The essence of Osaka cookery is dashi (basic stock) and usukuchi shoyu (light soy sauce).
Great care is taken in preparing the stock because good stock is one of the main reasons Osaka dishes are renowned for their fine flavours. Take kitsune udon (noodles with fried tofu skin) as an example. This is a popular dish commonly available throughout the country. But Osaka's kitsune udon is especially good because of the stock, not the noodles.
The stock is a critical factor determining the taste of a dish. Of course, seasoning is also important, but without good stock it is a lost cause. Osaka became known as "Japan's kitchen" because it was a distribution centre
for food and other goods from all over the country. High-quality stock ingredients, such as kombu kelp from Hokkaido and katsuo-bushi (dried bonito) from Tosa, were readily available.
Niboshi (dried sardines or anchovies) was another popular ingredient for stock available at affordable prices, thanks to the ample supplies of Japanese anchovies in Osaka Bay. Some people think niboshi stock has an unpleasant smell, but that's a big mistake. Niboshi stock tastes superb, if it's prepared correctly. Instant stock powder doesn't begin to compare. This is something that has to be done properly.
In any case, stock lies at the heart of the tastes of Osaka.
Of the various ingredients of stock, kombu kelp plays a crucial role. Let me explain why.
When preparing stock using kombu and dried bonito flakes, I don't think enough people recognise the importance of kombu. Whereas many people are choosy about dried bonito, not enough care about the kind of kombu they use.
That's a big mistake. When the flavours of kombu and dried bonito are combined well, the results are amazing; one plus one becomes three or four, not just two! Niboshi also makes better stock when combined with kombu.
Next comes light soy sauce. There are two kinds of soy sauce, light and dark. Most Japanese people would be surprised to learn that light soy sauce was already being used more than 300 years ago. This soy sauce has a lighter colour, but contains more salt. It also contains amazake (sweet rice alcohol) to give it a richer flavour. The lighter colour and lighter smell were welcomed by the people of Osaka and Kyoto, since it helped retain the natural colour and flavour of the ingredients, resulting in improved appearance and flavour. Now you can appreciate the important role light soy sauce played in the developing sophistication of Kansai cuisine, including Osaka and Kyoto.