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A New Installment of Cook Around Japan

I’ve heard on the news that this has been an especially hot summer all around the world. Honshu, the main island of Japan, has been having record-breaking heat waves, and there have been tragic stories of the many lives lost to the exceptionally heavy rains in western Japan. Japan may pride itself on its natural abundance through all four seasons, but earthquakes and other disasters mean that nature has likewise long been a threat, so over the centuries, the people of Japan have learned to carry on and overcome these challenges. That being said, though, it’s still been very sad to hear about the many people affected by disaster this summer, and we’re deeply appreciative of all the support that Japan has received from around the world.

On Dining with the Chef, we have a two-part special, covering two prefectures on the island of Shikoku. First is Tokushima, famous for one of Japan’s largest festivals: the Awa Odori, which draws many visitors from across Japan. Tokushima is also known for wakame seaweed and other edible sea plants, as well as citrus fruits like sudachi.

It is here where we found a small town along a main road, with a forestry industry that once flourished, that is trying to reinvent itself and find a new way of life through new efforts involving IT. We met and interviewed some fascinating people there who are working to use food to rebuild the local economy, and trying to connect with people around the world.

Our second destination is the prefecture of Kagawa. In Japan, Kagawa is synonymous with udon noodles — throughout most of the country, rice is the staple food eaten at most meals, but in Kagawa, udon noodles are actually more commonly eaten than rice, giving the prefecture a very unique food culture. The udon noodles themselves are delicious, of course, but the real highlight is the dashi stock used in the soup they’re served with.

This local variety of dashi is made with dried baby sardines, which are known locally as iriko after they’re dried. These dried fish are also known as niboshi elsewhere in Japan and are beloved nationwide, and are used like bonito flakes or kombu kelp to make dashi. After they’re caught, the baby sardines are simply boiled and dried; being an island nation, most of Japan has relatively easy access to these baby sardines in coastal waters, so back when bonito flakes and kombu kelp were too expensive for most households to use on a regular basis, dried baby sardines were beloved among the people of Japan — until about 30 years ago, they were the norm in households nationwide. However, because these baby sardines contain a lot of fat, they oxidize quickly even when dried, giving them a distinctive smell, and they require a bit of preparation work before they can be used. There are other factors that led them to become less common in home cooking, too, like bonito flakes and kombu kelp becoming much more affordable. At the same time, things like climate change have also led to diminishing catches each year.

And so, with our trip to Kagawa, it is our pleasure to introduce viewers to a family working to revive the flavor of this once-beloved home cooking ingredient by producing premium iriko.

For these two episodes of Dining with the Chef, we’re following the travels of Chef Yuri Nomura. From an early age, she learned about the traditional Japanese lifestyle from her charismatic mother, who was a cooking researcher, leading Yuri to develop a deep interest in food. After focusing on art in college, she studied at Chez Panisse on the west coast of the United States, learning about how food relates to regional development; she has since explored how people use food to build richer lifestyles. Today, she is a food director who has worked with chefs, artists, and food producers around the world.

We hope you are as excited as we are to explore the world of food through the eyes of our new host, and to meet the fascinating people she’s encountered in her explorations!

From the producer