Fushitaka, now operated by Katsuhiko Nakano, was founded by Mr. Nakano’s grandfather in Nihonbashi during 1918. After experiencing the Great Kanto Earthquake (1923) and the relocation of Tsukiji fish market, his grandfather shifted from the fresh fish business to intermediate wholesaler of katsuo-bushi dried bonito outside the Tsukiji market. Trading in Japanese foodstuffs required adaptation to changing times and lifestyles.
“Although we’re an intermediate wholesaler, we also deal directly with the producers of our merchandise. And while our main business is selling products to retailers and restaurants, we now use the Internet to sell to general consumers. We go with the times to find the best business style that suits us.”
With the advent of chemical seasonings and popularization of Western food, it isn’t hard to imagine events that heavily influenced today’s Japanese food culture. However, in recent years, umami and dashi soup stocks have attracted attention among food professionals overseas. As a specialty shop, Fushitaka trades in the fundamentals of Japanese cuisine such as dried bonito, sardines, and kelp for stocks.
There are two types of dried bonito products. While a whole bonito is called shiage-bushi, thin shavings of bonito made with a special tool are called kezuri-bushi. Fushitaka carries five kinds of kezuri-bushi, four kinds of shiage-bushi, dried sardines, and dried kelp from various seas. Food professionals visit Tsukiji to check “foodstuffs for dashi stocks” before purchasing.
“Kezuri-bushi made from bonito (skipjack tuna) is what people call katsuo-bushi. It’s the most standard one. Maguro-bushi made of yellowfin tuna tastes like canned tuna. Souda-bushi made of auxis has a little punch in its taste. Saba-bushi made of mackerel has a kick in taste as well as sweetness. These are specifically used for different purposes by chefs.”
Shiage-bushi is categorized in two types: kare-bushi made in the traditional method using fungus (mold), and hadaka-bushi that goes through a drying phase without fungus. Kezuri-bushi is generally made from ara-bushi, which is produced in a simplified way without fungus. But at Fushitaka, kezuri-bushi made from kare-bushi in the traditional way is also sold — rare even for a specialty shop.
Up to 40 or 50 years ago, every household in Japan owned a dried bonito shaver used to make bonito shavings for soup stock for each meal. It’s a troublesome routine but the freshly shaved bonito gives off a great scent. And, if thinly shaved, the shavings melt in the mouth and leave a sweet aftertaste.
“Our trusted dried bonito shavers work fine in regular daily use. If blades get dull, we take them to a wood plane blade maker to have them resharpened. As long as tools are maintained, producing thin clean shavings takes no effort.”
Here’s an example of Fushitaka’s recommended way to make soup stock. In a pot, bring one liter of water to a boil, put in 80 grams of kezuri-bushi, boil for 30 seconds, turn off the heat, and when kezuri-bushi has sunk to the bottom, strain the stock. Umami can be extracted quickly if high-quality kezuri-bushi is used. Stock strength is adjustable depending on taste or use. This comprises the foundation of “authentic Japanese cuisine.” Mr. Nakano enjoys discovering and supplying such foodstuffs.
A wooden mallet is used to adjust the blade on the dried bonito shaver (plane). If the blade needs to come out, tap the rear part; if the blade needs to be retracted, tap the other end. “A wooden mallet is better than a metal hammer because subtle adjustments are possible,” Mr. Nakano says.
This looks like a Japanese woodworking plane, turned over and attached to the top of a box with a drawer. You push a piece of dried bonito against the blade to shave it. Shavings are stored in the box for removal from the drawer. When the shaver is not in use, just place the lid on top.
At Fushitaka, sifters are used to remove fine dust generated in shaving before packing shavings for sale. There are metal sifters but Fushitaka uses wooden-frame sifters with just the right mesh fineness.
A winnowing basket is used to winnow or carry grains. When threshed grains are tossed in the air on a basket, only grains with weight remain while chaff and shells blow away. Fushitaka uses baskets to catch bonito dust that passes through the sifters.