By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
At Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple, Joe Belli watches over the dashi, simmering gently in a large stockpot, the aroma wafting through the temple kitchen. Venice recently held an all-you-can eat udon fundraiser and the centerpiece was the dashi, a dark soup with deep umami flavor.
A dozen temple members boiled 150 pounds of noodles, donated by Gary Kawaguchi of Upper Crust Enterprises. Besides Belli, David Nishina, Judy Yamaguchi and Vicki Tokirio worked to produce 60 gallons of broth. Hungry diners brought their own bowls and enjoyed udon with toppings including homemade chashu, eggs, green onions and flakes of salmon.
Belli explained that the dashi, a long-held secret, was created by the late George Asawa, a chemist and former president of the Venice Japanese Community Center, who hailed from an artistic family. Asawa’s sister was the famed artist Ruth Asawa and his son Brian was an opera singer.
Belli explained the history of the Venice dashi and graciously shared the recipe crafted years earlier by Asawa:
“I inherited the dashi broth recipe from George Asawa in 2000; that’s the year I started making the dashi broth for the Venice Japanese Community Center. For years prior to 2000, George had made the dashi broth for the Venice Japanese Community Center’s annual Summer Festival. George developed this simple fish and seaweed base broth because it was easy to make, mistake-proof, fast and not real expensive.
“With two burners going, we are able to produce 10 gallons of the broth every 50 minutes. In about 2005, the VHBT Buddhist Woman’s Association asked me to ‘help’ make the dashi broth for the Venice Hongwanji Buddhist Temple’s annual Obon. I gladly accepted the job. That first year, they were all over me about my techniques and the ingredients in George’s recipe, but in the end the BWA and the Obon-goers were ecstatic about George’s recipe.
“At the temple’s annual Obon I don’t work alone; we have approximately six temple members making the dashi broth and about eight noodle-boilers boiling the udon.
“George gave Jun Oyama (of VJCC) and I the receipt verbally. Neither Jun nor I are cooks, so that first night of making the dashi broth was rough! Here’s the recipe that George gave us…nothing’s changed.”
George Asawa’s Dashi Broth Recipe: 1 Each 5-Gallon Batch
1. PUT: All 4 pre-measured ingredients in one wood box marked UDON to ensure no ingredients are left out:
a. 3 pieces of black seaweed 6” x 10” (kombu) in zip-lock bag.
b. Small zip-lock bag dashi powdered fish (200 grams).
c. Large zip-lock bag shaved bonito (120 grams).
d. Plastic bottle of soy sauce 50 oz, mirin 3 oz, and sugar 100 grams.
2. BOIL: 3 gallons water and 3 pieces of 6” x 10” black seaweed (kombu), bring to boil.
3. ADD: 200 grams dashi (small bag dried fish powder), stir in dashi and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. SKIM: With ladle, skin foam off top of cooking dashi immediately after dashi is added. Discard the skimmed foam.
5. ADD: 120 grams shaved bonito (large bag) simmer for 10 minutes.
6. SKIM: With ladle, skin foam off top of cooking dashi immediately after shaved bonito is added. Discard the skimmed foam.
7. STRAIN: Through cloth into matching set of matching stainless (8 gallon) pot.
8. ADD: 50 oz. liquid mixture (plastic bottle, 50 oz. soy sauce, 3 oz. mirin, 100 grams sugar).
9. ADD: Water bring to 5 gallons (measure with wood stirring stick with 5 gal. line drawn on stick).
10. SIMMER: 10 minutes.
Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo