Flaking fad? Japan opens Bonito plant in Europe
They came all the way from Japan to France with a crazy idea: establishing a factory for authentic dried bonito flakes, a key ingredient in Japanese cuisine that is very rare in Europe.
Dried bonito fish, also known as katsuobushi, has a distinct flavor and is the main ingredient in dashi, a traditional stock which forms the basis of much of Japanese cuisine.
Considered essential for Japanese cooking, European chefs have been largely unable to find authentic bonito as it cannot be exported from Japan to Europe.
But now all that is set to change with Japanese cooperative Makurazaki opening its own production facility in Brittany, northwestern France, from which it hopes to supply connoisseurs across the continent.
“It was crucial to be passionate about this product and the aim of this project for it to see the light of day,” said Gwenael Perhirin, director of Makurazaki France.
Makurazaki, which takes its name from a city in southern Japan that is famous for its katsuobushi industry, represents eight manufacturers of bonito flakes and other products derived from fish of the tuna family, a packaging company and a fishing cooperative.
Although bonito flakes can be found in specialized shops across the European Union, mostly coming from China, Korea or Vietnam, they can cost up to 130 euros ($140) per kilogram.
“It is not at all the same product (as the Japanese original) in terms of taste and smell,” says Perhirin.
With the United Nations’ cultural body UNESCO recognizing Japanese cuisine as part of the country’s intangible cultural heritage, Makurazaki is hoping to make good on the growing wave of interest in Japan’s culinary know-how.
Located in the seaside town of Concarneau, at the northern end of France’s Atlantic coast, the factory, which covers 800 square meters, was opened in early September.
Makurazaki has plowed 2 million euros into the Concarneau plant after signing a deal with French tuna firm CFTO, which is also based in Brittany.
Under the deal, CFTO will supply Makurazaki France with between three and six tons of bonito per week.
“The quality of our finished product is much closer to what we produce in Japan,” says Atsushi Kawazoe, one of two experts assisting Makurazaki France.
“There is still progress to be made but we’re nearly there.”