Dashi - The Simple Broth That Shaped The World of Japanese Cuisine

 People who have a deep love for Japanese food know one thing to be true - the majority of Japanese dishes have a savory taste. This flavor is better known as umami, which is best described to be meaty and brothy. Popular examples of foods that feature the umami flavor include ramen, miso soup, and donburi (rice bowl dishes).

The secret component needed to make these savory dishes is actually simpler than one would think and is something that the Japanese community does not keep hidden. Foreigners who want to cook some of their favorite Japanese dishes really only need to master making the key element to achieving umami flavors – dashi, a common Japanese broth.

Dashi – A Japanese Stock/Broth

Basically, dashi is a cooking stock or broth used as a base ingredient for many Japanese dishes. It dates back more than 800 years ago when a certain type of kelp was combined with pure spring water. Boiling the kelp in the water produced a clear, infused broth with an unusually strong flavor.

The flavor of the broth was identified to be the fifth flavor, umami, by Kikunae Ikeda in 1908. It was also discovered that the kelp’s high content of glutamate served as the main source of the broth’s savory taste.

Over the years, only minimal changes have been made to the cooking stock which mostly just involve the addition of a few basic ingredients such as dried fish. The preparation and cooking of dashi have remained quite simple and can be made in a significantly shorter time, as compared to Western cooking stocks.

Awase Dashi – A Basic Japanese Stock

The most basic Japanese stock is probably awase dashi, which makes use of kombu seaweed and katsuobushi (dried bonito fish flakes). In fact, when locals talk about dashi, this particular type is often being the one referred to. Although awase dashi only makes use of two basic ingredients other than water, the resulting broth features complex flavors.

Awase dashi is commonly used in Japanese dishes such as miso soup, oden, chukuzenni, tamagoyaki, oyakodon, and nikujaga.

Kombu Dashi – A Kelp-Based Vegetarian Japanese Stock

Kombu dashi is the ideal cooking stock for vegetarians, as it is only made from kombu seaweed and water. The broth can be created using two methods known as mizudashi, which initially makes use of cold water to extract the flavors of the kelp, and nidashi, which basically requires the kelp to be simmered in water. Using either method will result in a lightly colored, but clear, broth with a deep savory taste.

 Kombu dashi is commonly used in Japanese dishes such yudofu, clam soup, and shabu-shabu.

Shiitake Dashi – A Mushroom-Based Vegetarian Japanese Stock

Another vegetarian cooking stock considered to be dashi is the shiitake dashi. Dried shiitake mushrooms serve as the main ingredient of the broth. The concentrated flavors of the mushrooms greatly contribute to the savory taste of the resulting dashi, which comes in a dark brown color and thin consistency.

Many locals prefer mixing shiitake dashi and kombu dashi together to get an enhanced broth packed with umami and subtle hints of mushroom-like tastes.

Shiitake dashi is commonly used in Japanese dishes such as chawanmushi, udon, chikuzenni, takikomi gohan, and steamed fish.

Iriko Dashi – A Seafood-Based Japanese Stock

Iriko dashi also goes by the name niboshi dashi. Unlike awase dashi and kombu dashi, this particular broth does not make use of seaweed. Instead, dried anchovies or baby sardines are simmered in water to create a flavorful broth, which is closer to having a fishy than a meaty taste. This dashi is commonly used in the Kanto region, where bold flavors are preferred by the local community.

Iriko dashi is commonly used in Japanese dishes such as miso soup, udon, rice bowls, and simmered food.

The Importance and Uses of Dashi in Japanese Cuisine (Ramen, Miso Soup, Etc.)

 It is virtually impossible to create authentic Japanese dishes without making use of dashi. The cooking broth truly embodies the essence of umami, which cannot be easily replicated using ingredients other than those included in standard dashi recipes. Some Japanese dishes that make use of dashi include:

Miso Soup

Miso soup is a traditional Japanese dish that mainly consists of dashi, miso paste, tofu bits, and seaweed. Other ingredients may be added or removed to better suit one’s taste but dashi remains present in all variations of miso soup.


Ramen is a popular noodle dish that features a savory soup. It comes in four different kinds of broth known as Shoyu (soy sauce), Shio (salt), Miso (fermented bean paste), and Tonkotsu (pork bone) that all make use of dashi as a base ingredient.


Oyakodon is a rice bowl dish that literally means “parent and child rice bowl” when translated into English. The dish is often served in a large bowl filled with cooked rice covered with an omelet-like topping. The main star of oyakodon is consists of sliced scallion, chicken, eggs, and other ingredients that have been simmered in a flavorful sauce or broth.


Oden is a one-pot dish that is especially popular in Japan during the winter season. It consists of many different food items such as processed fish cakes, boiled eggs, white radish, and tofu, which are all stewed in dashi that has been lightly flavored with soy sauce. The dish can usually be found at food carts but several izakayas (Japanese gastropubs) also offer it.


Shabu-shabu is a traditional hot-pot dish that makes use of several ingredients such as thinly sliced meat, vegetables, and tofu. These food items are cooked by the person dining in a pot filled with boiling water or dashi. A bowl of rice and several dipping sauces are often served along with the raw ingredients.


Nikujaga is a meat dish that typically comes with onions and potatoes. All ingredients are stewed in a sweet, soy sauce-flavored broth. It is a dish that is commonly cooked at home during the winter season. A bowl of rice and miso soup often accompanies the dish to serve as a full meal.


Chikuzenni, also known as game-ni, originates from Kyushu, Japan and is often eaten when welcoming in the new year. The main ingredients of this dish include lotus root, shiitake, dashi, burdock root, snap peas, carrots, and chicken.


Tamagoyaki, which literally means “grilled egg” in English, is the equivalent of omelets in Japan. It is made by continuously combining numerous layers of scrambled eggs in a rectangular pan known as makiyakinabe. Soy sauce, dashi, and sugar are common ingredients added to the eggs prior to cooking to produce a sweet and savory tasting dish.


Yudofu is a simple tofu dish that makes use of kombu dashi. It is often served with a separate dipping sauce or topped with fish and onions.

Takikomi Gohan

Takikomi Gohan refers to cooked rice which has been seasoned with meat, fish, vegetables, soy sauce, and dashi. It is basically a fried rice dish that has several variations, which differ in terms of ingredients. Some of the most popular types include tai-meshi (sea bream-seasoned rice), matsutake gohan (matsutake mushroom-seasoned rice), kani-meshi (crab-seasoned rice), and ayu-meshi (sweetfish-seasoned rice).


 Chawanmushi, which literally means “to steam in a tea bowl”, is a popular egg custard dish that is more often served as a meal than a snack or dessert. Its main ingredients include boiled shrimp, eggs, mirin, shiitake mushrooms, dashi, and soy sauce.

Different Ways to Make Dashi – Homemade, Dashi Packet, and Dashi Powder

Although dashi is a common ingredient used in many dishes and is not that hard to make, a lot of Japanese people actually choose to buy instant forms of the stock, instead. These liquid and powder dashi concentrates do provide umami flavors to the dishes they are added into but nothing, of course, beats stock made from scratch.

The three most popular ways to make dashi are detailed below:

Method 1: Homemade

The ingredients needed to make dashi from scratch will depend on the type of broth one wants to produce. As previously mentioned, dashi does not require a lot of ingredients and only makes use of one or two basic food items. Kombu, katsuobushi, dried anchovies, and dried mushrooms are usually available in most grocery stores. The recipe below is meant for making awase dashi:


     20 grams of kombu seaweed

     3 cups of katsuobushi

     4 cups of water


1.    Gently clean the kombu using a damp cloth, making sure to not remove the white powdery substances, which contain the umami flavor.

2.    Soak the kombu in four cups of water for at least thirty minutes or throughout the night, if possible.

3.    Transfer the kombu and water to a large pot and place over medium heat.

4.    When bubbles start to form around the edges of the pot, remove the kombu from the water.

5.    Add three cups of katsuobushi to the water and let simmer for thirty seconds or a minute.

6.    Turn off the heat and let the katsuobushi steep in the water for ten more minutes.

7.    Strain the broth.

8.    Store dashi in the refrigerator (can last 3-7 days) or in the freezer (can last 3 weeks)

Method 2: Dashi Packet

One of the most popular items that Japanese people buy to make their own dashi is the dashi packet. This is basically a small pouch, that looks like a big tea bag, filled with dashi ingredients which have already been crushed and mixed together, for convenience.

With its use of real kombu, dried fish, etc., the resulting broth closely resembles the taste and consistency of homemade dashi. Foreigners can purchase dashi packets at Japanese grocery stores or at online shops such as Nihon Ichiban and Amazon that ship internationally.


1 dashi packet (9 grams)

2-3 cups of water


1.    Pour two to three cups of water in a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat.

2.    Put in the dashi packet and let simmer for five minutes.

3.    Remove dashi packet from broth.

Method 3: Dashi Powder

The most hassle-free way to make dashi is to use dashi powder. Given the rising popularity of Japanese cuisine, a lot of Asian and American grocery stores carry a variety of powdered dashi options. In the rare case that a local supermarket does not offer the item, a person can also purchase them at the previously mentioned online shops.

This method is highly recommended for people that rarely cook Japanese dishes to avoid having to buy a number of ingredients which cannot be stored for long periods of time. The convenience of this process is also great for beginners in the world of cooking.


     1 teaspoon of dashi powder

     2-3 cups of water


1.    Pour two to three cups of water in a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat.

2.    Once the water starts to boil, add in all contents of the sachet, which should contain about a teaspoon of dashi powder in volume.

Dashi Food Truck – South Carolina’s Moving Asian-Latin Fusion Food Booth

Dashi Food Truck, or simply Dashi, is a popular moving Asian-Latin food booth that goes from one place in South Carolina to another throughout the year. It is owned by Chef Stephen Thompson, whose interest in Asian and Spanish cuisine grew along the course of his career. Eventually, he came up with the concept of combining both cuisines by finding inspiration in the Spanish dish, Paella and Asian dish, Steamed Buns.

Their menu changes every day but generally includes at least a few of the following food items:



     Fried Rice

     Steamed Bun

     Banh Mi

     Thai Wings

     Shrimp and Grits


     Noodle Salad with Broccolini

     Crispy Roasted Squash, Scallion, Smoked Gouda, BBQ Bok Choy, Sriracha Hollandaise

     Curry Grit Cake

There is also a secret menu regularly posted on their Twitter profile in the form of a photo.

Although the dishes included in Dashi’s day-to-day menu do not feature a lot of Japanese ones, their menu options for private events offer satisfying choices. Dashi can be hired to serve at intimate gatherings or grand events for a minimum fee of $1,000. This starting price is subject to change depending on peak seasons (April-June and December-February), event size, and many other factors.

Some of the items they offer for such services include:

     Stir Fried Noodles


     Banh Mi

     Thai Wings


     Pad Thai

     Rice Balls

     Cold Noodle Salad

     Curry Noodles

     Fried Rice

     Curry Shrimp and Grits


     Steamed Buns



     Shrimp Ceviche

     Veggie Quesadilla

     Veggie Paella

     Seafood Paella

     Chicken and Chorizo paella