Flaking fad? Japan opens Bonito plant in France
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 umami flavour 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, sitting in the factory’s rest area, slippers on his feet as Japanese tradition dictates.
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.
Very strict regulations
Located in the seaside town of Concarneau, at the northern end of France’s Atlantic coast, the factory, which covers an area of 800 square meters (8,600 square feet), was opened in early September. Despite the fanfare, it is not the first katsuobushi production facility in Europe-another factory was set up last year in Vigo, a city on Spain’s northwestern Atlantic coast.
Makurazaki has ploughed two million euros into the Concarneau plant after signing a deal with French tuna firm CFTO (Compagnie Francaise du Thon Oceanique) which is also based in Brittany. Under the deal, CFTO will supply Makurazaki France with between three and six tons of bonito, also known as skipjack tuna, per week.
For now, the plant can turn a ton of fish into 200 kilograms of katsuobushi, but the management is hoping to see volumes increase in the coming years. CFTO, which is also based in Concarneau, runs a fleet of 14 vessels in the Atlantic and Indian oceans, where it catches the fish according to very strict regulations. “We worked very hard to get this specification because we have to be very careful about its fat content,” says Perhirin.
Fat content depends on both the available food and the temperature of the water, with those swimming at a greater depth having a higher proportion of fat as insulation from the cold. —AFP
CONCARNEAU, France: This file photo taken on October 21, 2016 shows Dried bonito flakes pictured at the Makurazaki France katsuobushi firm. —AFP