Dining

Review: Appreciate dashi at Shangri-La's hotel's Nami restaurant with 4-course menu

A dashi master takes us through the complexities of Japan's 'broth of life.' And all it takes are just four ingredients
 

Photo: Shangri-La Hotel Singapore

 

The components of dashi - or seafood-broth - is simple. There are just four basic components: kelp (known as kombu), dried bonito flakes, dried shiitake mushrooms and dried anchovies or sardines.

But even from these are birthed many variations of dashi, each one an important element in many dishes of Japanese cuisine.

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Which is why it takes a true master, namely one chef Shiba Akiba of Nami, to best express few ingredients into a gamut of flavourful kombu brews. Akiba’s resume includes spending a decade working with acclaimed dashi master Masami Honda - a valuable experience he carries with him to Nami and his cooking at wedding and coronation banquets for Japanese royalty.

Every last Saturday morning of the month, Akiba puts up a Dashi Appreciation Class. Held by the sushi bar, Akiba conveniently lays out placemats printed with a chart indicating the different grades of dashi - from commercial to a repertoire of premium stocks prepared by him - that will be tasted and discussed during the workshop. 

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Here, we got to taste the difference between kombu dashi made with two different qualities of kelp. The uncomplicated broth is made just by boiling kelp and water for effective comparison: the fleeting savouriness of one made from a thirsty-looking piece of seaweed, and the lingering umami of another made with a premium, plump piece. Or next, with agodashi (with dried flying fish for a smokier, sophisticated concoction ) and jakodashi (with dried baby sardines that has a subtle fishy flavour).

The last set is perhaps the most defining: a battle between ichiban dashi - the cream of the crop of dashi (made from soaking kombu in water overnight, boiling with another batch of kombu and steeped briefly with bonito flakes) and another stock made from instant dashi mix courtesy of a nearby supermarket. Not to spoil any surprises: MSG is certainly a convincing food hack, though only for a moment.

Photo: Bing Leow-Blokbergen

 

The Dashi Appreciation Class comes at $118++ per person, together with a four-course bento lunch set comprising of dishes prepared with various combinations of dashi.

For those with bigger appetites, look out for the Dashi Menu, available daily for both lunch and dinner. The seven-course menu sees a more explorative and extensive use of dashi from start to finish.

Photo: Bing Leow-Blokbergen

Take, for example, a trio of appetisers: a yam tofu and uni surrounded by bonito soup jelly made with two types of dashi and various seafood such as baby squid cooked in a jakodashi. There's also a version of chawanmushi that takes on nearly every type of stock in its preparation: udon together with thick starchy layers of dark savoury sauces combined together. Mains come in the form of Miyazaki beef, cooked shabu-shabu style and served with seasonal Japanese eggplants and peppery kinome leaves.

Photo: Bing Leow-Blokbergen

 

The last is also as surprising, a fruit cocktail with plum vinegar jelly that is spiked with (you guessed it) dashi for a savoury-sweet kick. 

The next workshop will be available on June 30, 2018. The Dashi Menu is available daily. Check out the website for more details.