot be made with Tokyo water. When they opened their Shijo Teramachi branch which is in a department store, one of their terms was that they would drill their own well for water. In the new Shijo Kawaramachi branch (on the 7th floor of Takashimaya Department Store) a well could not be dug, so dashi is made every morning at the honten (main store) and laboriously transported over!

Making Dashi

Mr. Yoshida, the chori-cho (head chef), showed us how to make dashi the Honke Owariya way.

ingredients:

  • water
  • Rishiri Kombu (Rishiri Kombu is a high quality kelp from Hokkaido)
  • 3 kinds of shaved fish flakes
  • saba-bushi (dried mackerel flakes, さば節)
  • urume-bushi (dried round herrings flakes, うるめ節)
  • mejika-bushi (dried bullet tuna flakes, めぢか節)
  • sugar
  • shoyu

preparation:

  1. Soak kombu in water overnight (if possible). Should be refrigerated.
  2. Simmer kombu for 40-50 minutes at 70°C. (time varies depending on season and air temperature)
  3. Remove kombu
  4. Simmer shaved fish flakes for about 25 minutes. Do not boil and skim the foam (aku, 灰汁) that gathers on the surface.
  5. Remove heat
  6. Adequately strain the broth and return to pot.
  7. Add sugar and shoyu

Simmer the Kombu – Start
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
Starting to heat the water.

Simmer the Kombu – Start
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya

Simmer the Kombu – Checking Progress
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
After 40 minutes or so, Yoshida Chori-cho checks the softness of the kombu with his thumbnail. When it has softened to the right degree, it is done.

Simmer the Kombu – Remove the Kombu
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
When the kombu has softened and lent it’s wonderful taste to the dashi, it is removed.

Simmer the Shaved Fish – Add Fish Flakes
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
Adding the three kinds of shaved fish flakes.

Simmer the Shaved Fish – Aku-tori
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
Aku-tori (灰汁取り), literally take ‘foam/scum’. Immediately a heavy froth of aku appears and is removed.

Simmer the Shaved Fish – Aku-tori
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
Wooden paddles are uses to collect and scoop out the aku, which is pitched down the drain on the floor.

Simmer the Shaved Fish – Aku-tori
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya

Simmer the Shaved Fish – Aku-tori
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya

Simmer the Shaved Fish – Tasting
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
Yoshida Chori-cho samples the dashi.

Strain the Dashi
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
A bamboo strainer basket is placed atop and bucket and cotton cloth is laid over the basket.

Strain the Dashi – Pour
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
Pour the dashi out and through the strainer.

Strain the Dashi
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
Scoop all the ‘bushi‘ shaved fish flakes out.

Strain the Dashi – Shaved Fish Flakes Detail
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya

Add the Sugar and Shoyu
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
Sugar has been added and dashi is poured back in, dissolving it.

Add the Sugar and Shoyu
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
After all the dashi has been return, the shoyu is poured in.

Add the Sugar and Shoyu
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
Yoshida Chori-cho checks the amount with a notched bamboo pole.

Add the Sugar and Shoyu – Tasting
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
A final tasting.

Add the Sugar and Shoyu – Final Aku-tori
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
The sugar produces a small amount of aku which is also removed.

‘Serve’
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
A large pot from the kitchen is washed out (I don’t think it was really dirty).

‘Serve’
Learning to Make 'dashi' at Honke Owariya
And the finished dashi is poured out. This is then taken to the kitchen and broth is ladled out for Honke Owariya’s signature soba dishes.

Kyoto Water

Why is Kyoto water so great? We hope to examine this subject in detail in the future, just as soon as we can locate the appropriate expert to interview, but a simple explanation is as follows. Kyoto is in a basin, when it rains water is filtered down through the mountains. The aquifer flows under the city from north-east to south-west. Honke Owariya Honten (honten means main/original store/restaurant), and the Imperial Palace is located right in the center of this aquifer.

This aquifer holds a tremendous amount of water. The largest lake in Japan, Lake Biwa, just over the East Mountains, contains only slightly more water than the aquifer flowing under Kyoto.

The natural filtering and mineral content causes the water to be balanced, not too hard, not too soft. This is an essential factor in the culinary culture of Kyoto.

18 Responses to “Learning to Make Soba Dashi at Honke Owariya”

  1. cakewardrobe says:

    Your photos of the process are so thorough! I think Kyoto should produce their own line of bottled water!

  2. diva says:

    if ever i get the time and the ingredients, i’ll try making my own dashi too. how cool. great post.x

  3. b. says:

    Thanks for the great post! :D I enjoy Japanese food and love learning about it.

  4. PekoPeko says:

    Hi Cake,
    Ah, Kyoto water. That is an interesting idea! There was one local brand a few years but it didn’t do very well. The water came from a spring on the East Mountains, under the big character. It was pretty heavy duty on the earthy taste. I used to buy it when I was a student because it was really cheap. This was spring water, not Kyoto ground water. I have never seen ‘Kyoto water’ bottled and branded as drinking water.
    Perhaps Kyoto water is best suited for making dashi, sake, tea, etc, rather than drinking ‘as is’? Something to investigate!

    Hi Diva,
    Well, you just need kombu and katsuo-bushi (shaved fish) and sugar and soy sauce. You ought to be able to get those ingredients at an Asian grocery store in the U.K. I would think. It’s easy to make, really.

    Hello b.,
    Thanks for stopping by KyotoFoodie, stop by again!

  5. Lori says:

    I really enjoyed this post! It was so interesting to learn about the water in Kyoto and the dashi making process. Thanks! :)

  6. Great tutorial! It’s amazing what a difference proper dashi makes in the finished product. So many people these days (my own mother included) just cheat and used the powdered stuff.

  7. kat says:

    Wow! you were so lucky to be able to learn how to make dashi from the experts!

  8. PekoPeko says:

    Hi Lori,
    Thank you. I really want to find a Kyoto water expert to interview.

    Hi Marc,
    The powdered stuff is NG!

    Hi kat,
    Yes, we were fortunate that they let us in the door! I do like to consult an authority whenever possible!

    Ya’ll come back now!

  9. CC says:

    Can you still eat the Kombu that’s cooked after? Throwing it out seems like such a waste.

  10. Peko Peko says:

    Hello CC,
    Great question. Frugality, conservation and economy are important values in Japan, and especially Kyoto, as Japan is not blessed with abundant natural resources.
    In the case of kombu, I think that after being used for dashi it is ‘done’. I am not sure what Honke Owariya does with theirs but I will inquire.

  11. Tess says:

    I always wonder what to do with “used” kombu, too. Sometimes I’ve used it for tsukemono, but mostly it gets thrown out and it seems like such a waste.

  12. Kyoto Foodie says:

    Hello Tess,
    From making rice or dashi at home, I sometimes feed my ‘used’ kombu to the dog. But, that made her throw up when she ate too much! So, maybe it isn’t good for doggies?
    Again, I am going to ask Mr Inaoka next time I am over at Honke Owariya, but I think that ‘used’ kombu is ‘done’.

  13. Nate says:

    Wow, thanks for a great post on the process of making dashi. We only use bonito flakes when we make dashi at home. I wonder if we can find the other kinds of fish flakes around here.

    As for the used kombu, I normally toss it on our compost pile. Eventually it will break down and then go into our garden!

  14. Madeline says:

    That is so interesting about the water. What a privilege for you to be able to have had this experience. Very cool.

  15. Y says:

    Great post. I love behind-the-scenes pictures. I’ve always wondered about used kombu as well – seems like such a waste to throw it out.

  16. Peko Peko says:

    Hi Nate, The other fish flakes often come in premium dashi making packs. They are not so rare. How long does it take kombu to decompose? I can see it taking a long time.

    Hi Madeline, Yes, we were quite fortunate to get to go behind-the-scenes!

    Hi Y, Many people mention that it seems a waste to just chuck the kombu after making the dashi and I am not sure if that is what happens to it. From my experience, after kombu has been used to make dashi or rice, it is nearly tasteless. It really seems ‘finished’ to me.

  17. Chris says:

    Used kombu:

    Compost it. You can compost everything left over from just about any stock, but dashi leavings are pretty rapid decomposers as compared to fish skin or chicken bones, for example. If you have a cool basement, try using red worms: you have a big plastic container with a perforated lid, and you put in the worms and some clean, moist earth and then your leavings. They like everything, especially melon rinds and other fruit, but will do wonders with dashi leavings. In about 6 months, you have beautiful black humus to grow things in. My worms are pretty active, because I feed them my coffee grounds every day, too. The worms are much faster than those black plastic composters, but those work too — they may smell a bit if you put in the katsuo, though.

    If you make dashi the easy, quick way, you can use the leavings to make second dashi, but after that it’s toast. The method described here will leech out everything in one go, I’m pretty sure, so don’t waste your time.

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