Nearly every country with a coastline has dried fish, most often salted and dried. For most of our history as humans salting and drying were the only ways to keep food for very long. In Japan, dried, salted fish is called himono (干物 where the 干 means dry and the 物 means thing.) If, like me, you’re from a place that doesn’t have a coast and is far from any sea, the closest thing to himono for you is probably beef jerky. Fairly tough, dehydrated and chewy, but still tasty and great for hiking and camping and as a beer snack. Himono is kind of like that. The big difference between himono and beef jerky is that there are basically two species of beef and some thirty thousand species of fish, so in variety of flavors himono is the hands down winner. Even just Japanese himono has dozens of varieties. Other big differences are that, unlike beef jerky, himono is re-hydrated for some recipes and grilled for others. I don’t think anyone re-hydrates or grills jerky.
Salting fish kills the bacteria that make fish decompose, and sun drying sterilizes the fish and intensifies the umami flavor (I think the word umami is now considered one of the basic flavors, but it’s often written as savory in English.) Himono is a great source of protein and not bad for omega 3 fatty acid and has no carbohydrates. It’s low on calories and very high on selenium, which is known to be necessary for health (but hasn’t been proven to do any of the things supplement makers claim it does.) Eating fish will save you a lot of money while providing actual health benefits.
Like many another food that has been around for centuries, there are many ways to make himono. And like many another food, there are even videos on the internet that will teach you how to make it. It may seem like there’s not much to it; what’s so special about drying fish in the sun ? Consider the difference between the vinegar you get when you leave a bottle of wine open for too long and the kind that’s specifically made for cooking. Himono is like that. Sure, anyone can make it, but some people have spent a lifetime making it and experimenting with different ways to get different flavors and textures. Some families have been at it for generations and have all of that combined experience to offer. Don’t let the cold, dried fish you’re likely to encounter at the breakfast buffet at cheap Japanese hotels put you off trying the real thing, either. Homemade himono and artisanal himono is as different from hotel buffet variety himono as is the coffee you make in your French press at home and the stuff that comes in cans from the vending machine.
good people, good food
Japan Eight is connected to an internet marketplace called Takumi that sells products made in Japan, including himono. Our friends at Oshimaya are artisanal himono makers. It’s a family operation that has been at it for a few generations in the town of Omuta here on the island of Kyushu. They are dedicated to the point that Mr. Oshimaya gets up at 4:00 every work day to drive to the fish market and get the best fish. There are no additives or preservatives and more than twenty varieties of himono. Prices are actually lower than reasonable when you know the amount of work that goes into making their products. A meal made from Oshimaya’s himono could easily be made for ten dollars. For good food and good people, please visit Takumim.com beginning in September. International shipping is available.