Toppings and seasonings have an often overlooked power to completely make or break the overall taste of a dish. And yet, many of them can be found at prices under 100 yen (US$1). Why is something so important to your meal’s flavor made and sold so cheaply?
Back in 2013 Kobayashi Shokuin, decided to buck that trend and came out with a luxury furikake (dried condiment) that sells for the premium price of two 30g (1oz) cans for 10,000 yen ($100). Much to their delight, the response has been great and people have been buying up this Kuchi Doke at an increasing rate despite its exorbitant price.
The particular type of furikake is kezuribushi, which are dried flakes scraped from a dried and fermented cut of fish. Most kezuribushi such as katsuobushi (made with bonito) can be found at supermarkets and convenience stores for a few hundred yen.
However, the preparation of Kuchi Doke is what sets it apart from the other brands. First, the bonito in Kuchi Doke is among the very few caught in Japanese waters which are used in such a condiment. The fillets are then matured five times that of regular store-bought kinds known as hana katsuo.
The flakes are also cut to one-sixth of the thickness of hana katsuo giving it a texture which previous buyers describe as “melting in your mouth” and “fluffy not like any other furikake before.” That’s not all! Each flake is individually separated by hand one-by-one and coated with a secret sauce. They are then mixed together, separated and sauced over ten more times to ensure an even taste.
This technique is known as hongarebushi chiainuki, and it’s said there are only a handful of kezuribushi makers with the experience-steadied hands to perform it. This is what Kobayashi Shokuin says inspired the creation of Kuchi Doke.
“There are many people who make Japanese foods, but the number of true professionals making Japanese ingredients is plummeting. This is also true for the makers of hongarebushi. Currently it’s said that only ten people can do it, and in a decade there might not even be one. In order to continue this art, we developed a product which epitomizes its craftsmanship.”
And so the public had responded well to Kuchi Doke. Having been released in April 2013 it sold 3,000 units and as of this writing it recently surpassed the 5,000 mark. Sales continue to be on the rise regardless of its price. In fact, Kobayashi Shokin has expanded their luxury line-up to include Katsuo Oyatsubushi which is a thicker dried snack for 3,000 yen ($29) per 180 g (6oz).
There is also Shinshi no Yuwaku which is a snack-like portion of dried bonito but this time flavored to perfectly compliment a glass of white wine. It sells for 5,000 yen ($49) per 120g (4oz).
While it may seem like the kind of elitist topping and snack to be used when you want to impress people, there’s a little more than meets the eye. It’s a chance to preserve or at the very least experience a rapidly dying part of Japanese food culture before it goes extinct.