Dashi is a love letter to the foundational Japanese broth.

By Maria Yagoda
August 03, 2020
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Credit: Eric Wolfinger

A new short film explores Japanese cooking through one of its most foundational elements: dashi.

A few years ago, chef Shinobu Namae, who runs the two-Michelin-starred kitchen at L'Effervescence in Tokyo, texted filmmaker and photographer Eric Wolfinger saying he had an "important idea:" to make a film about the umami kombu broth.

"Namae built his career cooking French food, and recently he's been finding his way back to his Japanese roots," Wolfinger tells Food & Wine. "He had just had an epiphany about dashi and he wanted to share it through a film." Dashi, which is 15 minutes long and debuted on August 1, offers breathtaking views of Japan while chronicling each step of the dashi-making process, through Namae's eyes.

Credit: Eric Wolfinger

The documentary follows Namae as he travels the length of Japan, learning from fishermen and food craftsmen who are so often "invisible to society."

"I knew dashi was made from dried seaweed kombu that comes from the north, and cured fish katsuobushi that comes from the south, gently steeped in hot water and then strained, leaving behind only their aroma and umami," says Namae in the film. "That much I knew and took for granted. But when I discovered truly wonderful kombu and their katsuobushi and their proper preparation, the dashi felt like a revelation!"

The journey begins in Rebun Island, the northenmost point in Japan, during late summer, when fishermen harvest the kombu for dashi.

"Namae's idea was to visit the extreme ends of Japan to film how the fishermen in the north make kombu (dried kelp) and how artisans in the south make katsuobushi (cured smoked fish), which are combined to create dashi," says Wolfinger. "What Namae and I found in our trip were the extraordinary people and processes they followed in making these ingredients."

Credit: Eric Wolfinger

After visiting Rebun Island, the chef travels down he entire length of Japan to the very south, meeting a third-generation katsuobushi artisan, Yusuke Sezaki.

To watch the film, visit www.dashijourney.com